Transition to a Gluten-Free Diet

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homemade + gluten-free

Yesterday I took down the artificial Christmas tree and moved it to the attic.  This morning my husband and I lugged a 110-pound boxed furniture kit from the minivan to the garage. Once it slipped, and in trying to raise it again to waist height, I felt a crimp in my back and then a crumple. So much for my can-do self image.

Later my husband texted me from work: “How is the back?”

I was in the car, having gotten back in it after a short trip to the grocery store. I replied: “Walking seems doable. The transitions between states are the challenge.” By states I meant sitting and walking, and by transition I meant folding myself into the car seat and then later unfolding myself out of it.

There are many states of being, though, and many ways to be in a transition between them. Since my diagnosis of celiac disease in August 2013, I’ve been in a dietary transition. Before, I could eat anything within reason, as long as I counted carbohydrates to get the insulin boluses right on my pump and chose foods that gave me sufficient nutrients and energy.  Now, I’m choosing my carbohydrates more carefully, avoiding all of them that contain any wheat, barley, or rye or ones packaged or made in a plant that  processes wheat, barley, or rye. In this transition, there has been a lot of subtraction, or simply not eating things I used to eat.

Subtraction can lead to a feeling of deprivation, as many people with diabetes, both T1 and T2, know. Even when I am eliminating certain foods for a positive motivation — improved health  — the lack of a favorite or simply habitual food makes me feel sad for myself, as though all the other children are getting the presents and I am not.  Food is fuel, but food is more than fuel. It is community; it is pleasure.

More recently, as I’ve gotten over the shock of the diagnosis and the doctor’s prescription to “avoid gluten 100 per cent,” I’ve been finding new foods and some substitutes for old foods. For example, at the cafe where I used to buy a lunchtime sandwich, I now regularly order their chopped Greek salad with white beans and chicken. For sandwiches, I’ve discovered Udi’s bread. For the occasional sweet, Lucy’s cookiesBob’s Red Mill sells oatmeal packaged in a plant that does not process wheat. I love oatmeal, and I’m so happy I can eat it again for breakfast with a banana, chopped nuts, cinnamon, and, yes, sugar.

As a writing teacher, when I tell students about the use of transitional words or transitional phrases in their academic writing, I explain that a transition is a bridge from one sentence to another, one paragraph to another, one idea to another. The writer usually knows the relationship between sentences or ideas, so the bridge is for the reader’s experience.

In the many health events or changes that people with chronic illness will experience in their lives, we need to identify those transitions and get advice and find ways to smooth the way from one state of being (say, injecting insulin) to another state of being (using an insulin pump). To me, it’s both painful and disruptive to hear the words that “Everything changes at this moment,” without some guidance in making it through that change. If we aren’t offered guidance, we must ask for it or look for it.

I’ve had an hour of unfiltered advice from a dietician on how to eat gluten-free. Was it a bridge? Not really: more like a truck load of info dumped into the gap of my knowledge. I felt more overwhelmed by it than helped along.

More helpful and reassuring have been the tips from people who have celiac or know others who do. A few of these I know in my real life, and many of them I have found online, through web-searching and also Twitter. A hashtag and the term “gluten free” (#glutenfree) have been a signpost for research articles, health tips, and, most of all, reader-tested recipes, like one I made today for vegan blonde brownies with chocolate chips (pictured above), which are chickpea- and not flour-based.

chickpeas are gluten-free carbs and a good base for a sweet treat

I still have a lot to learn about cooking and eating the gluten-free way. A colleague whose wife follows a gluten-free diet has encouraged me, for example, to bake my own bread and pizza crust. Still finding my way to my new diet, I’m not ready yet for that degree of kitchen ambition and experimenting. Nevertheless, I need a treat that tastes yummy — like something that I would actually eat — to feel optimistic that this new diet and state of being is one I can live in every day for the rest of my life.

Are my homemade gluten-free chocolate chip blondies like a ‘real’ cookie from my old diet? They are, and they aren’t. They’re sweet and delicious, but because the recipe lacks butter and sugar (it uses peanut butter for fat and agave for sweetener) the texture is less crystal and more purée seeming.  I am getting used to new tastes, as well as old foods (beans) with new starring roles in my diet. Some days it’s hard, especially when I stand in front of a glass bakery case or see someone at a party with a plate of crackers and cheese. (Oh, for a taste of Cheez-its and Carr’s Whole Wheat Crackers!) But with a gluten-free cookie or bowl of oatmeal or corn tortilla taco, I find my interest in food rekindling as I leave my old diet behind.

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HeatherTwist

You have the right idea. Just hang in there. I got really depressed at the idea of “losing” gluten, but a few years later, I was amazed at how much BETTER our food was. Part of that was just me feeling better, but also, we stopped settling for the usual junk and actually learned to cook.  My diet now is more Asian than European … and I love it. But I make great pies, pizza, cookies etc. when needed. Hummus and Baba Ganoush regularly.  Stir fries and fried rice or tacos on most days. I love the variety of tastes… Read more »

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