8 Things I've Learned About Gluten Free Living

Gluten free brownies

It’s been 9 years since I’ve been gluten & dairy free, and I remain symptom free from Crohn’s about 97% of the time (sometimes it creeps up if I have another illness or I'm terribly stressed)

About 2 years before I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, I did a detox with a friend that involved cutting out gluten and dairy. I hated it so much! Afterward, I remember writing on my MSN space (remember those?!) about how gluten free living might be for some people, but I certainly wasn’t one of them! Post-detox I went back to eating just the way I did before.

Fast forward to 2008 when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s after being sick for over a year. I was presented with the options of medication, hardcore medication or surgery, and didn’t love any of those options! I started seeing a naturopath and she encourage me to do a blood test to determine my food sensitivities.


The test showed a number of sensitivities, including gluten and dairy. This time I was ready to make a change. Within 2 weeks of cutting out all the foods on this lengthy list, I wasn’t in pain anymore. I followed this plan for 3 months, and then slowly started to reintroduce many of the foods, except for gluten and dairy. Thus began my gluten free life.

8 Things I've Learned About Gluten Free Living

There are lots of different reasons why people decide to go gluten free - some by necessity (like being diagnosed with Celiac or a gluten sensitivity) and some by choice (because they find that eating gluten makes them feel bloated, gassy or just generally terrible) This post isn't to convince you that going gluten free is the way (after all, there's no one diet that's right for every single person on the planet), but more so to offer reassurance and guidance for anyone who is embarking on this lifestyle as a result of a diagnosis, a suspicion, or curiosity of how it could make them feel.

It's going to be scary, but you can totally do it

If you're like me, you probably grew up eating white or whole wheat bread, crackers, pretzels, cookies, cakes, soy sauce, frozen waffles, pancakes and donuts, all filled to the brim with gluten. The prospect of cutting all of those things out and entirely changing the way that you eat can seem daunting, overwhelming, or downright scary. I believe in you! My first experience cutting out gluten wasn't a positive one, but when I reframed my thoughts to see why I needed to do and embraced the foods I could eat, it seemed like a much more manageable change. Change is scary, but not impossible.

There are loads of foods that are naturally gluten free

Many whole foods are naturally gluten free. Lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds are all gluten free, not to mention the variety of gluten free grains like quinoa, rice, buckwheat, amaranth and teff. All of these foods may not don a a gluten free label, but they are amazing options when it comes to adopting a gluten free life.

Gluten is sneaky AF

Once you get a handle on the foods that are naturally gluten free, it's also important to learn where gluten can be hiding because it's sneaky. Soy sauce, coatings, breading, seasoning, fillers - it's not pretty, but gluten lurks in a lot of surprising places. Outside of the foods that you know are naturally gluten free, start to read those nutrition labels! Some packages will say gluten free right on the front, but it's great to get to spot the different names for gluten and also have peace of mind before you eat.

Life is a lot more fun when you focus on the things that you can eat

This was a big shift for me and made a huge difference in my outlook on following a gluten free diet. There are so many incredible things that you can eat, bake, make or get at a restaurant that are all gluten free - focus on those! I remember being at a party and afterward crying because I had just wanted a cupcake. When you focus on the things that you can eat, you'll probably feel a lot happier and more fulfilled. 

Gluten free donut holes

Gluten free baking is an art, but not impossible

First rule of gluten free baking is that you're going to have to blend your flours. Most gluten free flours don't have the same elasticity that wheat flour does (that's the gluten!) so to mimic the texture and create baked goods that don't turn out like rocks, it's important to mix your flours. There are lots of great gluten free flours blends out there that you can get pre-made, or you can pick up a variety of your own flours and go to town! My go-tos tend to be brown rice, chickpea and oat flour. You can buy small amounts of these flours at your local bulk or health food store so that you can start experimenting to see which ones you enjoy most. 

Other people will have a lot of opinions about your diet

When it comes to making any sort of change in your life, people are going to have opinions. Some of them are going to be positive and encouraging, while others may be the opposite. I'm not sure what it is about the proclamation of going gluten free that causes people to get nasty, but for some reason it has that potential. Get out your rhino skin and remind yourself that their opinions don't matter. Does eating gluten free make you feel good? Do you feel less bloated / foggy / gassy / terrible because you're no longer eating a food that's not essential to your diet? If the answer is yes, then keep rocking your gluten free life and remind those people that you're not forcing your lifestyle change upon them - they can continue to enjoy all the gluten they want! Not only is change hard for you, but it's hard for other people too. 

