Adjusting to the Gluten Free Diet

May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month.

The diagnosis of Celiac Disease often comes as a big relief.  Finally, an answer to the physical and health issues you or your child have been battling with for so long.  Now as the reality sinks in,  you know you will be making a lifestyle adjustment as well as a nutritional one.

You begin to realize a gluten-free diet means more than staying away from wheat.   Gluten is hidden in a myriad of grocery items while carrying an alias name.

Hidden Ingredients

Gluten is in pastas, couscous, and some corn chips.  It is also in typical pantry items:

rice pilaf


salad dressings

bbq sauces

prepackaged meals


soy sauce

For a complete list of items with gluten to avoid:  Unsafe Gluten-Free Food List (Unsafe Ingredients).

Sort out your cupboards

Get familiar with the gluten and gluten-free items you presently have in your cupboards.

Read every label and look up every questionable ingredient from  Safe Gluten-Free Food List (Safe Ingredients).

Separate the gluten from the gluten-free items you already have.

Make a list of staples you need to replace with gluten-free staples.

Sort out your feelings

Many individuals and their families report experiencing a range of emotions as they adjust to the gluten-free lifestyle.  Take your time listening to your feelings: your fear, irritability, loss or grief.  Respect your feelings by listening to them and giving yourself time to work through them.

Panic.  You may initially feel panic:  What will I pack for lunch? Will I ever eat out at a restaurant?   What kind of birthday cake will I make?  What do I make for dinner tonight?  Will everyone eat gluten-free?

Grief.  It took me a few months before I realized I was grieving over my love for baking.  I love baking decadent layer cakes and treats from scratch.  I am not a fan of gluten-free flours and its taste and texture in baked goods.  I avoided baking for a number of months and really missed it.  You may grieve the loss of  your traditional family stuffing recipe or other family favorites.

Stress.  There is so much information to figure while the weight of the responsibility falls on you.  Perhaps you expect yourself to figure it all out immediately.

Feeling Overwhelmed.  My kitchen cupboards and garage became an unorganized mess.  Since we decided to keep gluten items in the home, the pantry items doubled in quantity.  I do not have a natural knack for household organization, so it became a lengthy task as I tested and retested ways to organize.

Sort out your questions one by one

Make a list of the questions and hurdles you need to tackle.  Give yourself permission to sort out one hurdle at a time.  Here are a few ways I did this:

Restaurants:   I ordered a restaurant guide from Gluten Free Restaurants, Gluten Free Shopping | Triumph Dining.  This guide lists restaurants throughout the nation and the gluten-free menu items they carry.  One of our favorite restaurants listed only condiments.  Others offered a pleasant surprise with their list of gluten free food choices.   We carried this guide with us while traveling to areas with unfamiliar restaurants.

Thankfully, the internet makes eating out gluten-free much easier.  Look up the restaurant menu online and check the ingredients.  Usually grilled chicken, baked potatoes, scrambled eggs and bacon, cheeseburgers with no buns and salads are basics that restaurants are able to serve gluten-free.  Be careful about marinated chicken and salad dressings (ask for balsamic).  You can avoid disappointment if you check the menu and make a list before sitting down in the restaurant.

I often carry NutThin crackers or corn tortillas to a restaurant so our son can have a crunchy appetizer while the rest of the family nibbles on bread or chips and salsa before a meal.  (By the way, salsa is naturally gluten-free!)  I have found restaurants do not mind if I carry a small container of gluten-free salad dressing or brown rice to add to the meal when they do not have these gluten-free offerings on their menu.

Family Meals.  What about the two brothers who don’t need to give up their favorite cracker or sandwich?  Some families make their entire home gluten-free so the identified person does not feel left out.  After wrestling over this decision, we decided the family dinner will always be completely gluten-free.  Since we are all sitting around the table together we want to share the love!

Breakfasts, lunches and snacks are individualized.  The brothers have their own snack drawer and AJ has his special gluten-free cupboard accessible to him.   Fruit is always available in abundance for all.

Arm yourself with information.  I went to the bookstore and bought several books and cookbooks.  I really overdid it.  One resource book on Celiac Disease, one cookbook and one desserts book are plenty.

Over the years, I prefer to use my regular cookbooks and family recipes, adapting them as little as possible to the gluten-free diet.  You will discover several recipes are already gluten-free or can have simple adaptations without giving a gluten-free “taste”.

Grocery Shopping.  Many grocery stores list their gluten-free items on-line.  Print this list, check the items you need, and bring it along on your next shopping trip.  Some grocery stores also offer a gluten-free tour.  I have walked through grocery stores with store managers as they ask questions to understand what a gluten-free shopper needs.

Talk with the customer service representative in your local grocery store to discuss the items you need for your family.  Most of our local grocers want to meet this growing need for their customers.

Look for further Gluten Free posts from me this month:  Special Considerations for Special Needs Children on the Gluten Free Diet and Fret Free Gluten Free Recipes to get you Started and Cross-Contamination and the Gluten Free Diet

Tell me how your family has made the adjustment to gluten-free living.  What were (are) your greatest hurdles?

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  1. Bonnie, The rest of my family don’t have gluten or wheat sensitivities, so I stock both wheat breads and non-wheat ones. My husband is kind enough to adapt to brown rice spaghetti but I still buy him wheat breads for his sandwiches.

    Coach Theresa

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