In Autoimmune Conditions, Functional Medicine, Natural Health & Lifestyle

Delivering the news to patients comes with a variety of reactions. Some folks nod their head not the least bit surprised.

But most gasp out in horror…just like I did when told I should adhere to a gluten-free diet.

When you have an autoimmune condition, gluten is highly problematic. Even if you’ve been told you’re not gluten sensitive or if you’ve tested negative for gluten-sensitivity or Celiac disease.

You can read more on my blog, 4 Reasons Gluten and Autoimmune Disease Don’t Mix.

Realizing that you should become gluten-free comes with a wide range of emotions, frustrations, and overwhelm.

When my functional medicine doctor told me to go gluten-free I was horrified. I reacted like I was just told I had a fatal illness. Not eat gluten? Yeah, right. My inner rebel cried out in agony and told me to just eat gluten anyway.

The next 5 years were a roller coaster ride on the “to be or not to be” gluten-free train. I’d go for short periods of time where I avoided it and other times I gorged. And, my health fluctuated accordingly.

Becoming gluten-free is one of the hardest things I’ve encountered on my own health journey.

It takes an incredible amount of discipline and requires a huge shift in how you live and eat. It’s especially challenging if you live in a household that still chooses to eat gluten.

Part of the struggle many people face is they feel they don’t have the tools they need to feel totally supported in this transition. Here are 8 things I wish someone told me when I went gluten-free.

  • Gluten acts like a drug in your body.

When you stop eating it your body will crave it.

Gluten triggers endorphins (those feel-good chemicals) in your body. You literally feel euphoria after eating it.

No wonder you have to fight at times to not eat it! Your body is craving it so bad because it makes you feel good.

Knowing this is incredibly empowering. There’s a very good reason why this transition is difficult! Eventually, the craving will go away.

  • There are many gluten-free options.

Most “comfort foods” are loaded with gluten. Macaroni and cheese, pancakes, mom’s lasagna, and that hamburger bun holding that perfectly grilled summer treat. And, let’s be honest, football without beer is not the same!

But, there are many gluten-free alternatives available at your local grocery store. Many local bakeries have dedicated gluten-free ovens. Start asking around…you’ll be surprised at what’s available. Even ordering things online can be an great option.

A few words of caution. Many highly processed gluten-free foods can be quite unhealthy. They can be loaded with sugar and high-glycemic flour alternatives.

  • Gluten-free foods do not taste the same.

The first time I ate homemade gluten-free (and vegan) macaroni and cheese I was mortified. I overcooked the pasta (which made it soggy) and I was shocked that quinoa pasta didn’t taste like wheat (I know, why should it right?).

The textures and tastes of gluten-free options will be different. But, that doesn’t mean they’re bad. It just means you aren’t used to eating these foods and it will take some getting used to.

Be patient and be willing to experiment. Use this as an opportunity to try new foods. Things like zucchini pasta or cauliflower rice are incredibly tasty (and healthy!).

  • Be prepared.

Many people struggle when they are starving or when they only have gluten-filled options available. Quick fixes when hungry are almost always gluten-filled…a quick sandwich, a quesadilla, a bagel with cream cheese.

One solution is to always have snacks available. Carry a gluten-free protein bar in your purse for occasions where you’re “stuck.” Or prepare ready-to-go snacks that are easy to grab — like nuts, vegetables and hummus, or guacamole and gluten-free crackers.

When you’re meeting friends for dinner or trying a new restaurant, eat an appetizer at home so you’re not starving and ready to reach for the gluten-filled bread or appetizer your friends order.

  • Create a mantra or phrase.

When quitting gluten “just saying no” isn’t always enough. It can be a struggle daily and even at every meal.

Creating an inner dialogue or a “mantra” can be very helpful. My phrase, “I no longer eat foods that hurt my body” helped me to make a conscious choice about what to put in my body.

Use an affirmation that reminds you why you’re doing this, my body is healthy and healing everyday.” Pick a phrase that feels empowering to you and repeat it over and over.

Practice gratitude. Be grateful you’re empowered with information that will help your body heal.

  • Use your voice.

Tell your friends and family that you are gluten-free and explain the challenges you face. Let them know that gluten “hurts your body.”

If they want to go to pizza for dinner suggest something else. If it’s difficult for you to resist gluten ask your family to not bring it into the house.

Be sure to speak up at restaurants and let them know your needs. Many times restaurants have additional menu items that are gluten-free or they can modify a meal. You’ll be amazed at how accommodating some restaurants will be.

  • Use your resources.

You’re not alone on this journey! There are multitudes of blogs, websites, chat groups, local meet-up groups, and cookbooks that can help you make the transition.

The people who write these sources are amazing supporters on your journey toward a gluten-free diet. Many of them have experienced the same struggles you’re facing now.

Ask your health-care provider for resources and support. Functional medicine health providers are especially helpful with dietary changes.

You’re also invited to join my facebook group, Autoimmune Disease and Functional Medicine. You can ask for support and encouragement there.

  • You will feel better

You can feel great and your body can heal. It takes time but you will feel better.

It’s not always easy but with support you can adhere to a gluten-free lifestyle.

Functional medicine is very powerful when it comes to healing autoimmune conditions and going gluten-free is one of the tools in the functional medicine toolbox.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

What was your reaction to hearing the “gluten-free” news? Have you transitioned into a gluten-free diet? What’s one thing that you wish someone told you when making this change?

Please leave a comment below.

