Monday, April 29, 2013

My Gluten Free Anniversary!

Two years ago, yesterday, I threw out all of the flour (wheat) products in our house and said "goodbye" to gluten once and for all.  Today, as I sit here, I realize that it has been a journey but is (and was) surprisingly easier than I thought it would be and I feel 100x better than I used to.  Was it worth it?  Yes.  Do I ever eat gluten now?   No.  How do I do it?  Why did I do it?  Can you do it too?  I will attempt to explain.  :)    (I have sectioned out this post so you can skip around because it is longer than I meant for it to be!)

Pregnancy loss:

As you may have read, we lost our blueberry in January 2011.  It took us a long time to get pregnant and then after experiencing a loss, I started looking into possible causes.  I am aware that 1 out of 4 pregnancies end in loss (25% is a BIG number) and also know that more than likely there was no "reason" behind it; but as a mother who lost a baby you just have to try to make sense of your loss by doing some research (hours and hours, days and days).  I knew it wasn't the RH factor, we had recently switched to BPA free refillable water bottles, I ate only organic meat, fruits and veggies and so I started exploring the Celiac disease route (check the links for info on those items if you're curious).  

Why did I go gluten free?

For 32 years of my life I had always had a bad stomach and was actually put on prescription pain killers for a couple of years, a pill I took every night.  After I ate anything I felt horrible and actually only stuck to bread/pasta because I thought it actually made me feel better (if you have Celiac and eat gluten you may not be affected by it for up to 3 days - how crazy is that?!).  I never ate leftovers from restaurants because I thought the food was poisoning me, would have to lay down (and could never go anywhere) after eating (especially eating out) because I had to rest and "digest" and would have to run to the bathroom on more than one occasion right after I ate.  There was a time, about 10 years ago, where I was so miserable I couldn't even get off the couch.  For as long as I remember food has hurt my stomach and that is probably why I'm not very spontaneous or adaptable today, because I've always had to plan activities/events around my stupid stomach.  And if you know me you know that many times I have asked for a "stomach replacement" because it was just so painful.  I would pop my pain pills, Imodium and tums daily but still felt horrible.  (You can read more about my stomach issues here, in my first "Goodbye Bread" gluten free post.)

Ian made me go back to the gastrointestinal doctor, 3 years ago, to find out if there was something else I could do aside from take a pill every night (not so great to take a pain pill daily).  He told us that I could get the test for Celiac (where they take a piece of your intestine) but there is no "fix" if you have it, so I always knew that instead I would have to just bite the bullet and go gluten free just to see.  Since Celiac was becoming more prevalent he told me that people who were originally diagnosed with Irritable Bowl Syndrome (me) actually had Celiac Disease instead.  In a blood test (that I took during my first couple of visits) it turns out had two of the three factors so I decided to try it once and for all.  I always said I would do it but never actually did it until we lost our baby.  Motivation.

How did I do it?

First, I asked Ian for his support.  There is no way you can go gluten free by yourself.  Then, I cleared out the kitchen and gave away all of our flour products.  I also found a couple of sites listing where gluten may be hidden just to arm myself (like soy sauce - who knew?!).  Then, I had to be proactive.  Every time we went out to eat I would ask for either a gluten free menu or an allergy list (every restaurant is required to have this).  The menu makes it easy but the list is tough, it usually is a chart with a little dot if a menu item has wheat in it.  It makes it hard to order because you have to look up every little piece of your meal just to see.  At restaurants that made it really difficult (big chains like Hard Rock Cafe and Famous Daves) I would stick to just a salad and plain, grilled meat (if grilled on a shared grill you have to be careful and a lot of spices they put on the meats have wheat in them).  French fries are tough too because if they are fried in a shared fryer with mozzarella sticks or breaded chicken then you can't eat them either.  But some places, like Red Robin (and McDonald's) have a separate fry fryer so those are ok.  Then, you have to worry about cross-contamination.  Domino's just came out with a gluten free pizza but it is made in a common kitchen with the regular pizzas so I am nervous about ordering one.  And, it really sucks because they are going to eventually get rid of the option saying "there isn't a demand" but really people with Celiac aren't ordering it because there's a disclaimer as soon as you click it (on their site) saying they don't recommend it for people with the actual allergy.  So dumb. 

Dining out:

But, some restaurants have really stepped up.  PF Chang's has a gluten free menu right on their regular menus and Pei Wei has theirs online.  Olive Garden as gluten free pasta (it's gross, don't bother) and The Old Spaghetti Factory has some too and it is delicious (and they are working on gluten free bread!).  A lot of pizza places have gluten free pizza and a lot of servers/chefs/managers are pretty knowledgeable about what you can have and can't have.  Family owned and local restaurants are always the best, sometimes even labeling it on their menus.  (I have found some GREAT options in the Phoenix area if you're a local and want to know, just comment below!)

