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The Gluten-Free Diet: Learning to Cope

Eight Steps toward Learning to Follow a Gluten-Free Diet

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Updated June 03, 2009

The gluten-free diet is a huge life change that requires major emotional and physical adjustments. A gluten-free diet means no wheat, barley, or rye in any form, and in many cases, no oats, either. Because gluten is hidden in so many products, it can be extremely difficult to avoid. If you've just been diagnosed with celiac disease and you feel overwhelmed, no one can blame you. But don’t despair. Lots of individuals, organizations, and resources -- including all of us at About.com! -- are available to help you learn to do well and thrive. Below are eight steps (and lots of links to additional information) to help you learn to follow a gluten-free diet.

Don’t Be Ashamed to Grieve.

There is no way around this painful truth: the gluten-free diet requires that you give up foods -- and food rituals -- that you love. It will get easier after a while, and you’re going to feel much better than you did before. You’re going to feel strong and healthy, and you'll avoid lots of celiac disease complications. But at first, it’s going to be hard.

Learn As Much As You Can about Celiac Disease and the Gluten-Free Diet.

Familiarize yourself with celiac disease and associated medical issues. There are many good books about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. (If you can only buy one, I’d advise that you buy Celiac Disease: The Hidden Epidemic by Rory Jones and Peter H. R. Green, MD.) Be sure to visit the web sites of the major celiac organizations, and find a local support group.

Tell Your Family and Friends.

It’s important to tell your family and friends –- and even selected co-workers -- about your gluten-free diet. One reason to tell your family is that there’s a strong genetic component to celiac disease. If you have the disease, your relatives might unknowingly have it too. Also, by telling your friends and relatives about your celiac disease, you’ll be giving them a chance to rise to the occasion and help you stay safely gluten-free. As hard as it can be to follow a gluten-free diet, it is almost impossible to do it in secret.

Prepare Your Kitchen.

The gluten-free diet is not like other diets. It’s not just a matter of buying the right foods –- your whole kitchen needs to be made safe for gluten-free food preparation, and everyone in the household needs to participate in gluten-free safety efforts.

Make Your Shopping List.

In addition to carefully avoiding gluten, it's good to focus on the rich assortment of food that IS available to people on gluten-free diets.

Go Shopping.

Be prepared for your first few trips to the grocery store as a gluten-free shopper to be long and difficult. You’ll need to read labels on everything, and you’ll have some unpleasant surprises as you discover that gluten lurks in unexpected places. If you don't know exactly what an ingredient is and what it's derived from, don't take a chance on it.

Experiment with Some Recipes.

If you try your hand at cooking, you’ll find you can eat a rich variety of delicious foods. The gluten-free diet allows vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, seafood, dairy products, nuts, rice, corn, potatoes, and much more. Foods can be flavored with spices, herbs, garlic, shallots, onion, and wine. Balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, cider vinegar and wine vinegar are OK. Sauces can be thickened with corn starch or potato starch instead of flour. You’ll learn to make delicious gluten-free pasta dishes, cakes, cookies, cereals, and even breads.

Go Out to Eat.

For people with celiac disease, restaurant dining can intimidating at first, but it gets easier. In the beginning, go with companions who are patient and supportive. Find restaurants where the staff is helpful. Learn all you can about food preparation and terminology, so you'll be better equipped to recognize dangerous menu items.
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