Once you've been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you can get a bit overwhelmed with everything you're supposed to do: learn to identify gluten on food labels, banish gluten from your kitchen, persuade family members to get tested.
But you don't necessarily hear a lot about what you shouldn't do, so to remedy this, I've compiled a list of the top 10 things to stop doing if you can't eat gluten. Don't worry if you break these rules occasionally — we've all done that. But if you break them consistently, you'll likely run one of two risks (depending on the rule): poorer health, or a less satisfying life.
Top 10 Things to Stop Doing If You Can't Eat Gluten
1. Stop being afraid to try new foods. It's easy to find yourself in a rut and eating the same foods over and over, especially if you're sensitive to gluten levels below the 20 parts per million generally considered "safe." You even can get so you're a little afraid of food — my article Don't Fear Food on the Gluten-Free Diet talks about this phenomenon. However, you shouldn't let your fear of getting glutened dissuade you from trying new foods. You can guard against gluten reactions by checking on the gluten status of a food prior to eating it, and by only eating a very small amount at first. If you react, obviously you should eliminate the food ... but you may just find something new to enjoy.
2. Stop avoiding eating out. It's possible to dine out with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, even if you're particularly sensitive or if you have other foods (think: soy, corn, dairy) that you also avoid. Obviously, you'll need to take precautions, even if you're dining at a restaurant with a gluten-free menu (I list possible chain restaurants in this article: Gluten-Free Restaurant Menus). It will take some extra work (of course!) — for example, you'll need to choose your restaurant carefully (a café with an attached bakery may not be a good choice), and I strongly recommend talking with the chef first (see other tips to eat out safely in this article: How To Dine Out Safely Gluten-Free). But you shouldn't give up on going out to eat just because you can't eat gluten.
3. Stop being afraid to travel. Yes, traveling can be far more of a hassle when you can't eat gluten — you have to carry extra food, worry about what types of gluten-free food you can take through airport security, and guard constantly against reactions on the road. However, you shouldn't avoid taking a vacation, since it's quite possible to find places to travel that are very gluten-free-friendly. If you like big cities, try New York City or Los Angeles — both have many gluten-free restaurant options. For family travel, I find it tough to beat Disney (Gluten-Free Dining At Disney explains what you need to do), but other family destinations can handle gluten-free requests, as well. Always call ahead to ask. In addition, there are plenty of travel sites that list customer reviews of gluten-free-friendly restaurants — my article Gluten-Free Restaurant Directories will show you what's available.
4. Stop being in denial on reactions. I can remember my first experience with a particular gluten-free brownie mix — those brownies tasted so good. When I felt glutened the next day, I blamed everything but the brownie mix (even though it was the only logical culprit). It took four more brownies (and two more sick days) to convince myself that this mix — tested only to 20 parts per million — was causing my symptoms. It's easy to create a state of denial on reactions ... especially if you really like that suspect food. But don't do it. It's perfectly possible to get glutened by gluten-free foods, since many of them still have some trace gluten in them. Pay attention to your body's reaction and begin to figure out what foods you need to avoid, despite their "gluten-free" status (this article on How Much Gluten Can Make Me Sick? can help).
5. Stop blaming everything on gluten. It's tempting to blame that evil protein every time you have an off day or your stomach is queasy. But gluten's not always to blame — it's also possible you have the stomach flu, that you ate something questionable, or even that you're just a bit more stressed than normal and don't feel well because of it. It helps to track the symptoms you get with known gluten exposure — you'll eventually get a feel for what may be gluten-related and what probably isn't. If you get dermatitis herpetiformis, that will make it easier to identify gluten symptoms, but many people who don't get DH still get an identifiable cascade of symptoms following gluten exposure that really doesn't differ much from exposure to exposure. Learn yours, and you'll know whether you've got the stomach flu or whether you've been glutened.
6. Stop eating foods prepared by friends and family members. Unless you're part of a family or a group of people with celiac or gluten sensitivity who really do know how to cook gluten-free, you're all but guaranteed to get glutened if you eat their food (my article Should you eat gluten-free food prepared by friends or relatives? explains why). The gluten-free diet has too steep a learning curve for anyone to master it in one afternoon. Bring your own food to social events (make sure it's something you really enjoy) and focus on the company, not on the food.
7. Stop being a hermit. While you shouldn't share food made by other people who don't follow the diet (see above), you shouldn't simply stay home. It's tempting, especially if you're newly diagnosed, to avoid occasions where foods are being served which you cannot eat (see Coping with Emotions When You're Newly Gluten-Free for more details). I've done that myself. However, you don't want to live life like a hermit — make something really delicious to take to the event, and make the effort to go. You won't regret it.
8. Stop preaching about the benefits of the gluten-free diet. If you feel great now that you've gone gluten-free, it's tempting — really tempting — to try to convert everyone around you. In many cases, you'll see family members who likely would benefit if they would just go gluten-free, and friends who have symptoms of gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. Mention the possibility once (you have my permission to do that), but then keep quiet about it. Take my word for it as someone who finds it incredibly difficult to drop this subject: They don't want to hear about it over and over ... they really don't.
9. Stop believing everything you read on the Internet or hear at support groups. The gluten-free diet is trendy right now, which is good news for us. But there's also tons of misleading and outright incorrect information out there on it. Beware of people claiming that over-the-counter digestive enzymes will help you to process gluten (my article Can digestive enzymes save you from the symptoms of gluten exposure? explains why they won't). Also, ignore people who claim that your reaction to a particular product can't be gluten-related simply because they don't react to it — Is It a Real Reaction to Tiny Amounts of Gluten? Or Is It All in Your Head? details this phenomenon, which unfortunately is all too prevalent in the gluten-free community. I've seen people giving (sometimes poor) advice on forums when they've only been diagnosed a couple of weeks themselves. If there are new advances in the science of celiac or gluten sensitivity, or a potential way to treat it (such as one of the celiac disease drug treatments now in development), you'll absolutely hear about it here. Otherwise, make sure you check the source before taking the advice of someone who may not even have been eating gluten-free as long as you have.
10. Stop cheating. If you're a diagnosed celiac, cheating on the gluten-free diet can lead to osteoporosis, additional autoimmune diseases and potentially cancer in rare cases. You may have no symptoms (or only minor ones) right now, but the gluten is still doing damage. It's never a good idea to cheat — if you have the urge to do so, try fighting it by enjoying the most delicious gluten-free treat you can find.