5 Tips for Surviving the Transition to a Gluten Free Life

1. Try a gradual purge.  Some time ago I consulted my good friend and weight loss guru Josh Hillis for advice on how to improve my diet.  He suggested that rather than trying to overhaul my entire diet at once, I work to tidy up one meal (breakfast) for four days or a week before working on lunch. After that I could focus on improving my dinners, my snacks, my post-workouts, etc… The idea was to improve my eating habits in a manageable and sustainable way. I urge anyone who isn’t celiac (if you’re celiac, don’t play! Gluten is like crystal meth for your gut!) to try the same technique with gluten.  In my experience it is especially helpful to figure out a variety of gluten-free breakfasts before attempting anything else, as it will set the tone for your day and help you feel empowered instead of overwhelmed.

2. Gluten withdrawal.  So hot right now.  Recently there has been a lot of research into the addictive properties of food. And not surprisingly, it’s starting to show that gluten and many of the sugary foods that contain it are obnoxiously addicting.  Depriving your body of its gluten “fix” may leave you cranky, fatigued, and anxious, and if you sharply cut carbs (‘sup, paleo pals?) you may also experience the dreaded “low carb flu.”  These unique discomforts are yet another reason why the gradual weaning approach is nice, or if you are celiac, why you might find it easiest to initially rely on gluten-free substitutes (g-f breads and cookies!) before transitioning to a cleaner and less expensive way of eating.  Regardless of how quickly you transition, definitely be sure to hydrate like crazy, eat a bit of salt, nourish yourself with vitamin- and mineral-rich foods, take probiotics, and pamper yourself with some appropriate treats. (Also, if you’re an athlete read up on ‘safe starches’ and experiment with the right amount of carbs for you.)

You’re not. It just feels that way. 😉

3. Feed the flora. Please acquire probiotics ASAP. You cannot radically alter the composition of your diet without affecting your intestinal flora, so pick up a bulk bottle of probiotics and show your gut some love. Also, probiotic foods are legit – think fermented things like kombucha, kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, and plain Greek yogurt. Just don’t be that well-meaning buffoon who fills their cart with ridiculously processed, sugar-filled Activia. 🙂

4. Deal with the feelings. Although I’m a rather low-key person who has always prioritized health, I was shocked how many powerful emotions hit me when I first went gluten free. For days, weeks, and even months later I’d experience sudden moments of grief and frustration, such as when I encountered a nostalgic tasty (funnel cake at the fair! Okonomiyaki at Zencha!) or ran up against an uncooperative barista (“Eh, I’d just assume everything has gluten.”) To be honest, I still have damnit moments of self-pity and irritation today, and that’s fine with me. Don’t give yourself a hard time for being human and culturally conditioned to assign enormous value to various foods. If you need to mope or cry or complain, do it, especially in the beginning of your journey, but please don’t let yourself start to think like a victim. Promise me you won’t internally reframe yourself as a sickly, deprived, high maintenance, alienating, or otherwise negatively special snowflake – because you aren’t. You’ve got an autoimmune condition that means you can’t eat certain kinds of foods, and it sucks, but it really doesn’t affect your awesomeness to any degree. Relax. Have hope. I will help you deal with the hard emotional stuff in an upcoming post. 🙂

Stay strong.

5. Finally: be patient.  As you probably gathered from the tips above, gluten is a tricksy substance that will not go down without a fight. It will continue to affect your system for quite a while after you’ve stopped actively ingesting it. Some people will notice an immediate improvement in their health after cutting gluten for a day, but most will not see improvements for at least a week. Celiacs and those with strong sensitivities/intolerances may need three months to a year to get back to maximum health. This sounds discouraging, but actually it’s kind of awesome: every day for a year you get to wake up excited to see what unexpected health improvement you feel. As your gut heals and the chronic inflammation in your system continues to fade, you may discover that your lactose intolerance has faded, that your joints no longer ache, that your skin is surprisingly clear, etc.   Expect to start feeling a bit better quickly but not a ton better until months later – at which point you will be so deliriously happy that the “struggle” of going gluten-free will have transformed into a pleasure instead. Isn’t it cool how a simple thing like a dietary tweak can dramatically improve your health?! Yeah, I thought so.

Celiac, food sensitivities, etc.: because regular life was too easy for you.

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Paleo Granola

Recently I’ve started eating paleo again. I researched and tested it out about a year ago and loved how it made me feel, but paleo’s hard when you’re single and don’t have anyone else to share the costs and labor with.  It’s also difficult when dating, as you don’t want to seem ridiculously high maintenance when it comes to grabbing dinner or a  drink.

Nonetheless, a worrying down-tick in health recently inspired me to try it again. And, one week into it I realized that paleo is actually quite good when you’re single! For starters, it makes you feel totally awesome: you wake up flat-stomached, your skin clears up, and you no longer feel congested and fatigued. In fact, you actually start to feel a little bit foxy in your yoga pants, as opposed to just “ugh I do not even care.” This in turn boosts your shaken confidence and gives you a noticeable glow, which is good for attracting a mate who is worthy of you. 😉

Of course, the less glamorous reason is that you do have time to cook, because honestly you aren’t going on a ton of dates or spending your weekends snuggled up on the couch.