Dining in:

It does limit you, however.  I feel like if I go out to eat I am not going to pay a bunch of money just to eat a salad so I'd like to go somewhere that I can actually eat something good.  If not, I will just make it myself.  A lot of places also have a lot of gross gluten free stuff so it does make you want to stay home and just make it yourself because you know you could do it better.  You do have to learn to be a better chef because if not you will miss out on things.  For the longest time we didn't have a gluten free pancake place here so I had to make them myself and even tried the Dutch Baby and Apple Pancake (from the famous Original Pancake House).  If you want dessert you will definitely have to make it because even if you go somewhere "gluten free friendly" chances are you won't be able to eat the dessert they have available.  Cookies and cakes are easy, Betty Crocker has gluten free mixes available at most stores.  The one thing we've found is not to try to make some recipe you've found online that is already made gluten free, just take your favorite recipes and substitute the four in them with some gluten free all-purpose flour instead (adding xantham gum for binding).  That way you can have whatever you want, and continue to make whatever you want, but just use a different kind of flour (usually a rice blend, this one is good).  We've also found some pastas we like (Tinkyada is the best) and some pizza crust (Udi's for ready made and Bob's Red Mill for make it yourself).  For bread, you can make your own too (we have a bread machine and Bob's has bread flour) but we just buy Udi's and toast it to use it (it is too crumbly if you don't).  Udi's also makes hot dog/hamburger buns and muffins - all good.  KinnikKinnick brand makes the best gluten free donuts (frozen but you microwave them for 45 seconds), Schar makes some packaged (unfrozen) bread for little sandwiches or garlic bread for pasta and Amy's makes some great meals if you are on the go.  And, since I am a HUGE mac and cheese fan (and miss the blue box even though I know it would KILL me), we found Annie's in either the powder or creamy variety (they even have white cheddar and a microwave pouch kind!).

I know all of this rice pasta and rice bread isn't the best for you either but when you are gluten free you still want your creature comforts just like everyone else.  The biggest disappointment is when you go out to eat and you find that they have gluten free options but you have opt out of things or get something in a smaller size.  Like gluten free pizzas cost the same as regular ones, at some places, but are only available in a 10 inch size.  Or, you can have the hamburger at this place but get no bun, when they could easily go and buy a package of Udi's buns to have on hand for customers.  We want to be just like everyone else - but I only think business owners we are actually gluten free would know this and accommodate.  The best gluten free restaurant in my area is Picazzo's because they have everything gluten free, even bread and dessert, no substitutions or disappointment there!  Arizona is also a bit behind the times when it comes to gluten free dining and I find that when I go to Portland they do a better job and definitely have more options available.

Is it more expensive?

Yep.  But, only if you buy all of the gluten free products.  If you opt out of gluten altogether then you aren't really spending any more money (and actually may be spending less).  Where do we shop?  Sprouts, a semi-healthy grocery store.  The organic meats/fruits/veggies are what sucks our money but we also do a majority of our shopping at Costco for dairy and other fruits/veggies (they have a lot of organic options too and our Costco even has organic chicken and ground beef!).  Is it worth the money and time?  Definitely.

Ian still eats gluten if he's at someone's house and they offer it or if he is out at a restaurant.  But every single time after he eats it he feels sick and has even thrown up on more than one occasion, and he doesn't have the allergy.  It just shows you that your body rejects it after you haven't eaten it for awhile and that makes me think that maybe it isn't good for any of us, really.  If you are eating white wheat flour products I have heard you should opt for brown wheat flour instead (because white flour is bleached) but I have no idea because I don't eat it at all.  And, that means that Lemon doesn't eat it either and hasn't ever since conception.  We are going to wait a couple of years to see if she has the allergy, just in case.  So, that makes dinners for her difficult too because we can't just drive through somewhere and grab her something to eat (better for her probably!), she has to eat what we eat which means she usually get something homemade.  She loves gluten free spaghetti night (Sundays, I am Italian) and gluten free mac and cheese and eats potatoes and fries that we make too.  She eats only organic fruits/veggies at home and gluten free oatmeal for breakfast.  She is a pretty healthy little lady and I hope to keep it that way, even through her toddler years (it looks like gluten free chicken nuggets will just have to do!). 

