10 Gluten Free, Allergy Friendly Survival Tips

After having been gluten free, dairy free, almost Top 8 free for a year now, I have come up with some survival tips that I hope will help some of you.

  1. Step away from the food that anyone else offers you
    It might be rude but trust me, it’s not worth it. They could tell you that it’s gluten free but did you know that there are quite a few people who don’t know what items contain gluten? What if they added soy sauce to it? Or maybe some oats? What if it actually is gluten free but they packed the food without having washed their hands after making a sandwich? Not worth it, my friend.
  2. Beware of restaurants
    Avoid eating at restaurants unless they have a clear understanding of what it means to be gluten free. Regular restaurants will be sharing kitchen equipment, utensils, space, etc. all contributing to cross contamination.
  3. Salad dressing is your enemy
    If I go out to eat, I will sometimes have salads but skip the dressing. Unless the waiter/waitress can provide you with an ingredient/allergen list for the dressing, you’re not going to know what’s in it. Keep it simple – drizzle with olive oil or squeeze a lemon over it but skip the dressing.
  4. Always read the ingredients
    With the above being said, I cannot stress the importance of knowing what’s in your food. Even at restaurants that have allergy friendly/gluten free food, always double check the ingredients. Also, don’t forget to read the ingredients on other products like handwash, body wash, shampoos, creams and makeup. You might be surprised to see that they contain ingredients like gluten, milk, and oats. To make matters worse, they use the technical names of these items, making it harder for the common person to identify. I have gone to the extent of googling each and every single ingredient on a product to make sure that none of them are derived from offending foods. Don’t just go by the sticker that says “gluten free.” Some gluten free foods STILL contain gluten, but those amounts are apparently ‘negligible.’ Tell that to my stomach.
  5. Take note of gluten free restaurants
    Google for a list of restaurants in places that you are likely to visit often. If you have pro memory skills, store this data mentally. Otherwise, a list on your phone or in your diary/wallet will suffice. Go to the websites of these restaurants and have a look at their gluten-free menu online. If you find meals that are suitable for you, make a note of it. If you wish to call the restaurant for further clarification, do so. This way, the next time you go out with your friends, you can suggest a restaurant where you can also (finally) eat a meal with them, instead of sitting in the corner of the table away from all the gluten with an empty plate, trying hard not to let your tears fall onto it.
  6. Carry plastic spoons, hand sanitizer and tissues/wipes
    This has been a life saver. Sometimes, I carry food with me when I know I’m going to be out for long hours. Because of this, I bought a set of plastic spoons and take them with me, so that I can avoid using spoons in my friends’ houses. The reason is that sometimes, it just gets a bit awkward to have to wash the spoons in someone else’s house before eating. Also, when you’re being served and you’re given a spoon at the table, you’re just not sure whether the person handing it to you has gluten on their hands or not. It would be really weird if you’re served at the table and then get up to go wash the spoon and come back. It also helps when you’re out and you want to avoid eating with your hands (like I often do, in case I might have some gluten on me from shaking hands with people or something). The hand sanitizer and tissues or wipes work well for when you want to clean your hands before eating or after handling items that may be contaminated. It’s not always convenient to find a place to wash your hands (and honestly, I can’t always be bothered to wash my hands after coming in contact with things).
  7. Carry snacks with you
    Have you ever been at school or work, packing up, ready to go home and then you’re told that you need to put in an extra couple hours? Then your stomach starts rumbling in rebellion. Go grocery shopping and look for little snacks that you can nibble on when you’re on the go. Lately, I’ve been carrying Mrs Crimble’s Apple Flavour Rice Cakes since they come in convenient travel packs. ALWAYS carry snacks with you when you go out. Keep some in the car, throw some in your purse. You never know when you might be stuck outdoors, and for how long, without an allergen-free bite to eat. Sometimes you get so hungry that you think that you can afford to risk it and try to order a supposedly gluten free meal at a restaurant and then your stomach punishes you for it later. I used to do that. If my friends were going somewhere to eat, I’d just order fries thinking it would be safe. Potatoes, vegetable oil, salt. That seems pretty safe. Except that it wasn’t. I found out the hard way later. It’s not worth risking. It would be wise to invest in some travel sized airtight containers to pack your snacks in. I actually have a little bag that’s stacked with plastic spoons for when I eat outdoors. Pick a nice looking bag, stack it with tissues and plastic spoons and use it to carry food or snacks with you when you go out.
  8. Fruits are your friends
    When I went on holiday to India earlier this year, every time I got hungry, we’d stop by a fruit vendor and buy bananas and apples for me to eat. I still continue the practice here. Stop by any gas station or grocery store and buy bananas or any other fruit. Keeps you going for a few more hours at least! Great and healthy snack.
  9. Learn to cook
    Try replicating some of your old favourite meals without the allergens. It’s amazing that today, compared to several years ago, many allergy friendly recipes are available online. Tweak the recipes and experiment to find out what works for you. Bake cakes and indulge in cookies. Make smoothies. Give yourself a treat once in a while!
  10. Don’t cry
    I know it’s hard. I know you feel lonely. I feel awful every time I go out and can’t eat, or when I’m at a birthday celebration and everyone’s eating cake, while I stare. The good news is that over time, you will learn to cook for yourself and you will eventually come to realize that you are now eating so much healthier. Once I cut gluten out of my diet, I automatically ended up losing all the junk food. I never realized how much rubbish I had been putting into my body really. You get accustomed to living like this and then you find that it’s not so bad. You just have be a little more careful about your food choices but it’s worth it in the end. Nothing is worth the pain that comes with eating the offending foods. You’re feeling better and that’s all that matters. It’s difficult, but you can do this! 🙂
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My Glutenscapades – Going gluten free

2 AM.

Late night munchies. Cookies? Gluten intolerant. Chocolate? Lactose intolerant. Air? Sounds delicious… meh.

