Are you eating gluten-free based on the guidance of a health professional? Or because you think it The idea is simple: no wheat, rye, or barley. But what about in practice? Maybe our 10 Insider Secrets to Make Starting a Gluten-Free Diet Painless is the key you were looking for.
Take a quick look inside your pantry: you may start to see how pervasive gluten products are in your diet. Overwhelm. The feeling where it is all too much, and you start to doubt if this is worth it.
Are you are researching and learning everything before jumping in?
I have a few things that might help.
Delaying the beginning will only delay feeling better or doing better. In the end, it won’t be as hard as it feels like right now.
10 Insider Secrets to Make Starting a Gluten-Free Diet Painless
- Change your ingredients, not your diet.
- Almost anything that contains gluten has a gluten-free alternative.
- Make your own food.
- Go back to basics.
- Try new things.
- There are gluten-free grains.
- Remove the temptation.
- Try other cultures’ food.
- Eat like a kid.
- “Gluten-Free” doesn’t need to be your identity.
1. Change your ingredients, not your diet.
When you look around and see that everything around you seems to say “wheat”, it can feel like you need to change everything about your diet, and even your life. Don’t let that overwhelming feeling creep back in, you don’t need to change your whole life. In the most basic sense, you don’t even need to change your diet!
Wait. Let’s define “diet”: Diet is what you eat, or more specifically what fuels you in your habits and lifestyle. So someone’s diet might mean they eat pasta 3 times per week, or sushi every weekend.
Small, incremental, and lasting changes are the ones that stick. You don’t need to change who you are or what you like, just change how you consume it.
The easiest way to go gluten-free is to simply switch out what is gluten and replace it with gluten-free. Depending on what you are replacing, this can be an easy way to get started. It can also be an expensive way to go. But in order to change as little about your lifestyle as possible in order to get healthier, this is a great place to start.
So donate that wheat pasta and grab some rice pasta; throw out that soy sauce for your sushi and get some tamari.
Which brings me to my next tip:
2. Almost anything that contains gluten has a gluten-free alternative.
There are very few exceptions to this. Cookies, puff pastry, pasta, cereal, and chicken nuggets all exist gluten-free. It’s as easy to eat junk on a gluten-free diet as a regular one. Probably even easier since gluten-free baking can have its own challenges (but that’s another topic).
If the best way for you to get started it to get the packaged foods, then do it!
This can be a really reassuring way to make sure you’re eating gluten-free. All of the packaged food will say “gluten-free” right on the box so you know what you’re getting.
If you’re starting this gluten-free diet for your child, that can bring up a whole other host of issues. If I know anything about kids, its that their eyes light up for packaged food! So to get them excited about the new way they will need to eat, you can find all kinds of special treats or fun food to try.
Another benefit of this is that you don’t need to worry about cross-contamination since everything is contained within the package. You can continue to research and learn how to make your own gluten-free food while getting started safely (even if it isn’t always the healthiest).
So bringing it back to point #1: replace what you can replace and keep the rest of your diet the same. It will make the shock of starting your gluten-free diet that much easier.
3. Make your own food.
I feel like this one is obvious: if you make your own food you know what goes into it. Until you feel comfortable reading food labels and knowing all the names “gluten” hides under, you can cook your own food.
Instead of buying that pasta sauce, buy the vegetables to make a big batch of it and freeze the extras for easy-to-grab meals.
This doesn’t need to be complicated or huge meals. It can be as simple as having fresh vegetables with Ranch (labeled gluten-free) as a snack.
This item seems to be on every diet post ever, no matter the type of diet. But if you think about it, the best way to control what goes into your own food it to have the most control over it.
If you enjoy cooking or typically do it already, this will be an easy adjustment to make. But even if you don’t usually cook, there are very simple meals to start with in order to control what is going into your body.
This can be an especially helpful thing to do if you are needing to remove multiple allergens from your diet. For example, if you need to remove gluten, dairy, and soy, it can be much easier to make everything from scratch than to find packaged foods that are free from all three.
In order to avoid packaged food items, it can be good to examine and play around with whole ingredients. Figure out how the different ingredients work and really start to learn about your food.
4. Go back to basics.
Out of all the foods that exist in this world, only a small number of them actually contain gluten: wheat, rye, and barley. The problem comes in when it seems like all packaged food ever seems to contain one or more of them.
Packaged foods are full of “filler” ingredients. These are to stretch the volume of the product cheaply, preserve the product, or make it look more appealing. Wheat is a subsidized crop and therefore, it is an inexpensive additive. It can also be something that they coat a product in to keep it from sticking.
One way to get around this is to go back to basics: vegetables, fruit, dairy, meat, and eggs are all safe in their purest forms. Go to the butcher for your meat, the farm stand for your fresh produce, and if you are lucky enough, find a local dairy.
When the food you start eating is fresh and in its natural form, the possibilities feel expansive rather than restrictive. This is a great reminder that gluten-free diets can have plenty of variety as well as flavor.
Its always a good reminder that out of the large number of items that we eat, a very small number are off limits.
5. Try new things.
So we’re eating at home, going back to the basics, and cooking it ourselves. But now we’re bored.
Even with minimal ingredients, there are some amazing new things to try and you’d be surprised at the number of them that are either gluten-free or take us back to #2 and find an alternative.
Sometimes I’ll ask my kids to find a new ingredient to try, or I’ll give them a picture of all the different vegetables and tell them to choose ones of different colors to try.
You can also skip to #8, one of my favorite things to do when food seems boring.