You have to be proactive if you want to live a gluten free life.  You've got to buy groceries, cook or bake and learn to ask for menus or allergy lists at restaurants.  It also takes commitment but after a certain amount of time just becomes your life and you don't know any different.  Each year I pick up doughnuts at Dunkin' Donuts for my students with the highest class average and do I wish I could have a doughnut?  Yes.  Do I have one?  No.  The few times I have been "glutened" since going gluten free have been horrible and feeling so great now (and remember what it felt like before) makes me never want to eat it again.  It is a lifestyle, for sure, but not a choice for many of us, it just becomes part of our healthcare routine like avoiding peanuts if you have a peanut allergy.  

Has it helped my health in other ways?

You bet.  I used to have horrible eczema, ever since I was a baby, and going gluten free has cleared it all up (did you know your skin is linked to your digestive system?  Google it).  My eyes used to be really itchy, every night, and my allergies used to be really bad, so bad every year that I opted for allergy shots (and almost died, read here); but I don't have them nearly as bad anymore.  My skin is brighter, my eyes are brighter and I have more energy and am not bogged down with a bubbly, bloated, painful, nauseous stomach.  And the best part?  Being able to get up, go out and do things after I eat - no matter where I eat!  I don't ever want to go back, can't go back and therefore don't miss it.  I feel so much better now, it isn't really something to "miss."

Am I really allergic to wheat?

And more and more places are going gluten free!  Dunkin' Donuts is actually testing some gluten free doughnuts in Massachusetts (Caitlin, you should send me some!) and Subway is testing gluten free bread in Oregon and Washington.  Domino's has the pizza now but I'm sure another chain will come out with a better, and actually contained, version.  Are people just now realizing they have Celiac?  I don't think so.  I am willing to bet that we aren't allergic to the wheat itself but how it is being sprayed and processed now-a-days.  Do you know what the major crops are in America and how everything is being made using these crops (wheat, corn, soybeans)?  We need more and more of these and we need them faster and faster to meet demand.  That means that they way they are grown, sprayed, farmed and distributed to us is getting cheaper and cheaper, compromising our health in the process.  Don't believe me?  Google it, there are a ton of articles/documentaries discussing this.  I think that the wheat of 60 years ago would have been fine, but the wheat produced now is actually some genetically modified crop full of pesticides - and that is what is causing the allergy.  Our bodies can't digest it, can't absorb the nutrients and are reacting (it's the same for people with corn or soybean allergies).  Read this.

Things to know:

I originally wanted this blog to be about cooking/eating out and living gluten free but with the two pregnancies and now a baby it's hard to find the time to blog about food too.  But, I will try and be better if you guys are interested in reading about it and maybe learning some new recipes.  There are some great bloggers out there that are doing this, though, and I listed them under my Gluten Free Living tab.

If you know someone who is gluten free, here are some things you need to know.  Read the labels.  On most foods, now, at the very end of the ingredient list it lists known allergens (ex:  Contains:  Milk, Eggs).  If it says wheat then you can't use it.  If there is not "contains" list, then read through the ingredients.  If it says anything with wheat or "modified food starch" and doesn't list which kind of starch (potato, corn, etc), don't use it.  Before adding any spices or sauce to anything, check those too.  A lot of BBQ sauces and Asian sauces (soy sauce based) have wheat.  Even some rice products have wheat, even though they are a rice dish, or some ready made rice noodle bowl you get at the store (see hidden gluten on food labels).  Gluten is wheat flour, period, it is not rice flour, rice, potatoes, sugar, etc.  And, just because someone is gluten free (wheat free) doesn't mean they also need to eat something that is dairy free or sugar free (that's just too much "free").  So, if you make a cake, opt for a gluten free mix not a mix that is also dairy or sugar free.  And if you buy a cake, cupcakes, cookies, etc. go to a place that is just gluten free instead of combining it all.  I can eat dairy and sugar, just not wheat.  If you want to make your favorite recipe for yourself or someone who is gluten free, just make it (don't be afraid), just substitute the flour with a gluten free all-purpose blend (and maybe some xantham gum).  You don't have to search online for a "gluten free so and so recipe" just substitute and it will be fine.  My family eats orange rolls every year, Christmas morning (the Pillsbury kind) but for the past two years I have made them myself and they have turned out great!

Does going gluten free make you skinny?  

Not necessarily.  Even before I was gluten free I had to look at those doughnuts at work or those cookies at home and make a choice not to eat a bunch in one sitting.  Now, I don't have to make those decisions, yes, but I still have to use the same restraint with gluten free pastas/breads and cookies at home.  I don't have the option to just drive through a fast food place and get dinner, yes, but I have to actually cook something which is a total pain (and rough when you're tired after working all day).  But, I have to choose to make something healthy instead of just gluten free mac and cheese, just like someone who isn't gluten free.  When we first went gluten free we did have issues with feeling "full" because wheat flour does make you feel fuller than other flours (think of what you feel like after a couple of slices of pizza).  But, I had to substitute my "full" feeling with other things like greek yogurt or cottage cheese and fruit - good sources of protein.  And it doesn't help that I refuse to eat pink slime (look it up) so fast food and even restaurant burgers are out for me, even if I don't get the bun.  

