Guest Post: Confessions of a Celiac

This is a guest post by Kristen. Kristen can normally be found blogging on her uber-inspiring home renovation and DIY blog, Storefront Life, but I asked her to contribute a piece on her experience adjusting to her recent celiac-diagnosis.

My name is Kristen and I am a Celiac.
I have been gluten free for three months. I feel like I should get a medal for that, or at least a small trophy… three months of gluten free has been a hard road. The thing is, I didn’t want to give up gluten, heck I didn’t even think I had issues with gluten.

Here’s some back story; I had been having problems with my vitamin and nutrient levels for quite some time. I had be fighting (and losing!) a battle with severe iron deficiency anemia for three years. After rounds and rounds of tests, they finally discovered that I had Celiac Disease.

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease wherein your body thinks gluten is the devil, and tries to destroy it. The problem is that your body also destroys everything else around the gluten, which means some pretty heavy damage to the gastrointestinal (GI) system. My body was so badly damaged, that I was unable to absorb any of the vitamins and nutrients from my food. Hence the anemia. I didn’t have any GI symptoms, or any issues with food. Heck I LOVED any and all food. So being diagnosed Celiac, and given the task of eating gluten free for the rest of my life was a bit of a shock, and a huge learning curve.

When you get diagnosed they tell you to eat plain, simple foods. Don’t drink alcohol, don’t go out to eat, give up your social life and cry alone on your sofa every Saturday night (okay, so they didn’t say that last part, but the rest is true.) The problem is, I didn’t want to give up going out with my friends, eating out, and enjoying my food. So I researched, asked a lot of questions, and I have figured out that with a bit of planning, I can still go out with my friends and have a good time.

So here’s Kristen’s (not so scientific) guide to how to be gluten free while maintaining your social life and loving your food.

Liquor: Alcohol that has been distilled (regardless of whether it was originally wheat based) is gluten free. Beer and any malt liquor are not safe, nor is anything that has had gluten ingredients added in after the distilling process. Wine and cider are inherently gluten free as they are fermented fruit (just check that label and make sure gluten wasn’t added in as a flavor). However, I find that if I am exposed to even a bit of gluten and have had some alcohol my reaction to gluten is much stronger. You will find me upchucking in the bushes like a high school kid who drank a bottle of Jäger. So just be careful when it comes to drink.

Now for food: Some genres of food are mostly out of the question (Italian, Chinese etc.) but at any restaurant you can often find at least one thing safe to eat on a menu (even if it’s the salad, which sucks but hey it’s better than starving). Thai, Indian, Mexican and Steakhouses will most likely have quite a few things you can eat. Still beware of stocks, gravies, seasonings, oyster & soy sauce, and anything malted, all of which may contain gluten.

Fast food & chain restaurants: Don’t even bother asking a fast food employee whats gluten free on the menu. They are not apt to have any clue whats in the food they’re making. However, most chains have a nutritional information and allergy guide on their websites. I have a little stack of printed out allergy charts for all the chain restaurants near my office. As much as I’d love to say that I bring my lunch every single day, that just isn’t reality. At least I know that the chilli at Tim Hortons is GF and almost everything from Chiplote (except the flour tortillas) I can safely eat. Check websites ahead of visits, and know whats safe for you.

Dine at smaller restaurants where the chef actually knows what he’s cooking. Most of the time when you tell the waitstaff that you cant eat gluten, they’ll grab the chef and he will come talk to you about the menu. I have had chefs even offer things off menu, that would be safe for me to eat. If you’re making reservations call ahead and let them know that you have dietary restrictions and they will be prepared for your arrival.

Invite friends to your house rather than heading to theirs for dinner. Most people who aren’t gluten free really don’t understand the breadth of items that contain gluten, what cross contamination means, or how sick it can make you. Its awesome that they want to feed you and that they want to accommodate your special needs, but it’s safer to indicate that its easier to cook GF in your own kitchen. If they really want to contribute you can get them to bring things you know are GF (like the steaks, cheese or wine) or just to give you a hand cooking in your gluten free kitchen.

Keep a Larabar (or three) in your purse at all times: The reality is that sometimes there’s just nothing you can eat. I also recommend getting a gluten ingredient app on your iPhone. I use one called GFShopping, which has an ingredient list with green or red labels. Green is safe to eat, red is not. This is super helpful when you’re roaming the isles of the grocery store unsure what an ingredient is.

So don’t fret, it does involve a bit of work, but you can still have the social life you love, just with a bit of effort.