Ripe banana with spots

Ripe banana with spots

So here I am, snacking on a banana, ready to tell you about why I am gluten free.

By the way, did you know that the black spots on bananas are a good thing? That’s when the bananas are ripe and sweet and less starchy – perfect to eat. Also, eat them in between meals – at least an hour before and an hour after.

In 2011, a few months after I graduated from University, I started experiencing anxiety, brain fog, and gastrointestinal symptoms which included stomach cramps and bloating. I also suffered from horrible back aches. Imagine being 21 years old and groaning every time you sit down or get up because of a swelling ache in your back. Or not being able to hang out with a couple friends because your tummy wasn’t feeling too good.

Oh yeah, and imagine things like that happening almost every single day.

I had no idea what was going on. I was feeling so sick all the time, wouldn’t go out, and I was feeling so out of it.

I lost a LOT of weight. I used to weigh around 50-51 kgs on average. I was down to 46 kgs. I went to see a nutritionist, gained all the weight back, but I was still feeling sick.

A friend suggested I take a closer look at my diet. 3451 google searches later, I began to wonder if I was lactose intolerant.

Farewell, dear dairy, since I must needs be gone. 

That’s what Shakespeare would have said if he were talking to dairy.

Symptoms got better but I still wasn’t feeling that great. It’s like when you’re running a temperature of 103 and it comes down to 102.

I kept a food diary recording everything I ate, the times I ate them, and the symptoms that followed. 2065 more google searches and I found a post by someone who was experiencing similar symptoms say it had reduced by going gluten free.

Exit gluten stage left.

It was so hard. But it was worth it. It was then that I realized…

Gluten is my nemesis.

Barely 2-3 days had passed since having cut out the obvious gluten from my diet and my symptoms were starting to go away. I thought what if I was just gluten intolerant but able to have lactose? I brought the lactose back in. Bad move. Symptoms returned but they weren’t as bad as the symptoms gluten brought on.

A few gluten/lactose free months passed and I wasn’t feeling perfect, but I definitely was feeling better. Then I thought let me try having some gluten and dairy again. I re-introduced the foods. Felt okay for the first couple days. I thought maybe it was all in my head. Maybe I’m not intolerant to these foods. Fast forward 2-3 weeks and I was cancelling plans again, staying home all the time because I was feeling sick, and the anxiety returned. It all happened in such subtle ways that I didn’t even realize I was slowly getting sicker and sicker day by day. By the end of the month, I decided I just didn’t want to eat gluten and dairy anymore. I just couldn’t deal with how sick it was making me feel.

I didn’t know back then that I should have gotten tested for Celiac Disease first to get that ruled out. So I’d encourage you to get tested before you decide to eliminate gluten completely.

I’m still not feeling completely better. Does that happen to the rest of you who are gluten intolerant? I don’t feel as good as I used to before I ever started experiencing these symptoms. I definitely feel better off gluten/dairy but is it normal to not feel as good as I did maybe 5 years ago?  I still feel sick and also suffer from brain fog from time to time. The FODMAPs diet has been really helping me out with minimizing that. Look into that if you’re dealing with any tummy troubles. It’s worth a shot!

I met a doctor here in Dubai who didn’t seem convinced that my problems were food related. I told him I’m pretty certain it has something to do with gluten and dairy but he didn’t seem to believe me. He just prescribed some Fybogel. That was pretty helpful actually, but I don’t know why it was so hard for him to believe it was a food issue. On a holiday to India earlier this year, a family friend recommended an allergist in Mumbai. After the intraderm testing process, where they basically inject you to test your sensitivity to food items, I discovered that I was sensitive to the following:

  • Bengal gram
  • Black pepper
  • Cabbage
  • Red lentils/Masoor dal
  • Garlic
  • Green Peas
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Dairy
  • Gluten

FINALLY I HAD A DOCTOR’S REPORT SAYING I WAS SENSITIVE TO GLUTEN! For the longest time, no one believed me! Everyone kept saying it was in my head, and to slowly eat a little gluten/wheat every day and build up tolerance and I was just all NOOOOOOOOOOO!

The test results made so much sense. I realized that I had already eliminated almost all the foods on the list because I always had stomach aches after eating them. To be on the safe side, I have also eliminated corn and soy from my diet.

So what do I eat, you ask? Every day is a challenge really. On days I’m feeling off, I tend to stick to eating ‘safe’ foods. Yes I get bored doing that. But it’s just not worth risking the possibility of feeling sick. I eat rice, potatoes, rice pasta, quinoa, beans, vegetables, lentils and fruit. You’d be surprised at how versatile some of these items are!

Anyway, that’s about it for my glutenscapades. Cutting out gluten and dairy has been difficult, especially considering the fact that im a vegetarian. It’s been worth it though. As parting advice, I’d say just listen to your body. It always pays. If you’ve been feeling ill and can’t figure out why, it’s worth looking at your diet and changing things around a bit. If you suspect you might have some food sensitivities, it’s worth going spending some time trying to figure it out. You’ll just be so glad that you did!