In parts one, two, and three, I shared with you the story of my journey through the three stages of gluten-free eating. In this post, I am going to break down stage one further and share some tips to help you navigate this stage and move on to the next one.
Stage One: The “Replacement” Stage
Reactions when your new reality starts to set in:
- What? I cannot eat gluten anymore? What will I eat?
- But what about bread, cupcakes, and OMG pizza?!
- How am I going to live without an entire food group?
- What about my family? What will they eat?
- I am going to starve!
- This is so unfair! I may never love to eat again.
Your first instinct is to run to the grocery store to find replacements for your favorite foods. I am here to tell you, GO FOR IT! I have seen way too many people try to steer the newly gluten-free clear of replacement foods. Instead, they urge you to eat only whole foods that are naturally gluten-free. Yes, that’s great advice, but not in the beginning. There is a grieving process that goes along with eliminating gluten from your diet and replacement foods help you move through the grief. And, more importantly, they help to keep you gluten-free, which is the MOST important thing.
The other critical factor that determines how you handle being gluten-free early on is the level of cooking skills you possess. If you are quite adept at cooking, your transition will be a bit easier. If you hate cooking, it will be much harder. How much replacement food you eat is also determined by your cooking level. If you’re not able to cook your own food, then you will need to seek out more replacements than someone who is used to cooking much of what they eat.
You may stay in Stage One for weeks, months, or even years. Everyone is different and there is no judgment. Some adjust quickly, others take more time. Being gluten-free is not a diet, or a “just for a few months” situation. You will be gluten-free for the rest of your life. Given that, you NEED to find ways to eat that are sustainable. Eating a ton of replacements may be sustainable for a while, but you really can’t do it forever. Well, I guess you could, but sooner or later, your body will crave fresher whole foods. But until then, here are some tips to get you through.
- Before you buy just any loaf of gluten-free bread, ask yourself what type of bread you liked before going gluten-free. Did you like white bread, whole wheat, rye, sourdough, sprouted, etc? Then look for a gluten-free bread that is similar. The odds you will like it will be much higher.
- If you loved pizza, I am here to tell you that you will be disappointed with nearly every gluten-free pizza and crust you will find at the grocery store. Both flavor and texture are sorely lacking in the available options and it may be better to go without. Sorry! Try a few and decide for yourself but I don’t think you will be “pizza satisfied” until you start to make your own crust.
- Gluten-free tortillas are another disappointing area. I have yet to find one that isn’t too dry, too gummy, or too something. So instead, I use corn tortillas. No, they are not the same, but, they get the job done.
- There are many good gluten-free pasta brands available, but know that not all types or brands are good for every recipe. Some are better for cold salads, and some for hot dishes. Experiment to find the one you like the best. And, most importantly, ALWAYS follow the cooking instructions. Gluten-free pasta needs more water to cook than regular pasta and is much less forgiving when you over or under cook it. Check out my video about the best pasta for cold salads here.
- In my opinion, gluten-free sweets are the easiest to replace. Sugar seems to cover up any flavor issues in gluten-free sweets. Texture sometimes can be a problem though as some store-bought sweets can be too dry, too wet, crumbly, or gummy. Many of the gluten-free cookies available are crunchy and not chewy and if you like chewy cookies, you may be disappointed. Most of the frozen gluten-free pie crusts are fairly good and will make a delicious pie. Pamela’s, Krusteaz, and Bob’s Red Mill offer mixes for cakes, muffins, and more. All are pretty good.
- For pancakes and waffles, many companies offer gluten-free mixes that are quite good. You will need to experiment with them to find the one you love the most. And frozen gluten-free waffles are readily available.
- Soy sauce is made from a wheat starter so you will need to buy gluten-free soy sauce, or gluten-free Tamari sauce, which is very similar to soy sauce. And, know that nearly every bottled Asian sauce will contain gluten. However, there are a handful of companies creating gluten-free versions of hoisin, oyster, teriyaki, and more.
- Twizzlers contain gluten, but M&Ms and so many other candy bars do not. Always check the label when buying candy, though.
- Oreos make a gluten-free version. Chex cereal, except for the wheat version is gluten-free.
- Always read labels to check for gluten. Never assume gluten is not in there. I check for the bold allergen statement first to see if wheat is listed. If so, I move on. If not, I then check to see if the product is labeled GF or gluten-free. If so, I know it is safe. If not, even though the allergen statement does not contain wheat, I am suspect and move on. And, I always avoid a product that states “produced in a facility that also processes wheat,” or something similar.
When will I move out of Stage One?
Stage One is tough to maintain long-term. Buying replacement foods is expensive and you may not want to, or be able to, keep doing that for long. Gluten-free replacement brands come and go and it’s frustrating when one of your favorite products is no longer available.
Using replacement foods as a primary component in your daily food life also keeps you from branching out and eating a more varied diet. This can lead to boredom and frustration and possibly cause you to give up your gluten-free eating.
Eventually, sometime on your journey, you will start to want more. Different foods, different flavors, and more variety. Your body, your mind, and your emotions will tell you when you’re ready to move away from Stage One eating. And, here’s the tell-tale sign: the thought of cooking more and eating fewer replacement foods doesn’t scare you or seem overwhelming like it used to.
In my next blog, I will break down how to navigate Stage Two and begin adding more food variety into your life.
discover. cook. enjoy.