Most things can be made gluten free, with a few exceptions

I've yet to have a really good gluten free perogi, and I also miss decadent desserts made with layers of flaky pastry whenever I'm visiting Greektown on the Danforth here in Toronto. That being said, I've made awesome gluten free gnocchi, gone for gluten free dim sum, travelled throughout the world and tried all sorts of great gluten free food. So it's pretty rare that I feel left out. Again, if you can place your energy on the things you can eat you'll feel a lot happier and fulfilled. 

Gluten free living has come a long way

In the 9 years that I've been gluten free, I've gotten to watch the emergence of so many gluten free cookbooks, blogs, books, restaurants, bakeries and more - it's phenomenal! Many traditional restaurants in large cities have a full on gluten free menu, or will designate which items are gluten free or can be made gluten free. Here in Toronto, there are so many awesome options for dining out, plus a wide variety of stores where gluten free products are readily available - including the bigger grocery stores! Whenever I travel, I always look forward to visiting new gluten free restaurants, and seeing what GF products may be available in that place. It's awesome to see that it's become so widespread and I feel thankful to have so many incredible Ashley-friendly options at my fingertips. I always cook gluten free in my home, and my friends and loved ones haven't had any complaints - I think that's a great sign!

I don't know that I had any idea that after that first three months of gluten free living that this huge change would have such a lasting impact in my life. I'm grateful that it's helped me to keep my Crohn's in check, introduced me to so many awesome restaurants, recipes, and people, but most of all, enabled me to thrive. I can tell you that as you transition to a gluten free lifestyle it does get easier and there is so much delicious food for you to enjoy! Be kind to yourself, arm your kitchen with a great cookbook or two, start to learn those sneaky names for gluten and it will become easier and more intuitive day be day.


20 Years of Grief

Sometimes it feels like yesterday, other times, a lifetime ago; February 24th, 2018 marks 20 years since my mom died.


Grief is a funny beast. Sometimes it's predictable, like in February. I've come to learn that each year grief is going to make itself known very prominently in February. It's cold, grey, and bleak, and so often I feel overcome with sadness that I can't entirely explain. Everyday challenges feel like a heavy weight I can't bear, and some days I struggle to just get out of bed. I've come to learn that self care is key, and do my best to be gentle, while surrounding myself with people who can be gentle for me when I've lost my way.

The February grief I'm familiar with - it's the sneaky grief that catches me by surprise. The times when I catch a glimpse of a mother and daughter doing something lovely together. The ordinary thoughts of the things she will never be a part of. The photo that falls out of a book to reveal an image of a person who I long to be near. The realization that I can't easily recall the sound of her voice. Twenty years will do that to a person.

This week I was talking to a friend whose mom died a year ago. She said that she's at a point now where her mom feels further and further away with each day that passes. I know that feeling well. I've passed through more than 7,000 days without my mom, and now she feels like a distant whisper of the person I used to know.

Last year I mentioned that this 20th anniversary scared me. 20 years somehow felt more significant. Now that I'm here, it still does, even though I know it's just another anniversary. I re-read this quote earlier this week, and it still resonates so deeply:

"As far as I can see, grief will never truly end. It may become softer over time, more gentle, and some days will feel sharp. But grief will last as long as love does -- forever. It's simply the way the absence of your loved one manifests in your heart. A deep longing, accompanied by the deepest love. Some days, the heavy fog may return, and the next day, it may recede, once again. It's all an ebb and flow, a constant dance of sorrow and joy, pain and sweet love." - Scribbles & Crumbs

Twenty years ago I experienced one of the worst days of my life. I've spent the years that have followed grieving, recovering, exploring, learning, growing and changing. I know that losing my mom at 13 has played a huge role in shaping me as a person - but I can't diminish the impact of everything else that has followed. Grief has left me forever changed, as I miss the person who gave me life, and I know that I will never be the same. 

