When you’re first diagnosed with celiac disease (CD) or gluten intolerance, it’s not uncommon to feel completely overwhelmed. Your doctor tells you to go on this strict gluten-free diet, that you’ve probably never even heard of before, and now you’ve got to change your lifestyle.
It’s a blessing that CD and gluten intolerance can be controlled with food, but all the dietary requirements may have you searching for resources that can help.
I personally know what it’s like to be in this situation, and I still remember the types of information I was seeking in the beginning. Not only did I need food guidance, but I also needed advice on how to live a normal life despite the gluten restrictions. This post, as well as this whole site, is here to help. We’ve included the main steps you want to take when you first start a celiac diet.
The initial mindset
These early stages are very important, and it’s crucial to be in the right mindset. You don’t have to live in fear because you have CD or gluten intolerance. You just need to take action right away so you start feeling better fast.
Remember, you’re going to make mistakes in the beginning — it happens to all of us. And although the learning curve is tough, you’ll quickly get a routine going. Within a few months (or less), you’ll be surprised at how well you’ve adjusted to your new lifestyle. You may even find that the change isn’t quite as radical as you first thought.
Consider joining a local CD support group to get help from people who know exactly what you’re going through. You can usually type your location and “celiac support group” in Google to find something nearby.
You can also check out some really helpful forums online if you prefer that. Sites like Celiac.com and HealingWell.com have great message boards where you can learn a lot.
Starting the celiac diet
As your doctor probably told you, the celiac diet consists of foods that are totally gluten free. The obvious culprits are wheat, rye and barley. You’ll typically find these in packaged goods like cereals, breads, pastas and cookies.
You also need to beware of food additives that contain gluten. This is the tricky part. Food products including soups, gravies, sauces, salad dressings, lunch meats, ketchup, candy and beer can have them. Even non-food items such as medicines, vitamins, shampoo and lipstick can have gluten additives.
So what do gluten food additives look like? Good question. They won’t always have the words “gluten,” “wheat” “rye” or “barley” in them, which makes it really hard for the newbie. In fact, the aforementioned grains are usually printed on labels like this:
- Hordeum vulgare (this is barley)
- Secale cereale (this is rye)
- Triticale (this is wheat and rye)
- Triticum spelta (this is spelt, which is a form of wheat)
- Triticum vulgare (this is wheat)
Here’s an example of common gluten additives. (This isn’t a complete list.)
- Natural and artificial flavors
- Natural and artificial colors
- Vegetable gum and vegetable protein
- Extenders and binders
- Caramel coloring and flavoring
To make things easier, you can reference our gluten free grocery list for a visual diagram of foods that are naturally free of gluten. If you buy any packaged products, be sure the label says “gluten free” to be safe. And always try to eat as organic as possible to cut down the possibility of gluten contamination.
Transforming your kitchen
To make the transition to your new diet, make your kitchen a gluten free zone. This means removing all gluten-based products and substituting them with appropriate gluten free ingredients.
Go through your cabinets and refrigerator and read the labels on everything. Tedious, I know, but so worth it! To start, dispose of anything that states it has wheat, barley and rye. Scrutinize the remaining ingredients in packaged products to make sure they’re safe.
And if you’re not sure about something, ask your doctor or celiac support group for help. If in doubt, you’re better off not eating it.
Shopping becomes a very different experience when you start a gluten free diet. If you don’t already, start reading the labels on everything before you allow it in your home.
Mainstream grocery stores are now carrying many gluten-free options. If you want an even better selection, your best bet is to go to a health food store such as Whole Foods Market.
And if you still can’t find suitable options, check out The Gluten-Free Mall. They have the widest assortment of celiac and gluten-free items that I’ve ever seen.
Going out for a meal is always a nice break in routine, and you don’t have to stop just because you’re on a celiac diet. If you take a few precautions, you can still enjoy yourself like before.
First, always let your waiter know that you’re on a special gluten-free diet. This tells the restaurant the following:
- Your food must be prepared on a clean surface to avoid cross contamination with gluten.
- They should warn you if you’re inadvertently about to select something that has gluten in it. For example, some barbecue sauces contain gluten.
If your waiter doesn’t seem to have good understanding of your request, you can always ask to speak to the manager, or have the chef answer your questions about specific menu items.
Next, many restaurant menus are now displaying a capital “GF” next to the menu item to indicate it’s gluten free. This is incredibly helpful. If you don’t see this symbol, you know to avoid anything that’s fried, breaded or has flour. Instead, opt for foods such as fresh meats, veggies, lentils, rice, polenta and fruits.
Finally, be careful with fast food. Gluten free fast food options do exist, but you need to be diligent in letting them know you can’t eat gluten. If you have CD or are strongly gluten intolerant, I wouldn’t eat fast food just to be safe.
For your convenience, you can download a list of restaurants that offer gluten free menus. Please note that this list can change at any time.
Now that you’ve got this information, get a routine going. If you cook, make the same three or four gluten-free meals for a couple of weeks so you develop a daily rhythm.
Continue to gather information from this site and as many other sources as possible to find out all you can. Never be afraid to ask for advice from any of these sources because many people have been where you are, and they can help make things easier.
Most of all, continue to enjoy your life to the fullest! Being on a celiac diet is just one small part, and you’re already well on your way to mastering it. 🙂