New to Gluten Free? Here's What to Expect

In the first weeks and months you spend on the gluten-free diet it can feel like a roller coaster ride. From the emotional side you may feel relieved or even happy for your diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, since it explains why you've been having unpleasant symptoms. You may feel angry if it took a long time for you finally to be diagnosed. And you may feel sad as the realities of day-to-day gluten-free living sink in, and you realize you no longer can eat the gluten versions of many of your favorite foods.

From a physical side you may be still some experiencing symptoms while getting relief of others. Many people see a increase in energy quickly but have lingering digestive symptoms. What should you expect as you start your gluten free diet? Everyone is different, there is no one path fits all when it comes to recovering from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, but there are some common feelings and scenarios that so many of us go through when we are new to gluten free. 

Once the shock wears off the learning curve hits. Suddenly there is a lot to know and think about everyday. You can't just eat whatever your heart desires and everything suddenly needs a plan.

Not sure what to eat

It's really common to get through a period of time where you're so confused on what to eat and scared of food that you aren't eating much of anything. It's a common trap to fall into, a fear of all foods. The uncertainty of not knowing a lot about the gluten free diet coupled with many of your go to foods being eliminated can shrink your diet down to a select few foods. By sticking to a naturally gluten free diet made with all whole foods you can get the variety you need in your diet, with plenty of nutrients that your body needs to recover. When you eat a diet with only natural foods you wont have to worry as much about cross contamination and labeling. This a is great place to start when just beginning a gluten free diet.

You may have strong cravings for gluten foods

Since you quit gluten foods "cold turkey" you may experience withdrawals and strong cravings for you're favourite foods like pizza and pasta. It's common for these cravings to happen so try and eat a healthy gluten free replacement. Don't go out and eat a bunch of gluten free packaged foods because they aren't going to taste nearly as good as their gluten counterpart and they aren't healthy. Know that these cravings will soon turn into just occasionally missing these foods. After a few years you actually end up forgetting what they actually taste like. This also helps gluten free food taste better.

That First Grocery Store Trip

For many people new to the gluten-free diet, their first trip to the grocery store is an exercise in misery, frustration and anger. It's pretty normal to spend several hours in the store, reading labels of foods, but still to walk out with far less than you intended to buy, simply because you couldn't figure out what's gluten-free and what's not.

You suddenly can't cook those meals that you're so used to making, so it's best to find some naturally gluten free recipes and go to the store with a list of everything you need.

Lingering Symptoms

It's very common to have lingering symptoms. If you go gluten free and continue to have symptoms there are a few potential causes.

First you could still be ingesting gluten accidentally, as I'm sure you've realized gluten is hard to stay away from. Second you could be sensitive to other foods like dairy, soy, corn or certain grains.

You could also have a secondary infection, when your intestinal tract is weakened it becomes susceptible to parasites, bacteria, amoeba and yeast that can all infiltrate the small intestine resulting in malabsorption, destruction of the villi and a leaky gut. So if you don't treat these secondary infections you could continue to have many of the same symptoms caused by celiac disease. Going to a naturopath or doctor can help rule out those conditions.

Another cause for continued symptoms is just simply you haven't had enough time to heal. If you've just been gluten free for a short period of time and you have had the condition for several years it's common to continue to have symptoms for a longer period of time. 

Know that mistakes will happen

You'll absolutely make mistakes as you learn to navigate the gluten-free diet, and you'll probably pay the price for them in terms of a day (or two, or three) of symptoms. Unfortunately, once you go gluten-free, your body will be primed to make a big deal out of any little bit of gluten you consume.

It will take some time to learn your individual level of tolerance for gluten cross contamination, and what you can eat without getting symptoms.

It's tempting to beat yourself up for those mistakes mentally especially if you're miserable physically. I've done that plenty of times myself, too. But if you can manage it, try to view them as a learning opportunity, and focus on avoiding making that same mistake twice.

You will come to accept it

I know at the beginning it feels as though it will always be hard and it's overwhelming to think about having to follow this diet for the rest of your life. But I promise after a few months you will come to accept the gluten free diet as a part of your life and it wont feel nearly as hard as it does now. You will find meals you love and restaurants that are accommodating. There will still be fleeting moments of occasional sadness but you will learn to create a life that isn't held back by your gluten free lifestyle. 

What was it like for you when you first went gluten free?