What do I eat?

I get asked this question a lot and feel as though this is what brought me back to my pre-pregnancy weight 6 months after having Lemon (and yoga!).  I gained over 45 pounds while pregnant (mostly because I was afraid of another loss so I was not very active) but lost it all after 6 months.  I am 34 and as you get older you realize that it is just a little bit about working out, but mostly about what you eat that contributes to your weight.   Don't get me wrong, I think we should definitely be active, but in my experience it is more about portions and the kinds of foods that I eat than anything else.  I weigh the same now that I weighed in high school, almost 20 years ago, and only do hot yoga once a week (even though I'd love to go more - come on summer!).  It is all about food for me. 

On a typical school day (I'm a teacher), this is what I eat:  

For breakfast it's a protein bar, this kind from Nature Valley (gf), but these are also good too and I pop two calcium chewables because us ladies need more calcium in our diets!  If I'm extra hungry I will grab a greek yogurt too and I used to put honey and sliced almonds in it but now just eat a fruit flavored one.  For a snack, during the day, I eat sliced organic apples and peanut butter.  (We used to make our own peanut butter, just peanuts and agave nectar in the food processor, but since Lemon we haven't had the time so Skippy it is!)  For lunch I eat sliced turkey and cheddar cheese.  I don't do crackers, gf bread or anything else, just the turkey and cheese.  After school I share my cottage cheese and fruit cocktail with Lemon (she follows me around for it) and then we eat at around 5-5:30 since she goes to bed by 7pm.  For dinner it's usually veggies and meat like pork chops (with pork seasoning and garlic powder) on the grill with BBQ sauce (Sweet Baby Ray's and KC Masterpiece are gf) and some broccoli/brussels sprouts/peppers/onions (usually one or two of those veggies).  Some nights it's spaghetti with meat sauce, mac and cheese, tacos, stuffed peppers or homemade pizzas.  (I used to cook a lot more but now just don't have the time other than to throw something on the grill.)  For dessert I will eat some fruit snacks or a small bowl of ice cream if Ian happens to get some (he has a sweet tooth for sure!).  On the weekends we go out, or I can make something more elaborate (I really am a good cook).  Maybe I will start posting our homemade lunches/dinners this summer when I have more time, if anyone is interested.  :)

Do I eat like this all the time?  No.  I eat crap just like everyone else and even though I can't drink beer I enjoy a fruity cocktail (or wine) every now and again too (even though I've never been much of a drinker).  I love chips (most are gf) and Doritos and Hot Cheetos are my weakness.  And I LOVE fruity candy - anything sour or gummy is right up my alley (beware of licorice or sour punch straws - both contain wheat!).  It is tough sometimes because if I am busy I can't even opt for junk food or fast food, so chips or a gluten free bagel with cheese hit the spot if I'm in a hurry.

Ask me!

If you are considering going gluten free (for health issues or otherwise), I would be happy to help.  If you are going out to eat and don't know what to order at a specific restaurant, ask me.  If you want to know where to start, I can help.  If you want support, I'm here for that too and if you want some recipe ideas, I have a ton.  I am hoping that this post (and my others on this topic) will help people so they don't have to live like I did for 32 years, hating food and hating my stomach.  Going gluten free has changed my life and I would love for my experience to help others too.  And, if you have any of the health issues I've talked about, try it, it definitely isn't as scary or tough as I thought it would be.  If I can do it you can too and I am here if you need some help.  


  1. This is very informative. Fortunately for me, I don't seem to have the symptoms and I don't know of any friends or relatives who are gluten-intolerant either. Could it be that Asians are less gluten sensitive? Rice and noodles have always be our staple.

    Following your awesome blog on GFC and Bloglovin.

    Happy Tuesday!

  2. Good info! I've been wanting to get tested for this disease, but I was scared of not knowing where to start. Once I have this test I will come back to this post for help! Even if I have the disease or not, I think our family could do without some gluten! :)

  3. Great post, I have also cut all that out and now rice is my stable, to get dinner inspiration I always check Tilda Basmati 's site - think you'll like it too

  4. I have been wanting to go gluten free for a little while to try and help my son with ADHD. I have done a lot of research on it and have found that it could possibly help with his behavior and struggles. Glad I read this post!! I will definitely be coming back for more info. If you could email me some recipes that would be awesome!! We may be moving soon and I'm gonna use that as my get rid of gluten excuse (hoping the hubby will be ok with it...he will he knows its important!). Thanks for the info.