Whatever. It’s hard to feel bad about your life when you’re chomping on THIS:

DSC_1758

Scrumptious Crumbly Paleo Granola  😀

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups raw nuts and seeds (I used almonds, walnuts, and pecans here but love pumpkin seeds in this too!)
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/4 cup coconut or almond flour
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (try doing less, then adding in to taste; honey can be subbed instead)
  • 3 tablespoons raw almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon allspice (this and ginger are strong spices — if you’re not used to them start with less and add to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • Generous sprinkling sea salt
  • Handful of dried cranberries (you can add whatever you like before or after cooking, just reduce syrup or honey if you’re using particularly sweet fruit)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. Be fancy and mix dry ingredients in one bowl and wet ingredients in the other before combining, or be a savage and just dump it all in a giant bowl and attack it with forks to mix it like I did. Spread granola batter onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil (I used foil), then pop in the oven for about 15 minutes. 10 minutes in stir it around, then keep a suspicious eye on it because it’s easy to overcook.

Eat in a bowl of warmed coconut or almond milk, or atop Greek yogurt or kefir if you’re a dairy fan.  This also tastes really good plain. 🙂

You like? Then check this awesomeness out:

1) PaleoOMG’s Pumpkin Granola, which I made last week as my first foray into paleo cereal. It is sooooo freaking good and her blog rocks! 🙂 My only caveat is that if I made this again I would halve the amount of dates, as I had to add another cup of nuts and seeds and increase the spices to tone down the sweetness of the batter the first time around.

2) Just Eat Real Food’s “Sweet and Simple Guide to Paleo Granola”, which inspired me to make the recipe above! This site actually has a number of granola recipes that look great.

 

Don’t vs. Can’t: How to Own Your Choices

I once came across a psychological study mentioned briefly in a health magazine.  The study focused on the subtle influence of language on diet.  It found that participants who spoke about their diets in terms of don’t (“I don’t drink soda”) lost significantly more weight than those who explained their diets in terms of can’t (“I can’t drink soda”), even when other factors were controlled for.

This is powerful. Think about it for a minute.

The researchers theorized that usage of can’t unconsciously indicated powerlessness.  It implied that the can’t dieters had some sort of inability, some restraint preventing them from making a conscious choice. The don’t dieters, meanwhile, were expressing empowerment, indicating clearly how they do and do not behave based on personal decisions. They may have wanted to drink soda, but saying “I don’t” expressed their will and neatly precluded further discussion.

Why does this matter? For starters, follow-up discussion is an underrated danger. In the diet arena we all too often behave well on our own but give into friendly social pressure, and this is especially true when sabotage comes in the form of flattery (“Girl, you NEED dessert with your lunch! Just look how skinny you are!”) or encouraged self-indulgence (“Come on. You earned at least three beers tonight, man”). We all want to seem fun and easygoing, and women especially hope to avoid the shame and stigma associated with dieting.

That’s why it’s time to take don’t for a ride…

Imagine I’m at a restaurant with my friends and suddenly announce that I can’t drink soda.  At least half of my uppity friends would immediately call shenanigans on this claim, and some of the more devious ones might even start to think challenge accepted.  The hard truth is that badass people will not accept lame-ass excuses, and a feeble “I can’t drink soda” is the equivalent of a “kick me” sign.

Now imagine I said “I don’t drink soda” and promptly ordered a water. Most people would not blink an eye at this. Of course if someone did happen to ask me “why not?” I would respond to them simply (“It’s too sugary for me”; “I don’t like it”; “health reasons”; etc.), but the key here is that I would not have to apologize, defend, or explain. Don’t is a choice word. It expresses who you are.  People find it easy to question imaginary disabilities, but questioning life choices is a whole different game.

So now take this trick and apply it to anything. You’ll be amazed at how your confidence and efficacy soar. If there’s something you don’t like, say so kindly, firmly, and with minimal fanfare, and don’t forget that the opposite is also powerful (stating what you do and are.) I think you’ll be pleased to discover that your choices require much less justification than you think they do, and that you can safeguard your routines and other priorities without coming across as rigid or obsessed.  Seriously. This week I challenge you to decline an invitation with “I run on Tuesday nights. Maybe Wednesday?” instead of a lame and rambling excuse like “Well I wish I could go to happy hour tonight, but I don’t think I’ll have time because I usually try to run, and running is important to me for my health because blah blah blah.” Etc. Ain’t nobody got time for dat.

I want to end this article with a reminder to my fellow gluten-free and paleo folks, all of whom can relate to the experience of being challenged and questioned for going gluten/grain/etc.-free. People will insinuate that you’re just being trendy; they’ll say that you’re paranoid or really extreme; and horribly, they’ll imply that your health problems are imaginary if you don’t have celiac sprue.

So how do you respond? You don’t, folks. Haters gonna hate. All too often I hear gluten-free folks frantically justifying their gluten-free lifestyle, as though anyone anywhere has a right to give you shit about what you put in your mouth.  