80 Day Obsession - Week One

80 Day Obsession week one recap

I made it through week one of 80 Day Obsession! Week one was full of learning, ups and downs, meal prep, timed meals, intense workouts, challenging new moves, delicious combinations, random things thrown together, early bedtimes, dishes, epsom salt baths and a few tears - but I made it.

Love at first lunge

The Workouts

The workouts in 80 Day Obsession are intense! This week ranged from 31 minutes to 60 minutes, with most of them being on the side of 45-60 minutes. I was definitely challenged by the movements, range of motion, and intensity.

Total Body Core kicked off the week with a full body workout that engaged the core with each movement. It was a swift kick in the pants but felt great to get started.

Booty focused on, well, the booty and incorporated lots of crazy movements with the resistance loops to target different parts of the booty. It hurt for a few days. 

Cardio Core alternated low and high intensity cardio with tough core moves and it certainly challenged me! 

AAA (Abs Arms and A**) was probably my favourite workout of the week. I really enjoyed the focus on these three areas, the moves and the flow of the workout. It also seemed to go by the fastest, which was a plus. 

Legs - one thing to know about trainer Autumn Calabrese is that she loves working legs whenever she can and it's her favourite day. As I write this post, I can still feel the impact of leg day!!

Cardio Flow was a challenge, especially when I learned that we would be repeating this workout every week and that in week 5 we would increase the number of reps we do, and then again in week 9.

Roll & Release included some helpful guidance for stretches with a foam roller - totally necessary after this crazy week! It's kind of a bonus since Sunday is a rest day, but definitely provided some love for my poor muscles.

The Meal Plan

80 Day Obsession Meal Plan ideas

The 80 Day Obsession meal plan was a really good thing for me. I can fall into a pattern where my eating is really great, but then lots of little treats and extras start to creep their way in. Following this meal plan this week has certainly broke me away from the little treats and extras, and has helped me to focus on eating nutritious food to fuel my workouts.

It felt like more food than I would normally eat, and I'm working to adjust myself to eating a meal first thing in the morning before my workout. I followed the meal plan that I created, but by the end of the week my meals ended up being random combinations of foods that fit into my allotted containers. One thing that helped me to be successful was to keep things simple! I heard this advice before I started the program and I'm glad that I listened. 

80 Day Obsession lunch packed

I also found that doing a bit of meal prep on Sunday made a big, big difference. I'm going to continue meal prepping, even just a little bit each week as I found it to be really helpful to my success in following the meal plan and my own sanity. On the days I was at the office for work, I packed a large lunch bag with up to 4 meals for the day. When I was home, I followed my set meal times and grabbed what I needed when it was time. Having a plan was key and I enjoyed my meals throughout the week.

80 Day Obsession Meal Plan B Sample

I decided to keep things simple again for week 2. I have a couple of meals out this week (last week there was just one) but I feel confident in following my plan and sticking to my plan. I may just be the gal busting out the rainbow containers at a restaurant so that I know I get my portions right.


The Rest

Getting up at 6am on weekdays got easier as the week went on and my body fell into a routine. I found that by the end of each day I was absolutely pooped, so I was clocking a solid 8-9 hours of sleep each night. Autumn talks about the importance of sleep all the time and I found it best to listen to my body - I needed those zzz's.

I didn't have a tonne of social situations this week, so there was very little sneaky food to avoid. I did say no to a gluten free muffin. There was one night I found myself wanting to eat, pretty much for something to do, so I just had a cup of tea. I felt satiated most of the time, so wanting to reach for snacks was mostly mental instead of physical.

Most days I had a lot of energy. The exception to that was after leg day. I had gotten a little less sleep than I had wanted and the workout just tuckered me out. I had a short nap midday and that seemed to do the trick. I find that I start powering down a bit before meals, but I'm getting into the groove and know that I want to stay within that 2-3 hour meal window.

I cried a couple of times during the week, which wasn't very surprising because it's often how I express my feelings. Twice on the first day when I was listening to an inspiring video from Autumn, and then again when Eminem's Lose Yourself came on. (who knew Slim Shady would have such an impact on my feelings?) There were some other tears during one of the workouts that was particularly tough and then on Sunday I just found myself having a low energy, sad day.