Do you want to learn more about how functional medicine can help you heal? My FREE 10-Day email series, “What You Need to Know About Autoimmune Disease” may be very helpful to you. Sign-up below.

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Showing 7 comments
  • Ellen

    Oh surprise – me again! I’m SO sorry you’ve had this battle. I am only now on the outskirts of dealing with gluten issues as one of my grandsons deals with this issues. Thanks to his persistent mom and that the medical society NOW knowes it exists, he is a much better behaved kid and I’m sure he feels better.

    My issue as a granny, is remembering to be extra vigil when he’s with us. Grandparents are famous for “treating” grandkids to special stuff they might not get at home much. Big family dinners are still a hazardous arena for him, but we’re learning too. He’s VERY good about being mostly wise in his selections. Can you imagine being 7 years old with all the Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter et all delectables around and not being able to eat any? Poor guy. Grandpa is not much help either. He’s the chief cook and bottle washer here and he’s a redneck that believes this is all made up stuff to support new niche markets! He’s slowly coming around though as even HE can see when Korbin has ingested gluteneous stuff. My daughter is an excellent cook and comes up with inventive gluten free foods for him, but she also (once in a while) let’s him make a choice teaching him to deal with the consequences. This is usually at another child’s birthday party although she usually makes gluten-free cupcakes to bring along.

    End of story is just basically that it helps so very much to get the entire family involved. It might take some time, but I think we are soon going to be facing a multitude of food issues in the world what with the high usage of refined sugars, irradiated foods, preservatives and scientists messing with dna’s etc., etc. Just look what’s happened to human bodies with the advent of “fast food” industries. Hmmm, you’d almost think it was all about money – but I digress.

    I’m so proud of you for tackling and WINNING this fight honey! Remember (they may not have had it back in your younger days) when schools actually taught the 7 basic food groups? Oh well – I can’t conquer the whole world, but if I can at least help a family member I guess I’ll have to be ok with that. Hang in there my sweets – who knows, before long you may come out with your own cookbook of gluten-free delights!!

    As always, Love, Ellen

    • Dr. Deborah

      Ellen,
      Thank you for sharing your story! I agree…getting family involved is one of THE BEST recipes for success. My heart just hurts for my clients who do not have that kind of support! Kuddos to you (and Gary) for embracing and supporting this transition for your grandson. I KNOW it’s hard but I believe it’s worth it.

      Much love back to you!
      XOXO

  • Dawn

    Trying to go mostly gluten free for Shawn and Minnie has been a process. We have found some awesome gluten free pasta options that we love. At first I made gluten free bread but over time we have really cut down on our bread use as a family so this is not necessary any more. We try to have the whole family eat the same thing but when that is not possible we sub in gluten free alternative like a lettuce wrap instead of a bun. Luckily Shawn is a great kid when it comes to this. As long as it is food that tastes good he is okay with it being a little different. We do allow him to have some gluten on trips but we talk about what might happen if he has too much. I want him to learn to make the choices for himself and to understand the consequences of those choices. I love to bake so I can pretty much make any cake or cupcake gluten free without it tasting like cardboard. I am glad that our gluten free lifestyle is a choice and not something that is 100% mandatory. I recognize the difference between a sensitivity and celiac Although I do see limiting it as very important for my kids overall health. I love that costco is starting to carry a lot of gluten free options in bulk including flour and pretzels.

    • Dr. Deborah

      Dawn,
      Adhering to a gluten-free lifestyle is definitely a process! I’m SO happy to hear that you are teaching Shawn to make choices for himself, knowing the consequences of those choices. Many kids/teenagers struggle because they don’t like being told what to do and they tend to “sneak” in gluten or gorge when they have the opportunity. It is so empowering when kids learn to make good decisions because THEY want to and not because their parents tell them they HAVE to! Keep up the good work! 🙂

      Much love!
      XOXO

  • Dale

    I agree, making changes in what you eat and drink and other habits (like smoking) take commitment and help from family and friends. I know from experience!

    • Dr. Deborah

      Dale,
      So glad you have support from family and friends! You are fortunate to have this kind of support when making changes to your health. 🙂
      Be sure to let them know how much you appreciate them!

      Warmly,
      Dr. Deborah

  • Lisanne

    I gave up gluten 25 years ago, at the same time I gave up dairy and a number of other foods that were toxic to me. It was a HUGE adjustment, as you can imagine! Back then I really had to be a sleuth to figure out labels and what I could eat. My body felt SO MUCH better though, after a couple of weeks, that I would never go back. I had been basically non-functional before the diet changes. I got back up to 50% of my energy after the changes. It was just so clear to me, and thankfully I did not have the cravings you describe. And now it is so much easier that people (including restaurants) actually know what gluten is! And gluten-free labels on foods, along with an entire industry catering to us, has made life so much easier!

    The main difficulty I have now is that my elderly father should not be eating gluten, yet he maintains that it’s impossible for him to avoid it. He is very social and is of the generation when speaking up for oneself when invited to friends’ for dinner is “ungrateful” and a “fuss-budget”. He also travels a lot, including internationally, and just does not have the discipline and language skills it takes to avoid gluten. So his health suffers.

    I also find travel very difficult. Even within the U.S. it means bringing my own food along. I don’t travel to non-English-speaking countries anymore because of my food requirements. Sigh. I would like to have that freedom once in a while. But mostly I’m thankful for the doctor who, in 1993, suspected I had leaky gut and tested me for food allergies!