An old friend of mine contacted me recently for advice about going gluten-free to manage his diabetes, and it got me thinking about what I wish I had known when I stopped eating gluten. I just kind of quit, because I was sick and desperate, but I think there are some best practices for people looking to make a change to their diet. Here’s my advice.
Make a list of all the foods you like to eat that are naturally gluten-free. Focus on what you can eat and not on what you’re giving up. This, I learned from my girlfriend – we were making dinner plans last summer (before she was my girlfriend) and she asked me “Where can you eat?” I am pretty familiar with this question, since I’m usually the only person in a group with dietary restrictions, restaurant choices often come down to a question of where I can piece together a meal. This time though, right after she asked, she corrected herself. “Where would you like to eat? You shouldn’t have to focus on your limitations.” It’s a small thing, but it really shifted the way I thought about food. So do some research. Thai food is often made with rice noodles and is gf if you leave out the soy sauce. Mexican food is a good option if you get corn tortillas instead of flour.
Pack lots of snacks for your work day. It’s easier to slip up or justify eating something you shouldn’t when you’re hangry. When I first gave up gluten, I would pack the following for a workday: oatmeal and a banana, a lunch entree (usually a vegetable and tofu curry or a soup I’d made), baby carrots, apple sauce, two rice cakes with peanut butter and an apple or pear. Every day. I didn’t always eat everything, but it was reassuring to know that if I was feeling peckish, I had my bases covered.
Download the Find Me GF app. You can search for restaurants by your current location, which is a lifesaver in unfamiliar cities or if you want new options in your neighborhood. You can choose whether or not to include chains in your search – maybe you just want to find the nearest Mellow Mushroom, because you want something familiar, or maybe you don’t want to scroll through every Chipotle location within five miles. You pick. There’s also a list of filters, in case you’re looking for something specific, like Jamaican and gf, or gf and vegan.
Wait a few weeks or even a month away from gluten before you try gluten-free substitutes for things like pizza or cookies. The texture and flavor will seem gross in comparison, so you should let your palate forget gluten a little before you try something made with bean flour. Gluten-free stuff isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different. If you try it too soon and feel disappointed, it will make the transition seem harder than it needs to be. This also holds for quitting dairy. Vegan cheese will seem abhorrent if you just ate fresh mozzarella yesterday, but once you’ve been away from the real stuff for a while, it won’t seem as strange.
So these are some of my lessons learned. What works for you?