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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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.

green smoothies

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Wow, I just had the best weekend of my life.  H’s henna party and wedding were amazing and I absolutely loved spending days and nights in the company of my best friends.  We danced, we ran, we feasted, we dressed up, we did our hair, and occasionally we slept… it was perfect.  I can’t believe fate brought us all together.

Soon I will post some pictures of our exotic outfits and the big crazy grins that everyone had, but first, here’s an overdue mini-post about green smoothies.

Green smoothies are undeniably delicious and nutritious. Just look at that brilliant color!  🙂  The problem is that many people dislike the herbaceous taste of veggies and want to conceal it, but aren’t sure how to do so without adding a ton of calories and sugar.

Enter this indispensable website:

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Simple Green Smoothies is the prettiest and most user-friendly recipe guide I’ve ever seen. Simply click the artful photo of ingredients to discover a simple yet tantalizing recipe.  You won’t find needless gluten or dairy here, stevia, or other unnecessary sweeteners; you’ll find the kinds of smoothies you could make right now with a few basic items from your pantry and fridge. All of them are nourishing, and most are paleo.

I am obsessed with the PB&J one and frequently make it as a well-balanced breakfast.  One of my friends highly recommends the coconut pina colada-style smoothie.  However, because I am one of those odd folks who actually likes a green veggie flavor, I’ve also been making some ultra-green concoctions inspired by Simple Green Smoothies. Prior to finding this site I had never tried cilantro, parsley, or cucumber in a smoothie, and now I regularly play with them all with great success.

I don’t have any set recipes to share yet, as the whole point has been to toss handfuls of whatever fruits and greens I have lying around in my blender without really planning.  However, I have learned a few things:

  • A dollop of coconut oil will give your smoothie a silky texture and fuel you further.  Don’t overdo this dose of fat, but don’t fear it either.  You need fats and proteins to fuel you!
  • Half a frozen banana = instant creaminess. Don’t use a full one unless you want it very sweet.
  • Green smoothies with raw kale in them can develop a slightly chunky texture. Try using frozen kale or spinach and adding it first so that it has a bit of time to steep in whatever liquid you’ve added, or if you use raw kale, add coconut oil/more liquid than usual and blend for a longer time.
  • An inch of fresh ginger and/or a generous squeezing of lime juice really bring a green smoothie alive. I use both almost every time. 🙂
  • As a rule of thumb, green fruits (kiwi, green grapes, green apples) harmonize beautifully with green veggies and produce a vibrant color (see above.)  However, it’s worth experimenting with other kinds of fruits as well, even though the resulting smoothie is likely to turn out a dubious shade of brown.
  • Finally, don’t forget to get creative with your liquid. In addition to water and almond milk I like to play around with coconut water (fantastic for rehydration), coconut milk (canned or Silk style), aloe juice, and fruit juice.  Kefir is also a great tart dairy addition for those folks who like it. Just be careful if you use fruit juice, as you can inadvertently hijack the flavor and add a ton of sugar to your drink. Try water with a dash of orange juice first and get crazy from there.

Hope this inspired you! Please let me know if you try any more of the SGS recipes or come up with an awesome combination of your own.

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. 😉

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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. 😉

Gluten-Free Strawberry Basil Muffins

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Strawberry basil.  As soon as I read the words I had to know how that intriguing flavor combination would taste. I already had sweet organic berries (look how small and pretty they are!) and loads of basil growing in my ‘garden’, so I picked up a bag of almond flour and happily got to work.

The verdict?

Overwhelmingly scrumptious.

Beth of Tasty Yummies deserves an award for dreaming these up. They’re moist, fragrant, and incredibly tasty, all while being gluten-free, dairy-free, and refined-sugar-free. There is magic in maple syrup, my friends. Also, coconut oil.  I will not pretend that these are ‘healthy’ in that they have plenty of fat and sugar, but at least there are good fats going on here, and they are far more nourishing and filling than your average grocery store muffin.

The only thing I’d change next time would be to slightly reduce the salt, and to experiment with adding peaches. Doesn’t that sound good?! I actually bought peaches to play with, but they didn’t ripen in time.

PS: I am just beginning to learn to use my camera! Forgive the embarrassing food styling, as I don’t have the white plates and rustic wooden tables of fancier bloggers yet. 😉

PS PS: Looking back, I just realized these are technically paleo. Yay!