Tips for Living Gluten-Free For Life

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May is celiac disease awareness month.

The good news is that awareness about celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and the gluten-free diet has vastly improved over the last decade.  The media will share an abundance of information this month about how to recognize symptoms, take steps to get tested and diagnosed, and safely eat gluten-free.

An important fact you likely won't read or hear about is that, for many, all isn't honky dory after going gluten-free.  That's because:

  • eating outside the home remains challenging despite significant efforts by restaurants and hospitality providers to offer gluten-free menus and safe options
  • despite diligent efforts to avoid gluten, many are accidentally ingesting enough gluten to trigger the immune system
  • there can be permanent damage to the body, causing certain symptoms to remain

While research is underway to find a cure and/or treatments, eating gluten-free is still the only option available to the millions of Americans with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

If you like to eat outside your home and have others prepare your food, eating strictly gluten-free is much easier said than done.  I can personally attest to that. I've been strictly gluten-free for almost ten years.  I thought that with greater education and experience I'd be able to eat out more, when in fact I eat out less than ever before because I know how likely it is to be served contaminated food.

For those that have to eat strictly gluten-free for a lifetime, I offer these four tips, which aren't talked about nearly enough.  

Tip #1:  Maintain your healthcare team indefinitely
Many people get their diagnosis and never see a specialist again.

I can't urge you enough to see your healthcare team regularly and according to their recommendations, because celiac disease leaves many of us with nutrient deficiencies and their consequences, and continuous exposure to gluten can put us at greater risk for other medical conditions. If you don't see your healthcare team regularly, they have no way of tracking and addressing your symptoms or taking preventive measures to decrease risk for future health issues.  I liken it to getting regular mammograms and skin checks.

Tip 2: Eat gluten-free and healthfully
It is a myth that eating gluten-free is healthier.

Those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity have to eat gluten-free for their safety, but, despite what you may have read or heard, gluten-free foods aren't more nutritious or better for weight loss than their gluten-containing counterparts. In fact, many gluten-free foods contain mostly empty-calorie ingredients, providing little in the way of nutrition. The goal is to focus the diet on wholesome gluten-free foods right from diagnosis.  Doing so provides the nutrients needed to overcome any deficiencies, heal damage to the gut, and get on the road to recovery.

Tip 3: Learn basic cooking skills
Living gluten-free (and doing it healthfully) is much easier when you learn about what's in your food, how it is made by others, and how to prepare it for yourself.

Acquiring basic food preparation skills gives you control over what you eat rather than relying on others to prepare your food who may not know how to avoid cross contact with gluten. Investing in gluten-free cooking classes and several key gluten-free cookbooks is one of the smartest things you can do for your long-term health.  Plus, you’ll save money cooking at home and not having to rely on packaged gluten-foods, which can be considerably more expensive.

Tip 4: Become an expert in communicating your needs
Communicating your dietary needs to others is challenging and exhausting, but learning how to do so effectively is essential to your long-term health.

I get how frustrating it can be trying to share your needs with people who don’t understand or who don’t care to understand.  We have to remember that it will always be our responsibility to advocate for ourselves and doing so in an effective way increases our success for avoiding gluten.  Friends, family members and food preparers will always be more open to learning from us when we speak truthfully and factually about our needs and do so with patience, gratitude and a friendly smile.

In the spirit of Celiac Disease Awareness Month, I'd greatly appreciate you sharing this post to help spread the word.  Thank you!