Ever since going GF, I've found that people are always fascinated by the concept. At any party or gathering, the topic comes up and the conversation changes from, "I could never eat like that," to "I need to eat GF but it's too hard. How do you do it?"
Most recently, my sister has decided she needs to eat GF. Since this kind of thing runs in the family, I'm not surprised. But she's highly intimidated by making the leap to GF eating and I don't blame her. It's a big change.
Below, I've listed helpful info for those going GF for the first time. I'm also listing a few tips I always give when advising people on GF eating. Of course, please consult your doctor if you've been told you have medical issues and need to eat a certain way. I'm not a doctor, I only play one in my kitchen!
1. First bit of advice...don't panic. Most people think they will never eat anything tasty again. The thought of going out and not eating pizza and beer with your friends, or skipping the wedding cake or birthday cupcakes is depressing sometimes. But in reality, you don't really need those anyway, do you? And by not eating these things, you will feel so much better that you won't want to eat them anymore, no matter how lovely it looks for smells.
2. Give yourself some time before eating GF cookies, cakes, etc. It won't taste as good as the real thing at first and you need to give your gut some time to heal. Give up grains for a bit and stick to whole foods without labels...lean meats (if you eat meat) veggies, fruit, tofu, eggs, beans, Quorn, etc. You may spend more time cooking, but it will be worth it.
3. There are plenty of GF frozen foods out there and you can find just about anything in a GF variety these days. Just don't go overboard. Most GF items have added sugars to give them flavor, so losing weight is not always a side effect of going GF. Don't do it just to lose weight, do it to feel better.
4. Don't trust anyone or anything. That means that even if you've read the label of a product and eaten it before, check it again before eating it. You can never be certain.. For instance, Lipton Onion Soup mix used to be GF but is not anymore after adding barley to the recipe. If you've been using it for years, you may wonder why you're feeling sick now. Check this out.
5. Don't worry about hurting someone's feelings. So many people have the right intentions and will cook what they think is a GF meal for you, only to find out that they added soy sauce (which has wheat as a main ingredient) or used a mix with flour or barley in it. I know you feel badly for this person because they worked so hard to please you, but don't eat it just to make them feel better. You'll get sick and they will feel even worse. Just politely refuse the food and tell them how much you really appreciate their effort and caring. Move on...
6. Don't cheat. This goes along with #5 in a way, but whatever you do, don't cheat. Give your body a chance to heal before you sneak that piece of cake or brownie. It's not worth it. There are brownies and cakes out there that are GF if you must have them. Find something you like to snack on that's GF and carry it with you for these weak moments. Everyone in the office celebrating a birthday with whipped cream icing on a lovely chocolate cake? Pull out some lemon wafer cookies or trail mix with chocolate chips from your purse.
7. Google gluten-free foods and be prepared to be overwhelmed. There are lists, foods, mail-order foods and mixes, blogs, etc. to keep you busy for years. Weed out the ones you don't need and follow the blogs and sites that have what you need. If you have other food allergies, make sure you take those into account when ordering food and following recipes.
8. Watch your wallet. GF is just so much more expensive. I know the ingredients are more expensive, but it's amazing how much you can spend in your first few months. Four cookies for $5? They must be pretty damn good cookies! And they are the size of oreos? Oh hell no! They can't be that good, can they? Well, I'm here to tell you they are not that good. No cookie is that good! You can buy loaves of bread for $10 or more, but is bread that important? Udi's bread is just about $4.99 at Whole Foods. It tastes great and doesn't break the bank. Go ahead and try things out, but just be aware that we are a niche market and prime for companies to take our money.
9. Check out the blogs listed on this page and look up more on Google. There are zillions right about now. The best I've found are Gluten-free Goddess and Elana's Pantry. There are plenty more, but start there. There are also zillions of cookbooks out there. Don't freak out, you don't have to cook everything.
10. If you're a vegetarian, as I am, this gets a little more difficult. Since the wheat is missing, everyone things you can just go to a restaurant and eat grilled chicken or steak. NOT! You will end up eating a lot of salad and grilled veggies, trust me. (Make sure the salad dressing is GF and the grill is not used for wheat products.) You might even want to bring your own crackers or bread with you to bulk up your meal, that's up to you.
11. Don't be afraid to ask. When you go to a restaurant, ask everyone. If the waiter is not sure what gluten is, ask for a manager. If you ask, "Is there flour in this?" and the waiter doesn't know, make him/her go and find out. Sometimes it's surprising what has flour added. Most notorious...soup. Most places will add flour to soup to thicken it so you can't be safe just assuming it's clean.
12. Check out this site for a list of foods that have hidden gluten. For instance, licorice is not GF, soy sauce has wheat, baking powder and even chocolate chips can have gluten.
13. This article from Suite101.com has a great intro to GF eating.
14. Follow celiac/gf people on FB and Twitter. I'm on FB here and list some wonderful treat ideas and restaurant picks. Also, I have found so many wonderful tips and recipes just from following people who are in the same situation. I recently discovered Celiac Diva on FB and follow many GF people on Twitter. The best way to get a list is to follow me at /vdemetros and look up my GF listing.
15. Finally, if you do get glutened, ride it out. You may find that once you haven't eaten it for a bit, you have a much stronger reaction to it when you do eat it. Give it time, eat clean and learn from this.
Good luck...let me know how you're doing.