I know that this can be a tough time of year for me and that I'm doing something more extreme than usual. I'm challenging my physical and emotional fitness, so Sunday made a lot of sense to me even though it was hard. I'm thankful for my boyfriend who has been doing everything he can to help and make things easier for me, sweet friends who continue to check in and the awesome gals in my January and 80 Day Obsession groups who inspire me every day. (We'd love for you to join us!)

Foam roller love

Epsom salt baths are my new favourite thing and I think I'm going to have a love/hate relationship with my foam roller.

I'm really proud of completing week one and feel great about continuing onward with this program! There are parts that are going to get easier and more intuitive (following the meal plan, knowing how to take care of my body, finding joy in the process) and also parts that are going to get tougher from here (pretty much anything related to the workouts!!) I'm thankful for this process and look forward to how I feel at the end of week 2.

If you want to follow along my daily adventures with this program, I've been sharing a lot via Instagram - you can follow me @ashleydtl or on Facebook. Would love to connect with you there!

80 Day Obsession: Day One

80 Day Obsession Coach

Today marks day one of my 80 Day Obsession journey. 80 Day Obsession is a brand new workout program from Autumn Calabrese (creator of 21 Day Fix, 21 Day Fix Extreme, Country Heat and Hammer Chisel). The program targets your abs and booty over the course of 80 different workouts spread out over 13 weeks (6 workouts each week), along with a detailed timed-nutrition plan. I have been actively watching the results from coaches who were in the first test group over the last few months, and they've really inspired me. I can't wait to jump into something completely new and challenging to kick start this year.

80 Day Obsession resistance loops

That being said, I'm pretty nervous! This is completely outside my comfort zone - longer workouts, targeting my most challenging area (my core), 80 different workouts, the longest fitness program I've done, along with the timed nutrition plan. Thankfully there is lots of delicious, nutrient-dense food on the plan, but it does require some time and prep to make it happen.

I was like a little sponge this week, learning everything I could about this program - printing off my materials, reading and highlighting, watching videos and reading blog posts. I'm already obsessed! The workouts use resistance loops, sliders and weights, and thankfully I've gotten a bit of practice with all of the equipment doing 5 days of a prep workout. 80 unique workouts for an online fitness program is unheard of, so it's going to be really cool to see how the workouts progress over time and become more challenging.

The meal plan is a huge part of the program and it's going to take some getting used to. I spent the weekend getting ready by grocery shopping, meal prepping in addition to taking before photos and measurements.

zucchini noodles meal prep

I'm not normally a huge meal prepper. I'm good at planning meals and grocery shopping, but I don't usually set out time in advance to get things ready. That being said, the times I have done some prep, it's been a huge help to my week! So for 80 Day Obsession, meal prep is just going to be a part of my life, and it certainly was this weekend.

80 Day Obsession meal prep

Following the advice of the test group participants, I did my best to follow the nutrition plan as written, keep things simple and choose foods I enjoy. I added in a few new recipes to try (including some quinoa egg cups for easy morning meals) but there's really nothing fancy on my plan for the week. To give you an idea of what my meal plan looks like, here's a sample day for my first week.

80 Day Obsession Meal Plan B


It feels exciting to be kicking off the year with a brand new program and an amazing group of people doing it with me! I'm part of an epic coach test group with more than 40,000 coaches taking part, and I've got a small and mighty group of gals who are jumping into the program in our own private group. I'm already so inspired by their motivation and commitment to the program - it's going to be an awesome journey with all of them. I'm planning to share my journey with the program here on the blog and through social media. I want to inspire others to feel their very best this year and hope that it will be an additional way for me to be accountable.


I'm ready to see some changes in my body, get stronger and truly go outside my comfort zone with this program. The workouts are going to be tough and they will progress over time. The nutrition plan is going to require some dedication in addition to all the planning (did I mention there's no booze or much sugar happening during this program!?) I'm doing it to prove to myself that I can, and hopefully achieve some awesome things in the process.

Over the course of the next 13 weeks, I'll be documenting my journey, nutrition and things I learn along the way. If this program piques your interest and you're not already working with a coach, please send me an email and we can chat about your health and fitness goals.

It's time to get obsessed!

