Just been diagnosed? Here are some tips to help you get through that first year of being gluten free …
1. Be brave – and optimistic. It will be difficult, but you will feel better as your intestine heals.
2. Clear out some cupboard space, dedicated for your gluten free products. They can be very bulky, especially if, like me, you have to buy everything you see ‘to encourage them’ to keep making/stocking it. If you have gluten products in the house that nobody else in the house eats – bin them. Don’t eat it ‘to avoid waste’.
3. Join the local support organisation, even if you’re not a natural joiner. Here in the UK, it is Coeliac UK. They will have advice, tips and other helpful material. CUK produces a list of manufactured foods that are acceptable for coeliacs to eat – with updates every month. If there are local meetings – go to them! And talk to people, no matter how shy you feel.
4. Read every label. On everything. If you’re not sure, don’t eat it – and contact the manufacturer to ask if it is OK. Working out what you can and can’t eat will become easier as you learn what can instantly be discarded, leaving you to concentrate on the things that might be OK.
5. Learn as much as you can – even if you end up knowing more than the local doctor does. She, after all, has to know something about a lot of things. You can concentrate on what affects you. Then you’ll be able to assess whether you will be able to eat codex wheat, lactose, oats …
6. Find other people in the same situation. We went to local meetings but when there wasn’t a local support group for children, we set one up. It helped us a lot in the early years to talk to other parents in the same situation. If there isn’t a local group, then these days there is the internet. I’m always recommending the message board, because it is a great source of support.
7. Don’t ever be persuaded by people saying “just one [cream cake, doughnut, slice of quiche] won’t hurt”. It will, even if you can’t feel any difference. It will be eating away at your small intestine, and set your recovery back. Don’t do it.
8. Do be prepared to explain it often, and sometimes over and over again. No it is not a fad, yes it is a medical requirement.
9. Be prepared to be pushy – you will have to ask what is in dishes, and double-check if necessary. But do be polite. You don’t want them just to pick the croutons out of your portion of soup and give you the same bowl again!
10. Read every label again. Sometimes manufacturers change the recipes of your trusted favourites, so don’t assume it will be OK.
11. Do avoid cross-contamination. Some people set up dedicated ‘areas’ for gluten free preparation – with dedicated chopping boards, knives, pans etc. Even if you don’t go this far, do think about a dedicated toaster (or buy lots of foil for the grillpan), your own breadbin and even your own pots of butter, jam etc. It only takes someone to dip a knife with gluten crumbs into the butter for you to spend the night in the bathroom.
12. Do plan ahead for festivities and celebrations. From Valentines Day to Mothering Sunday, Thanksgiving to Christmas, conferences to an impromptu birthday cake at work, celebrations involve food and drink. Plan ahead – what will you eat?
13. Consider travelling and days out – an emergency travel pack of gluten free snacks can be invaluable, especially if it is a gluten free child you are travelling with!
14. Don’t forget drinks – these can contain gluten too, whether they are alcoholic or soft drinks. Be careful.
15. And at the end of the year – celebrate! (With something gluten free, obviously).
I’ve written a book summarising what we’ve learnt over 20 years of dealing with the gluten free diet, and it might be just what you’re looking for. It packs the lessons we’ve learned into what I hope is a helpful and straightforward guidebook. It’s available on Amazon, as a paperback or for your Kindle…