So the next time you need to tell someone you don’t eat gluten, I challenge you to just say, “I don’t eat gluten.” The same goes for sugar or dairy or other foods.  If people ask you why, you can explain your decision, but make sure you’re explaining to educate or bond, not because you’re trying to prove that you are not trendy/arbitrary/insane.

Because really, so what if you were? What if you adopted the difficult gluten-free style for absolutely no reason at all? 

That’s your prerogative.

Own your choices.

You don’t apologize for who you are.

ransacked

Hi friends and family!  Remember me?  😉  Things have been mental here recently because my friend’s home was broken into and ransacked.  The thieves took everything of value from her, including some material that is so irreplaceable and sensitive I can’t even blog about it here. 😦 It affects many people. It affects her livelihood.  They took the both the tools and the fruit of her labor.

Basically, this totally sucks…

If you’re wondering what to do if you get burglarized, what I’ve learned is that you can’t roll over.  The cops will be unhelpful at first and everyone will express a general air of “there’s really nothing we can do…”, but the truth is, there are things people can do. Be a tigress and others will join you.  

All week I’ve helped my friend cooperate with cops (we got a detective to come and helped him figure out what to fingerprint), tell her story to neighbors and the media (because more watchful eyes = better chance of catching them), work out what to do with affected clients, and scour Craigslist/pawn shops/used electronics stores/eBay for any sign of her stolen goods.  In addition to this she bravely posted local flyers, searched dumpsters and other wooded areas nearby where the burglars may have hidden stuff for later retrieval, and registered the serial numbers of her items online and in the police database.  You would not believe how courageous she’s been, even though she now has to move and life is nuts.

I cannot wait for the Relief Party we have when we find her stolen electronics…

In the meantime, wish us luck.  Hindsight is always 20/20 but I’m encouraging her not to not to look back, as it’s far too easy to blame oneself because of less-than-stellar security measures. The way I look at it, blaming yourself for getting broken into because you didn’t shut your shades each day to hide your valuables / buy a fancy security system / whatever is like blaming a woman for getting raped because she walked outside at night in scandalous clothing. Should the woman have been more cautious? Yes, but she didn’t deserve to get raped. In my friend’s case we all underestimated the risk, but that doesn’t mean we were asking for the door to get kicked in.

Anyway. I’m glad she’s safe and will continue to support her as much as possible, hopefully in increasingly fun ways. Soon I will post some recipes and photos from fun events! 🙂

Zucchini Buckwheat Spice Muffins

Earlier this week I decided to try my hand at gluten-free baking again. I specifically wanted to use the buckwheat and almond flour I had on hand, and to incorporate the glorious farmer’s market zucchini my father had bequeathed on me. Lots of people gave me zucchini this week, actually… apparently giving people zucchini is a Thing.

I like this Thing.  Please continue giving me food. 😉

Anyway, I also used another gift: this classic and scandalously unhealthy zucchini bread recipe given to me by a friend of a friend.

Before thoroughly reviewing it I intended to just swap out the flours, recklessly hoping that my medley of “dense” flours would not result in semi-edible hockey pucks. Then I noticed the recipe called for more than two cups of sugar, a whole cup of oil, chocolate chips, and sour cream… umm yeah. Many more substitutions had to be made.

I now present you with the first humble recipe I have ever made — gluten-free and dairy-free, but definitely not sugar-free. 😉

muffins

Zucchini Buckwheat Spice Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups buckwheat flour
  • 1.5 cups almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup oil (vegetable, grapeseed, or coconut)
  • 1/2 cup cinnamon applesauce
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • Allspice to taste (this is strong spice, so start with 1/4 teaspoon or less and taste until it’s how you like it)
  • Nutmeg to taste (approximately 1/4 teaspoon)

Directions:

  1. Grease a muffin pan (I sprayed mine with coconut oil.) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
  2. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
  3. Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, applesauce, and sugar together in a large bowl (a fork and enthusiasm will suffice). Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture and continue to beat. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined.
  4. To ensure optimal deliciousness, taste your batter as you add in the allspice and nutmeg until you have the flavor balance you most prefer. You may want to omit the allspice and nutmeg and simply add more cinnamon, or you may want to get intense with these and also add ginger for a gingerbread-like taste.
  5. Pour batter into pans (they won’t rise much, so you can fill 3/4 full) and bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes or more before gently prying muffins free with a fork. They’re pretty awesome with cream cheese or buttercream frosting, but you didn’t hear that from me.

Go forth! Play around! These are good and much more nutritious than traditional zucchini bread, but still just sweet and fatty enough to feel decadent.

I am thinking another good variation would be to add lemon and almonds or poppy seeds instead of the pecans and spices, or if you do dairy to forgot the nuts and spices for chocolate chips and Greek yogurt in place of sour cream. These are also easily veganized, and could likely withstand the addition of flavored protein powder.

I hope you like them!  You know they turned out right if they’re dense and moist with a rich spiced fragrance and tasty little bits of zucchini inside.

PS: Yesterday was National Zucchini Day, but of course you knew that already. I’m going to generously assume  that the NZD gifts and cards you sent me were simply stalled in the mail and will arrive any day now. 😉