Oui Fresh Beauty Box Review

I have been following Elsie and Emma from A Beautiful Mess for years - through their blog, social media, their apps and books. I was very excited a few months ago when I saw that they were releasing a subscription box through their Oui Fresh brand that was all about natural beauty care!

I went back and forth over whether I should get the November box, and before I knew it, it had sold out! I didn't want to experience the same sad feelings and so in December I took the leap and subscribed. I decided that it would be a sweet way to practice some self care over the dreary winter months. It took a little while to reach me here in Toronto through the holiday craziness, but last week I got a notice from the post office and got to fetch this beautiful, yellow, sunshine-y box of goodness from Oui Fresh.

Oui Fresh beauty box

Each month the Oui Fresh beauty box features an awesome selection of non-toxic makeup, skincare, bath and body, and wellness brands curated by the Oui Fresh team. They score the items through the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep database, which is a great place to check out ratings for beauty care products. If the item doesn't meet their standards, it doesn't make it into the box. It's not just about including products that are "all-natural" (which is such a loosey-goosey term) - the items in the box will never have artificial fragrance, sodium laurel sulfate, parabens, phthalates, or any known carcinogens (like formaldehyde, mineral oils, ethylene oxide, and crystalline silica). With all of that in mind, I knew I was in good hands!

Oui Fresh Beauty Box subscription

The December beauty box did not disappoint!

Each box comes with a couple full sized products as well as some samples, along with a cute print that doubles as a little menu with descriptions for the items in the month's box. This box had 3 full sized products and 2 samples, with a theme of treating yourself and helping to achieve a gorgeous glow amid the stress of the holiday season.

I've already given each product a whirl, and I'm in love!! My absolute favourite is the Bless Beauty Balm by Leahlani. This was one of the full sized products and a little bit goes a long way. It's beautifully moisturizing and nourishing - perfect for this winter season. I've been using it as a nighttime moisturizer and my skin is happy happy happy. My skin tends towards dry, with a bit of sensitivity and is has felt amazing each time I put it on. I've already investigated where I can find this product in Canada, and it looks like it retails for about $61-$67 in Canada, which is more than what I paid for the whole box!

I'm also really stoked about the Oui Fresh gloss in Cosmic Brownie. This is a shade that I love and is perfect for everyday wear. It's moisturizing while adding a sweet hint of colour, and has already become a staple in my purse. I was very curious about Bioessence Squalane + Peptide Eye Gel and have started using this bad boy each day. To be totally honest, I'm the WORST at regularly using skin care products, but it's something that I'm hyper-conscious of as I get older. I've only been using it for less than a week, but the stats on it sound great, so I'm trusting the process! The Oxalis Feel Good potion is another item I've stashed in my purse for moments of stress or anxiety, and I've been loving the blend. It's very comforting and soothing. And the Kaia Naturals bamboo wipes were a great addition because they're a product I know and love! I love them for travel, they're very hydrating (unlike a lot of other wipes) and they biodegrade in 70 days if you plant them, which is very cool.

As a Canadian, a lot of other boxes I've seen have just seemed too expensive once you factor in the currency conversion and shipping - but the Oui Fresh box proved to be pretty reasonable for the value that was offered in the box. The subscriptions vary from $20-$30 USD depending on the length of subscription that you commit to, plus shipping which was just over $10 USD. With the conversion, each monthly box works out to around $42-$45 CDN, which felt reasonable to me for a monthly self-care treat. I haven't researched the value of all the products to purchase in Canada, but this box would have been well over $100 to buy them individually.

I just got notice that my January box is getting ready to ship and I can't wait until it comes in the mail! I had been contemplating a jade roller in my life and lo and behold there's one for me waiting in there. If you're thinking about grabbing one for yourself, be sure to get yourself on the waitlist so you know when the new box is released. The last few have sold out within 1-2 days of the contents being posted.

I'm glad I took the leap on this subscription box and am looking forward to this sweet treat over the next few months! The Beauty Balm is a new staple for me and I'm so happy to have discovered it. I likely won't do an unboxing for each, but if you follow me over on Instagram, I'll be sure to share the goodness on my story when I receive it. Hooray for self care!

Do you receive any subscription boxes? What's been the best product you've received?