If You’re New to Gluten-Free, Be Gentle with Yourself

When I first realized I would have to be gluten free for the rest of my life, I was heartbroken. My heart didn’t sink. It plummeted. 

I felt like one of my purest joys in life, food, had been taken away from me. I would never eat good food again. I’d never be able to eat out again. My life would be nothing more than a monotone of salads and protein shakes. No more donuts. No more banana bread. No more cakes, pies, or cookies. Ever. And I had JUST learned how to make the perfect pie crust, too! 

As I continued to learn about all of the things that could contain gluten (salad DRESSING? Are you kidding me? I can’t even have THAT?!) I spiraled even deeper into depression. I even tried baking my own foods, but they all came out like grainy, flavorless bricks. My bakes were so bad even my parents and bestie made fun of them.

I finally had to give up the thought that I had ANY idea what I was doing. Instead of trying to make everything from scratch, the way I had in the Before Times, I broke down and purchased a cake mix and made it, following the instructions to the letter. That cake was, in a word, FANTABULOUS! It tasted good. Like, REALLY good. Even my husband, who is a conventional–and picky–eater liked the cake. 

And in that moment, I had an epiphany: gluten-free food prep follows different rules than conventional food prep. It’s not actually harder IF you’re willing to let go of the old rules and learn from the beginning again.

I swore to myself I was never going to eat monotone ever again. But I still had to stay gluten-free. In the Before Times I used to fancy myself a baker. My favorite bake was spiced chocolate chip cookies, but I also enjoyed making breads, pies, cakes, and various pastries. So instead of insisting that I be at the same skill level that I used to be at, I gave myself permission to start over and do things differently.  

Here is what I came up with:

? Acknowledge that you have a medical condition. Cheating = pain. Not just disappointment that the scale didn’t go down, but physical, mental, and emotional pain that can last for weeks. There is no cheating. This is forever.

? Go slow. This change is for life, so you don’t have to do everything perfectly all at once. You’ll make mistakes, and that’s okay. Have a moment to be sad, and then pick yourself back up and keep going. You can do this if you stick with it.

? Stop dieting while you learn how to do this. And I’m not talking about medical or religious necessities. That’s a different story. If you’re trying to lose a few pounds, and the mental load will quickly get to be too much. Since the diet is for cosmetic purposes, let that go so that you can focus on learning your Rest Of Your Life Skill first. Once you understand what is safe and what needs substitutions, you’ll be better positioned for success with additional restrictions.

? Pretend you’re new to food prep (because you are). Recognize that especially with baking, gluten free rules are not the same as baking with wheat, and you need to learn these new rules in order to succeed.

? Go for the easy win. Use the boxed mixes until you know what you’re doing. Build your confidence! And then, if you want to, you can graduate to more complex recipes–just like how you would if you were working with wheat.

? Don’t tempt yourself. If you live alone, empty your pantry of gluten today. Give it away, either to friends or a food pantry, or throw it away. But get it OUT. If you live with other people (even kids), sit down and have a talk with all of them. Talk about how you have a medical condition and need their support. Maybe they will think, like my husband did, that it wasn’t worth it to have anything that can make you sick in the house. They may choose to only eat gluten when they’re eating out. OR maybe for whatever reason, you cannot bring everyone along with you on a gluten-free journey, in which case, draw a physical line down the middle of your pantry, and nothing with gluten crosses onto your side of that line. You will need to find ways to avoid cross-contamination throughout the house, too, if that’s the case.

? Remember that gluten is poison to you. When you walk down the street, looking at all of the donut shops and bakeries and restaurants,remind yourself that they all use something that is poisonous to you. One time, I even pointed at each place and said out loud, “Poison. Don’t eat that.” Over time, you will find that you stop looking at their signs with longing. You won’t want to eat poison, after all.  

The process is not instant, but it does get a lot more manageable once you give yourself permission to be new at, well, feeding yourself. It is possible. If I can do it, you can too.

If you are serious about your health, you need to make a rock-solid decision that you are, from this day forward and ever onward, gluten-free. And if you are interested in setting up an action plan designed just for you, send me a message and we can take a look at your situation together.

Stay strong and keep reading your labels!