8 Things I've Learned About Gluten Free Living

Monday, April 16, 2018

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.

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