I have fallen into the time sucking addiction known as Twitter (find me at twitter.com/celiacbites) and every day I run across someone who has just been diagnosed with Celiac. Most are just as confused and lost as I once was, wondering if they will ever be able to survive without Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Pop-Tarts.
If you have followed this blog, you may have noticed I have a thing for Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Pop-Tarts. But I’m not bitter about NEVER BEING ABLE TO EAT THEM AGAIN! Sorry for that, I’m OK now. Not bitter, not bitter, not bitter, not bitter.
As I have referenced in earlier posts, learning to eat absolutely gluten free is a long and complex process. It’s not just eliminating bread and flour. Those pesky Viking descendants – the gliadins – have managed to infiltrate just about every food product known to man, including Pop-Tarts. You simply are not going to become an expert at maintaining a gluten free lifestyle for a good six months. Trust me, you will make mistakes and gluten yourself. Plenty of times.
The problem I hope to help you solve with this post is how to manage the gap between your first post-diagnosis hunger pangs and the end of your gluten free learning curve, however long that may be. You see, about four hours, maybe six, after your diagnosis, you are going to be HUNGRY. If you’re like me, you may have been HUNGRY for a long time as a result of celiac induced malnutrition. Learning an effective gluten free diet in a few hours is not a realistic option. And you can’t really go on a water and kiwi diet for the next six months either.
The trap that most newly diagnosed Celiacs fall into is immediately trying to start with an exclusive diet as opposed to an inclusive diet. By exclusive, I mean starting with the universe of available foods and then excluding, or ruling out, things that you can no longer eat. There are two main problems with this approach. First, it’s really depressing for your first thoughts about your new lifestyle to be focused on all the things you can’t eat. Second, you simply are not going to know all the intricacies of which foods and ingredients are in fact gluten free. You will get sick. A lot. And that bites. Trust me, I can feel your pain brother (or sister.)
After trying to start with an exclusive approach to eating, and failing miserably, I had my Duh! moment. Why not turn my approach (and frown) upside down and start with a universe of zero “safe” foods and add to the list things that are absolutely gluten free. Over time, as I learned more, I could add to my “safe” list. This approach virtually eliminated my gluten incident frequency while allowing me a series of small “victories” as I learned new things that I could enjoy. It’s all a matter of positive versus a negative perspective. After much deliberation, I have concluded that a positive perspective is, like, way better. Or as my kids would say, the positive outlook is totally beast.
Basic building blocks of an inclusive diet:
Fresh meats, poultry, and seafood. Fresh is the key word here. Not can fresh, but raw fresh. Consider anything pre-packaged in plastic or that contains an ingredient list as suspect. This includes deli meats until you verify them. Beware of anything that could be pre-marinated or pre-seasoned. Beware of anything frozen as well. Don’t eat Spam. Mainly because it’s just, well, Spam.
Rice. It’s a good thing that I love rice, because I eat a ton of it. And I am talking clear plastic bag, cooked at home rice – not the San Francisco stuff that comes in boxes! No trolleys for you! Depending on your current condition, you may or may not be able to put some real butter on it. Whatever your feelings about Fabio,
stay away from fake butter junk that comes in tubs. If you can’t do dairy yet, try a little pure olive oil with some Kosher salt – it’s not too bad of a substitute. For breakfast, I make home made rice cereal, which is basically regular white rice, butter, and pure maple syrup or pure brown sugar. This allows me to put a lot little extra brown sugar on there to compensate for my LOSS OF BROWN SUGAR AND CINNAMON POP-TARTS! Check the labels on the maple syrup and brown sugar to make sure there are no other ingredients!
Eggs. Fresh eggs are a staple for me. There are lot’s of ways to prepare them and a little fresh butter or olive oil for cooking is just peachy. Making large batches of hard boiled eggs is a particularly convenient way to deal with snacks, lunches at work, etc.
The suggestions above assume that you personally pulled these things off the store shelves and prepared them. If you eat the same things from a restaurant, you have lost the certainty that the ingredients are pure and absolutely gluten free. You have also opened a big door number three with cross contamination behind it.
As you start to heal, you’ll be able to add other safe items to your list such as cheeses, dairy, some sweets, and more. I will comment on that more in later posts.
So you are off to a rock ‘n roll gluten free diet, but you’re not quite out of the woods yet. Join us next time when we talk about Eating lipstick and other fun ways to poison yourself!