Help! How to navigate a food allergy, gluten issue, or other dietary restriction.

I recently had a friend ask what to do as she was cutting out dairy and gluten. This can be a VERY daunting task. I am currently dairy, gluten/wheat, egg, and yeast free (with a smattering of fruits and spices, to boot). When I first embarked on this road I nearly had a month-long melt down. I was hungry all the time. And depressed. And confused. But I made it through to a manageable—even happy—place. Here is my "action list" of how to get started and not feel too overwhelmed. Ten suggestions. Just a few things to hopefully help.

This relates mostly to wheat and dairy, but could relate to a lot of other dietary restrictions, as well:

1. The easiest thing to do immediately is to make sure you have some basic, whole foods on hand for snacking (change anything based on your food likes/needs—everything I list will also be dairy free):

• variety of protein: nuts, nut butters, nut bars—I prefer KIND bars. I order them in bulk from Amazon), any meat you like (I tend to pre-cook chicken and beef patties to heat up in a jiffy, I also like to make taco meat and make taco bowls for lunch)

• Snacks: Pop Chips, popcorn, kettle corn, tortilla chips and GF salsa (I like La Victoria), corn tortillas, granola (homemade from GF oats), dairy free chocolate chips (Trader Joes), variety of teas or cider or other fun drinks.

• Fave fruits and veggies that you can eat: I've found keeping salsa and guac fixings on hand help with snackish cravings. Also make smoothies with Almond or Coconut Milk (I can't do coconut, but I love Silk Unsweetened Vanilla Almond milk). I tend to roast and grill veggies, and I eat a lot of them. 

• GF grains: Quinoa, GF oats (I also like steel cut oats found at Trader Joe's), brown and white rice. Eventually you can add flours. PASTAS!

• Mixes: Betty Crocker has SAVED my sanity! Sure it's packaged and main stream, but man it's good and super easy. Bob's Redmill is also an excellent choice. You can make your own flour mix, but it can be daunting. I STILL don't keep lots of types flours on hand. I find I simply don't bake as much (poor Finn and Maya). But when I do get baking cravings, I usually just pick up a mix. If you really want to make your own blend, I recommend following this one EXACTLY (the brand of tapioca flour makes a difference, but you might have to order it online (also, all GF food items are tax deductible):

• Condiments: I replace all butter with Earth Balance butter, and milk with almond milk. Mayo=Veganaise (love this for chicken salad). If you need to replace eggs, I recommend using Ener-G Egg Replacer (in a box) in lieu of things like flax or applesauce. No taste, better fluffing/rising action. If you CAN eat eggs, make yourself an omelette, stat!! :)

2. Gather your arsenal:

These are some of my favorite websites for recipes (honestly I usually wait until I have a craving and then google a recipe):
http://www.sarahbakesgfree.com/ (AMAZING)

Here is a link to a post I wrote about my diet and what I like to prepare for each meal, and some links to my favorite books that I reference regularly:

3. Get rid of the snacks and things that make you feel sad or frustrated. If you have kids and they have their snacks, put them in a particular cabinet. Make that their snack cabinet. Banish all other wheat-filled snacks. Be careful of double-dipping peanut butter or jelly knives. Watch for cross-contamination.

4. READ ALL LABELS. Self explanatory.

5. Allow yourself to feel sad and frustrated. Those feelings WILL be replaced with feelings of gratitude for what you CAN eat, in time. But it is OK to be mad for no good reason at someone eating a doughnut. Or for almost tearing up in the cheese aisle. That is so normal. You need to be patient with yourself. Tell your body that it is doing great, and to hang in there. :) Have pouty days, and then go make yourself a cake. With a betty crocker mix. 

6. I don't recommend trying to replace packaged snacks with the GF version. Crackers are GROSS. Cookies (unless home made) are a big disappointment. Just plan to cut out packaged snack-ish type food. Look for Raw Food recipes for desserts (coconut macaroons are amazing...wish I could still eat them). Check out Hail Merry's little pies—sold at Costco. Try to keep a back up indulgent treat to help you feel "normal" on bad days (I opt for Haagen Dahz Raspberry sorbet, or Justin's Dark Peanut Butter Cups...So Delicious coconut ice cream is also a good option).

7. Know where to eat out. Find out what local restaurants pride themselves on being allergy friendly. Chipotle is WONDERFUL about food allergies. They even change their gloves. Take a look at their website. They have a mostly gluten free menu (save the tortillas), and they can easily be dairy-free. Costa Vida has allergen options, but you have to ask carefully about things like butter if you can't handle it. Wendy's menu has GF items (see their website). And larger restaurants like steak houses and places like Macaroni Grill are good eating out options because you can communicate your dietary needs, and order things like grilled chicken or steak and steamed veggies with rice. 

8. Invest in a good lunch box/bag. (Bento-box style works great). You'll probably find yourself toting your food with you more often than not.

9. Have an emergency plan. Cutting out whole food groups can cause withdrawals. Your brian will literally think something is wrong. It will do funny things. It will freak out. You might have cravings that seem disproportionate to reality (this is my ongoing relationship with croissants, which could be used as currency at this point, in my estimation.) You might feel so frustrated that you freeze up and don't eat anything. If that happens, make a smoothie, eat some peanut butter, have some cereal, some tortilla chips, or an apple, and THEN google recipes when your blood sugar is normal and you aren't feeling hungry. It will help with that frantic sense of "WHAT DO I EAT??"

10. Find support. I don't recommend endlessly scrolling through chat boards. You will find yourself wasting time and slipping under. Instead, find out what local groups, establishments, or restaurants support a GF lifestyle, or provide resources for food allergies. See a nutritionist or dietician (some hospitals or communities offer this services for free). Find a doctor you trust and can communicate with. Make sure your family understands and can be your advocate. Do what makes you feel relaxed and balanced: meditate, pray, read the scriptures, try some yoga, go on a bike ride, go for a walk, play a board game, watch a movie, read a good book, work in the garden, be with friends. Get out and do things that make you happy!

I hope this helps. I know it's not a complete list, so please feel free to add your advice in the comments! Best of luck to all. :)

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Luke said...

This is a great post. My families life completely changed when we found our our son was allergic to dairy, eggs, and nuts. We had to learn how to cook differently and where to eat. The amazing thing is we were really disappointed at first, but eat this way has taught us so much about health. Great job!

Arianna said...

This is a great post for those struggling with their food allergies. The allergist I have been seeing has suggested some of the same things that you have. Making simple changes can really make things easier!

Unknown said...

This is a great list of resources and suggestions! Going gluten, egg and dairy free is no easy task. Thanks for the shout-out too :)

Unknown said...

Hooray! I'm so glad you sent me this link. I'm starting my ultra-restrictive diet tomorrow and I think some of these tips will definitely help. Particularly being angry with doughnut-eaters. :)