By Christina McKeeby
“I’d die if I had to give up bread,” my friends joked when they heard my diagnosis of being allergic to gluten. I laughed along with them, but inside I wished I would have been brave enough to say “I’d die if I didn’t.” In order to restore my health, I quickly learned that in addition to educating myself, I’d also need to commit daily to educating my support system that going gluten free was far more than just “giving up bread.”
Getting the Diagnosis
I thought that finding a cure would be the easiest part of my journey, yet each doctor’s visit gave me the same diagnosis, a prescription for more antibiotics, and zero relief. Six months later, I’d taken as many pills as I could swallow and had lost my patience for my doctor’s inability to look further into my symptoms. I searched for a holistic doctor who would hopefully view my case through a different lens.
Five minutes into my appointment, I was feeling skeptical. My doctor drew blood, mixed herbs, and ran a machine over different parts of my body that felt a little too new age for my liking. Yet at the end, she said there was no infection. My body, however, was allergic to gluten. With each bite I took, my body had been attacking itself in an attempt to kill the glutenous “intruder.” This diagnosis would be the first step towards healing. I had never been more grateful to have advocated for my own health and to have sought out a second opinion.
The struggles didn’t stop there, but 15 years later, I’m here to help you navigate your own journey.
You can’t be 90% gluten free
Very quickly, I saw my body healing and I thought maybe I’d overcome the allergy. I'd dive back into gluten with gusto, blaming my lack of willpower on social events with limited dietary options. Each time, I'd walk away with regret. It is important to remember the long lasting damage that is happening to your intestines each time you eat gluten. You wouldn’t eat poison, not even a little, so why tempt fate for a bite of pizza?
Avoid cross contamination
“Just take the croutons off.”
“Stop being so picky.”
The list of useless “advice” from acquaintances is endless. No one questions the severity of a peanut allergy, but declare an allergy to gluten and prepare yourself for ridicule. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been teased for sending back a meal or skipping one. My symptoms may not be something one can visually see, but their effects are fierce and long lasting. Removing croutons doesn’t make a salad gluten free. The crumbs behind are just as toxic to my system as the entire piece.
Replace your favorite comfort foods
Oh how I missed my favorite carbs; pizza, bagels, croissants, you name it...I was mourning their loss. Yet, my failing body convinced me it was worth the breakup. Over the next few weeks, I'd open and close the pantry and refrigerator looking for a snack only to come away empty handed.
Fear not, since my diagnosis 15 years ago, allergens are far more recognized and new brands and restaurants are popping up every day to replace your old favorite snacks. The best part is that these substitutes, while more expensive, are just as delicious and aren’t trying to kill you. A quick search on social media with any variation of #glutenfree will open pandora’s box to every food you thought you’d never be able to eat again.
Learn to identify GF items when you’re shopping
My first grocery shopping trip morphed into an epic journey of label reading and I left the store with nothing more than tears and a bunch of bananas. These days, many products are easily labeled gluten free, so keep your eyes peeled for that beautiful little GF label. It may also be helpful in the early stages to find a friend with an allergy who can walk you through the grocery store to show you hidden gems and also point out products where gluten is secretly lurking.
With the ease of social media at our fingertips, we can use apps like “Find me GF”, to take a virtual tour of gluten free safe places around the world. I find many of my favorite gluten free products by scrolling through instagram and am always delighted to see gf food bloggers sharing their reviews of gluten free restaurants.
Be confident in requesting GF options when you go out
Having an allergy means you’ll need to find your voice. Most people have misconceptions that gluten is just bread or is all carbs. You’ll need to educate yourself to know that it is the gluten protein in wheat, barley, and rye that is harmful to your body.
In the beginning, I hated speaking up for myself. Then I realized I’d have to be half crazy to pay money to let someone poison me with food because I was feeling shy. If you won’t speak up for yourself, who will? Prior to eating out, I like to call ahead and read reviews to make sure the place can meet my needs. Many restaurants have gluten free menus, so be sure to ask the hostess or server when you arrive. If not, you can always request to speak to a chef.
Shift your mindset
It is so easy when beginning a new diet to feel overwhelmed by the things you can not eat. In addition to feeling a sense of loss, it can be expensive to find gluten free substitutes. Focusing more on what is naturally gluten free was liberating for both my mind, my waistline, and my wallet. Gluten free doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. Most of the foods on this Earth are gluten free and what a powerful reminder to eat more of what the Earth gives us and less of what our factories make.
I feel stronger every day, more in tune to the nourishment my body needs, and I'm forever grateful that over the past 15 years allergen free companies have popped up in every nook and cranny of the food industry. It has become much easier to advocate for health because the internet has brought much awareness to the severity of allergies. At the end of the day, the choice is yours to take care of your body. Educate yourself and eat well. Life’s too short to be anything but healthy.
If you're looking for a stress free, delicious way to eat gluten free, check out this weeks Splendid Spoon menu! Christina McKeeby is a gluten free food loving, homeschooling, world traveling mother of 3. With a baby on her back, you can find her laughing loudly, eating often, and taking the time to enjoy the little things in life.