I recently had a conversation with a friend who was looking at going gluten-free for her husband’s health. Our conversation took me back to when I first realized that gluten — and some of my favorite foods — were off limits. At 27-years-old, I didn’t expect that I had eaten my favorite dessert for the last time.
After doing some research, I discovered that gluten is not so obvious. It can go by many names. It’s in soups, seasoning mixes, tortilla chips, chocolate, ice cream, spices, supplements, french fries (!)… even makeup. And don’t get me started about restaurant food.
I accidentally ate gluten — even small amounts — with painful and scary consequences. As a result, I became even more careful. And people did not always understand. Even community meals felt ostracizing. I had become that person. Ms. High-Maintenance at restaurants.
For people with gluten-sensitivity and Celiac Disease (an incureable auto immune disorder), gluten-free is the only option. Popular opinion can see gluten-free people as high-maintenance, immature hipsters who could use the health benefits of wheat/barely/rye/spelt. People can question how gluten-free a person really needs to be.
All of a sudden, two things I thought I understood — wheat and my body — were becoming more mysterious. Why did that rice mix (seasoning packet!) cause such searing pain in my abdomen? Why do cookies and communion wafers make my mouth bleed? What was it doing to me? What would happen if I accidentally ate it again? If I stay away from it, could my gut start to heal again or had I caused irrevocable damage?
Then I learned aboutcross-contamination.
Emotion level: overwhelmed.
I may have started crying one day at Kroger.
Still, looking back I also remembered what helped me get through that feeling of being overwhelmed. Here are 5 tips I learned about the feelings of going gluten-free.
1.) Accept the Feelings
This one has little to do with the actual gluten, but a lot to do with the mentality of changing your lifestyle so drastically.
Go ahead, feel frustrated. Feel sad, disappointed, and misunderstood. Feel uncertain. Feel scared. This is a change and it’s hard. You are probably saying farewell to a lot of things you like. It makes something difficult that used to be easy. It means that you will become that person at restaurants.
Accept all those feelings, and then say, “I will not lose hope.”
As a Christian, I gained hope by remembering I was “fearfully and wonderfully made”. That God is sovereign, even thought it feels like my body is mutinying.
2.) Get support
Explain your circumstances to a close friend. Chances are, you have a friend who has also had to go gluten-free. When I first went gluten-free, I didn’t understand how to do it. I suddenly didn’t understand my own body or how to take care of it. I needed help understanding this new lifestyle and the circumstances around it.
If you are the first of your friends to have to make this change, find a support group. Ask your doctor for recommendations. Read thesepersonal stories from the Celiac Foundation.
Know you are not alone.
3.) Change your mindset
In the U.S. — as many other cultures in world — eating is an important part of being social. So, what happens when it’s suddenly more difficult (and hazardous) to eat out?
- Invite your friends to explore possibilities that don’t involve eating — bowling, make art, museums, escape rooms, game nights, movies, nature walks, plays, music performances, have a photo shoot. Think about how much you would usually spend for a restaurant meal and spend it on making other types of memories.
- Bring your own food. I’ve only ever been kicked out of one restaurant for bringing in outside food (I’m looking at you, London Pizza Hut) and that was in 2006. I bring my own food to church potlucks, out to eat, friends’ houses (or offer to cook with them), and conferences.
Think outside the box. Stay involved. You’ll find your experience getting bigger instead of smaller.
4.) Be patient
As I mentioned before, becoming gluten-free is as sudden as the doctor’s pronouncement of a diagnosis. Becoming an expert in living gluten-free is not. So be patient with yourself. Ask for help. Keep learning.
Be patient with others. Don’t roll your eyes when others don’t seem to understand that whole grain bread, graham crackers, and wheat germ all have gluten in them. You will need to educate those around you even as you learn about all the places gluten can hide. One fun way is to invite people over for a gluten-free dessert night. Some of my friends have found they really enjoy some of my gluten-free goodies.
5.) Keep Going
Even when feelings of frustration and discouragement — even jealousy and anger resurface, keep going.
Remember it is not the end. Just like other changes, the gluten-free switch will allow for new experiences, new foods, new friends, and new opportunities that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. So, accept the feelings. But don’t let them rule you. Remind them that you’re not saying just good-bye. You are also saying “hello”. This is not the end, it is a start of a new chapter.
It will get better.
And it will get easier.
My biggest encouragement and hope is remembering that life is not all about food. That I don’t have to worry because God still cares for me. Yes, food is a blessing from God. Yes, He gives food for us to thrive and enjoy. Yes, some days I feel excluded from part of God’s blessing, but then I remember that I have an even bigger blessing — God himself. Maybe, for me at least, part of this new chapter is learning to say with the Psalmist, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their new grain and wine abounds.”