I rarely find a recipe I can’t make gluten-free. Some of the more difficult things, like anything with bread dough, will come with time; but most of the meals you can search for have easy to replace items such as pasta.
6. There are gluten-free grains.
Gluten-free does not equal grain-free! Paleo and Keto have their moments and they are both easy to do gluten-free, but it doesn’t mean that you have to.
Rice, corn, quinoa, buckwheat (not actually related to wheat), and amaranth are all gluten-free. Technically oats are as well but there can be issues so it’s best to avoid oats when starting out.
Using rice, quinoa, or potatoes in place of other foods that are typically made with wheat can be a great option when adapting recipes. It can be an art form to figure out how to change recipes that will work with a gluten-free diet and that taste good.
Especially if you are cooking for kids, you need to have easy options for carbs. Potatoes, pasta, beans, rice, corn, as well as packaged things such as pretzels or crackers made from rice, tapioca, and other gluten-free flours. Those little balls of energy need to get it from somewhere (even if it feels like they must steal it from their parents)!
Don’t limit yourself to grain free just because you need to eat gluten-free.
7. Remove the temptation.
So you’re doing great on your new gluten-free diet and feeling better. You go to the cupboard to look for food and your favorite easy snack is sitting there, mocking you in all the gluten-y glory.
These temptations seem to grow like a guy telling you how big the fish he caught was as time passes. That processed item you are craving almost certainly does not taste as good as you are remembering. I say this from experience: it’s not worth it.
One of the first things you should do is go through that cupboard or pantry and take all those out. If you are just trying to see if you feel better and might need it again you can put it in a closet out of sight for now, but even better is donating/tossing it.
Take that old adage on and use it “out of sight, out of mind”. If you are constantly seeing things you can’t have, it will only make your resolve to do this harder. Even if you have tests showing scientific proof that you need to change what you eat, having it in arms reach at all times will only make you question yourself.
You don’t want that moment to come where you think “just a bite can’t hurt” or, even worse, you forgot that it was off-limits and accidentally ate it. Better to just set it aside (at least for now).
8. Try other cultures’ food.
Oh, the world of possibilities out there! Americans tend to eat so much gluten and it’s in most of our Standard American Diet.
Wheat really is pervasive in much of the world, and is tied to our very idea of transitioning from a hunter/gathering society to farming and into what we are today. But if you look into other cultures and what they eat you will find plenty of naturally gluten-free options.
For example you can find West African Peanut Stew, Indian Chicken Tikka Masala, or Peruvian Ceviche that are naturally gluten-free.
One of my favorite things to do when I feel like I’ve hit a food rut is to try new foods, especially ones outside my culture. There is food from all over the world that can be celebrated and I’ve even incorporated some of it into my regular rotation of foods.
Go down that rabbit hole on Google or Pinterest to find authentic recipes from other cultures to broaden the list of meal ideas to choose from. If you look for authentic recipes you’ll be less likely to find Americanized versions that typically add wheat flour.
For example, authentic Chinese food can be made gluten-free with the use of a soy sauce alternative but Americanized Chinese food tends to be battered in wheat flour and deep-fried.
The authentic recipes have the best flavors anyways.
9. Eat like a kid.
If you’re really struggling to get this gluten-free diet jump-started because the options are all too “out there”, refer back to #2 and eat like a kid.
What I mean is that most things you can think of are available gluten-free. Get chicken nuggets and ketchup, corn dogs, mac and cheese, or whatever will help. Just make sure they are labeled “gluten-free” until you feel comfortable with labels.
Sometimes we all want to revert back to those child favorites. And that can be just fine. None of these suggestions are meant to be taken as an “all or nothing” option. So when you crave that corn dog you can find a recipe to make it or find a certified gluten-free version from the store.
Satisfying those cravings once in awhile in a safe way will keep you from the big temptations and giving up.
10. “Gluten-Free” doesn’t need to be your identity.
Have you been avoiding the dietary change you know you need to make because you don’t want to be “that friend”?
Not eating gluten doesn’t have to define who you are or what you care about. It can just be what you eat. Sure, there are some social nuances which I’ll discuss in another post, but not everyone with an allergy wears it on their forehead.
Plenty of people are intolerant to something such as dairy, eggs, nuts, or even onions or peppers. I don’t see many people going around defining themselves as the “pepper-intolerant friend” and you don’t have to be labeled “gluten-free friend”.
The most important thing you can do is start.
Seriously, if you have been advised to eat gluten-free, just do it. Not to go all Nike on you here, but the best thing you can do to start is to start.
If you are currently eating gluten, changing that, even if you do it imperfectly, will be better than continuing to eat it.
If you can’t make the commitment to taking everything out in one day, start by replacing food when you shop. When you run out of pasta, buy gluten-free pasta instead.
When the choice is between eating wheat and eating less wheat, the less wheat is going to help you. If you need to do it over time, that’s ok because I’ll say it again: the best thing you can do is to start. I have a program for starting on this gluten-free journey over six weeks that I will share and link here shortly.
Hopefully, you have found an item or two of our 10 Insider Secrets to Make Starting a Gluten-Free Diet Painless that resonates with you and will be helpful on your own gluten-free journey.
If these weren’t what you needed, Celiac.org is one of the best and most reliable for information on Celiac disease and is a great resource for anything gluten-free. For information on eating out, Find Me Gluten-Free is one of the best places for crowd-sourced information on restaurants (you can find both chains and local places).
Looking for more help starting a gluten-free diet? Check out the other articles in our First Steps category. If you’re looking for information related to having gluten-free children, our Parents and Kids section might be helpful. Or check out our Recipes section for the latest recipes and food ideas to help you along.