Starting out

by Seguin on 10/03/2011

Over lunch a close friend told me she is considering taking wheat out of her diet. She’d heard from other people that they felt better, mentally sharper and less fatigued when they abstained from wheat. She is a person with a very rich and demanding life, which includes a running small business and a son just transitioning to pre-school.  Understandably, she expressed anxiety about the practical problems of eating in a wheat-centric culture when she barely finds time to eat at all.

Changing the way you eat is hard. For many of us it’s made more difficult because we feel so exhausted and ill at the time we’re told we need to drastically alter our diets. When you can barely dial a phone number or make it the kitchen, finding out that almost everything in your refrigerator is now prohibited is overwhelming.

First, let yourself grieve. Give yourself a minute or more to feel it.

Food is at the center of our lives–our daily routines, sensations, relationships and celebrations. If you feel overwhelmed and emotionally unpredictable, it is normal and reasonable reaction to having a stressful challenge. If you have celiac disease or dermatiti herpetiformis, you may be anticipating dealing with a restricted diet for the rest of your life or imagining other people’s reactions.

You can deal with the rest of your life, including other people’s responses, moment by moment. If possible, just feel the sensation that is happening right now. Grief is often felt in the chest and in the belly.

After five or six breaths, try focusing on what you can eat.

This post is oriented toward avoiding gluten, and some of these ideas can also generalize to other dietary limitations including casein-free eating and  milk, egg and nut allergies. Diabetics face a different set of challenges, with some overlap.

Don’t look to replace all restricted foods with non-restricted ingredient replicas. Though gluten-free and sugar-free versions of most foods are available, they tend to be nutritionally bankrupt (e.g. rice bread), disappointing (e.g. rice bread), and/or too expensive for regular enjoyment (e.g. Grindstone bread from Sonoma). Sure you can get gluten-free pizza with a pretty good crust and I do very occasionally at Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax, north of San Francisco (though beware contamination issues).

Maybe light-crusted gluten-free pizza shouldn’t be daily fare. Making pizza with socca, a chickpea flour crust, is probably more nutritious and tastes fantastic. I have linked to a pretty schmanzy version–but I usually make the crust with just chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt. On top I put anything–sautéed chard, sundried tomato pesto, brie, goat’s cheese, shiitakes, parmesan sprinkles, an egg. One could make it sweet with pear slices and figs and nutmeg and cinnamon.

My point, before I began rhapsodizing about socca pizza possibilities, is to find out what function is served by the daily gluten or restricted ingredient foods in your diet.

Do you need something delicious and quick in the morning? Do you need an herb spread or cheese delivery device? Are you looking for something comforting to eat between tasks? Is crunchiness required at lunch? Do you want to feel less anxious and, thus, doughnuts appear?

Once you know what purposes your gluten foods serve, look to replace them with gluten-free (or casein or nut-free)  items. For example, the quinoa-rice mix that I have made up most of the time can be a savory base, but also a sweet one warmed in an iron skillet with coconut oil or butter, sprinkled in cinnamon, and served with fruit chunks for breakfast.

We all have foods that we miss. It’s important to find foods that are safe, gratifying and accessible to you daily.

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