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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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! 🙂