One year on the gluten free path feels like a major milestone! Last January, I made the resolve to switch to a gluten free diet for the sake of my health (and to find relief from a myriad of symptoms). By February (it took me a month to prepare myself!) I was ready to take the plunge, and I haven’t looked back. Instant and on-going relief has helped me stick to it. And starting this blog has helped me to connect to others on similar journeys. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. Here are ten tips that have helped me stay on the gluten free path.
Be Prepared. There is nothing worse than finding yourself out, and hungry, with no options in sight. Whether you are running errands, or meeting friends for dinner, the more prepared you are, the easier it will be to stick to you gluten free diet. I keep several granola bars, cookies, dried fruit, and trail mix options in the truck for when I am on the go.
I have also learned over this past year never to go to someone’s house or to a restaurant hungry. Even hosts with the best of intentions don’t always get it right–but it’s your responsibility, not theirs, to make sure you aren’t unintentionally eating gluten. If you go to a restaurant, be sure to call ahead, so you know if you’ll have options. I even gave my son’s teacher a bag a gluten free cookies, so that he wouldn’t be left out when one of the kids brings goodies to celebrate a birthday or another special occasion.
Plan to take baby steps. Don’t expect that you’ll get it right the first time, or every time. I accidentally consumed gluten on a number of occasions, in the first few months especially, because I wasn’t in the habit of asking what was in a dish, or because I assumed it wouldn’t have wheat. Don’t beat yourself up over this! It certainly gets easier, as you become more familiar with this way of eating, and as you become more comfortable asking about ingredients, and cooking practices too.
Connect with a community. Finding other people that share your dietary requirements will do wonders to keep you on track, and boost your mood! (It can get depressing when it feels like you are the only one avoiding gluten!) Since I’ve gone off of gluten, my mom has too. It’s great when we have dinner together, because I know I won’t be tempted when the bread basket gets passed to me, since there isn’t any bread in sight. And when there isn’t any staring me down, I really don’t miss it at all! Connecting with others online has been really encouraging for me too. It is great to learn from each other, and discover new foods and recipes!
Start the day off right. Beginning your day with a healthy, gluten free breakfast not only helps prepare you for the day ahead; it sets the trajectory. Investing in healthy eating for one meal means that it is more likely for you to eat healthy the rest of the day. It also buys you the time needed to make sure you have gluten free meals lined up for the rest of the day.
Remember why you are gluten free to begin with. Writing out a list of symptoms you no longer experience is good motivation to stay the course. When I go back and read my pre-gluten-free story, I can hardly believe what I used to suffer with, and how far I’ve come! This lifestyle isn’t always easy, but I am so thankful that I have been able to say goodbye to my long list of symptoms. And when I think about it, those symptoms controlled my life more than this diet actually does. It’s really not much of a sacrifice to have my health back!
Get informed. Knowing how gluten affects your body, both physically and mentally, can help empower you to stick to your gluten free diet. Being proactive in sourcing out which brands are certified gluten free, and even which restaurants cater to a gluten free lifestyle can help equip you to stay on track. And learning how to cook and bake your favorite recipes is essential in maintaining a gluten free diet.
Be sure to cheat with GF treats. Have a crazy craving? Celebrating a birthday? There are so many amazing gluten free dessert recipes out there, but not every occasion, or craving, allows time to whip something up. In this case, I recommend always keeping a bag of treats, homemade or purchased, in the freezer. Even if it is filled with sugar and simple carbs, and isn’t very healthy, it is still better for you than indulging in something with gluten. (And once you indulge in one thing with gluten, you are more likely to binge on lots of things with gluten… not speaking from experience, or anything!).
Choose to take control of your health; don’t let a gluten free diet control you. It took me a whole month to ‘psych’ myself up to go gluten free. I did it on my terms, and jumped in with both feet. Once I did, I realized that I was so glad I was being proactive, and helping myself and my family become more healthy than before. Not everyone chooses this lifestyle; sometimes a diagnosis requires this way of eating. But the attitude towards it plays a huge part in how easy or difficult it will be. Don’t play the victim here; choose to be empowered and create a truly healthy lifestyle for the healthiest you possible.
Inform others about your diet and why you follow it. You may feel alone to begin with, but the more you talk to people about it, the more likely you will find people to connect with. Even if others don’t follow a gluten free lifestyle, many people will be supportive when you include them in your learning process. When you explain how your symptoms have improved and you feel so much better, people will want to support you in your journey. I have had a great time getting to know so many wonderful bloggers out there who have helped me on my own journey!
Get back up if you fall off the horse. It’s human nature to want something you can’t have, and from time to time, we all slip up. The important thing is not to let a slip up determine that it isn’t worth sticking to this diet. If I’ve learned anything over the last year, it is that going back to gluten free as quickly as possible after a slip up is the best strategy possible. The less I eat it, the less I want it. And the less I want it, the less likely I’ll eat it. (And if I do slip up, reviewing the first nine tips on how to stick to a gluten free diet wouldn’t hurt either!)