Hi everyone! Happy Monday! I hope you are all doing well. I’ve been a little quiet because I have a big test in Microbiology coming up tomorrow. But I wanted to take a study break to bring you my first guest post! This post is from one of my best friends, Caitlin, who also has a blog (Blue Dot Jewelry). Check out Caitlin’s jewelry, it’s beautiful and amazing and I love it!
So, as you all know, I’ve been participating in Kris Carr’s 21-day cleanse from her book, Crazy Sexy Diet. It’s basically vegan and gluten-free and I have been having a hard time with the gluten-free part and it was perfect timing when Caitlin sent me her guest post on going/being gluten-free (and soy free). Not too long ago, I asked her to write a guest post because I was interested in how her gluten-free diet came to be and how she deals and overcomes her allergies and how we may all benefit from at least decreasing the gluten in our lives. So without further ado, here’s Caitlin’s post, Allergies Shmallergies!
When Deborah (aka The Food Yogi) asked me to write a post about how I eat around my food allergies, I had to think for a minute how to begin. Almost four years after I discovered I was gluten intolerant, I still feel like my food story is tied to my discovery of my allergies, so I’ll start there. One thing I hope to share through my story is that food can heal, but it can also do harm, and if you have mysterious-seeming ailments, consider, with the help of your doctor, that they may be allergy related. I wish I had done so sooner!
Four years ago, I’d felt terrible for some time. Years, actually. But my symptoms were so vague and inconsistent that I put off solving the problem for an awfully long time. When I started feeling terrible after every meal no matter its contents, and then — ick — when my hair started to fall out, I had to face facts. It was beyond time to take care of myself. I was 24.
Guided by some research, I started paying attention to my diet like I never had before. I decided on a month-long elimination diet (it is recommended that you consult a health care professional before beginning). I cut out meat, gluten and most sugar sources, among other things. I felt instantly different. I kept a food journal, noting not just my meals, but also when I periodically felt unwell. This is how a nutritionist was able to point out that I was still eating gluten via wheat-free rye bread, which I’d though was safe. It was definitely correlating to my pain days. Aha!
After I eliminated gluten, I felt like I’d found a huge missing chunk of my life puzzle. I was liberated. I was cured! But I was also so hungry. And I was tired.
In the beginning, restaurants and their hidden ingredients were far too intimidating. At lunch, I would wander in circles around grocery stores. My hunt wasn’t even for flavor or satisfaction; I was just desperate for enough calories to make it through the day. And then I had another blow. It turned out that eliminating gluten had made room for my soy allergy to make itself known. Soy, I quickly learned, is a master of disguise, a sly infiltrator of American grocery store shelves. It’s in so many things. I was elated to be pain free, but even hungrier. All the time.
So I filled up on gluten free pasta — the only way I knew then to truly fill myself up — and changed my paradigm. Instead of approaching food from an elimination perspective, I started thinking about it from an inclusion perspective. What did the new me eat?
The answer: Anything I could. I educated myself about what was safe. I built a mental map of places in the city that had “me” food — a store with a gluten free snack shelf, a restaurant that didn’t use soybean oil in the kitchen, a gluten free pizza shop in the heart of the city. I’m still so doggone grateful every time I find another one!
I learned over time to ask assertive questions in restaurants. I had to be my own expert. Just two weeks ago, on a road trip, a woman working the register at a Five Guys Burger and Fries told me with certainty that all their buns are gluten free. Turns out she had no idea what gluten is. Dangerous, lady!
I also warn friends and ask them questions, and people are kindly accommodating. I used to feel awkward and imposing, but hosts feel worse if I have to decline to eat!
Really, for me it comes down to planning ahead, so that when I’m out of the house, I know (at least approximately) where my next meal will come from. I try to pack a lunch on weekdays and I often carry nuts in my purse. I eat a lot when something I like is available. I do spend quite a bit of time thinking about food. But I eat well. In a pinch, I’m now pretty fast at picking out the one or two things I can eat from a bodega (even most chips contain soy — alas. I miss Doritos most of all).
I eat simple dishes and whole foods. I try to cook often, and there is no shortage of healthy, easy and delicious gluten and soy free recipes. Potato, tomato and vegetable soups. Curries. Quiche. Rice and beans. Grilled cheese sandwiches. Cupcakes. Fruit. Cheese. Cream cheese. (I eat a lot of cheese). I’m not saying it’s effortless. I am saying it’s very possible!
For anyone learning to live with a recently discovered allergy or intolerance, to you I say congratulations! It gets better from here. It’s worth it. Be mindful. Keep your eyes open and read labels. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Look to the beautiful photos of recipe and cooking blogs for inspiration.
My big fat silver lining is that in addition to being pain-free, I also have a better, more diverse diet than ever. Where I used to grab a croissant or muffin because it was easy, I now eat an apple and a yogurt. Don’t mind if I do. So sorry, body, that it took so long to get here!
Caitlin! You’re awesome! Thank you so much for writing this guest post and I hope it helps those that are considering a gluten-free diet, for whatever reasons. It has definitely given me a boost in the midst of my gluten-free three weeks and also inspired me to ask questions about the food I am eating when eating out. I never ask questions because I don’t want to bother the server but knowing what is in the food is such a relieving feeling. I didn’t realize there’s gluten in spring rolls!?
PS – Caitlin is getting married on Saturday!! I am so excited and can’t wait to share that special day with her and her dearest almost-husband, my other best friend since elementary school. 🙂