In 2010, after tons of tests, my Doctor told me that I should probably avoid eating gluten. I didn’t know anyone else who followed a gluten free diet so I instantly felt quite alone. Seven years later, here are my 5 coeli-hacks on surviving being gluten free!
Once you’re told you can’t eat gluten, you stand at the beginning of a lifelong journey. It’s strange how dietary restrictions can instantly change so much of your life, during and outside of meal times. But you honestly don’t have to let it control you.
It’s not until you have dietary restrictions that you realise how much of life centres around food. You can instantly feel like ‘the awkward one’ and it can be hard at first to put your own health first, ignoring what people might think of you. It took me years to get over this.
When Genius Gluten Free asked me to share my 5 coeli-hacks (or tips on surviving being gluten free) I was more than happy to try and help those who were once in my position. After all, Genius bread was one of the first products I ever bought from the free from aisle!
1. PLAN, PLAN, P-L-A-N!
My first coeli-hack is to make sure you plan ahead of time. Whether you are going out for a meal or going on holiday, you will have a much better time if you’ve researched whether there are coeliac friendly or gluten free options available. If you don’t plan ahead, you’re basically constantly taking risks!
I actually can’t remember the last time that I went out for a meal and hadn’t analysed the online menu thoroughly beforehand. Most of the time now, I also call up restaurants just to check. Yes, you could say it takes the fun out of going out for dinner, but I’d prefer to do the ground work first and leave not being unwell!
It’s the same for us when we go on holiday. We so often choose a holiday destination based on whether there are good gluten free options available. I mean, food is a big part of going on holiday and not being able to find places to eat can put a real damper on your entire trip. Some places in the world are definitely better or worse than others, so make sure you do a quick Google first.
2. Bring food with you!
This is something I always do as it only further minimises the risk of finding yourself in gluten free limbo. Back when I first started eating gluten free there was a lot less choice, so it was essential to bring food with me. These days, eating out is getting better, but even now I still leave space in my handbag for a gluten free plan b just in case!
The main thing I have always taken out with me is a couple of slices of gluten free bread. Sometimes I do make myself a full sandwich but more often than not I just bring a couple of slices of Genius toastie bread in a bag. Then if we go to a cafe I just ask for some sandwich filler and I can construct my own sandwich (I don’t tend to ever give them my bread as I worry about cross contamination in the kitchen).
Even if I don’t end up using it, I just feel better having it with me, if you know what I mean. I know making your own sandwich up at your table can seem silly when others get provided a nicely plated lunch, but honestly I don’t care! I actually enjoy it!
(Oh and don’t forget to pop snacks in your bag for other times of day, I always try to have something whether it’s gluten free biscuits or some fresh fruit.)
3. Be knowledgable!
Yes, being diagnosed coeliac or gluten intolerant can be a little daunting. You are suddenly inundated with new information you have never had to consider before. Foods you can eat. Foods you can’t eat. What to look out for on packaging etc!
Being knowledgable really is so important and it’s a good idea to spend time getting to grips with it all. Something I would recommend that will really help you with those supermarket trips is to get the Coeliac UK Gluten Free Food Checker App. You do need to be a member of Coeliac UK to access the app – but again this is something I would also recommend being a part of.
Basically it allows you to go around the supermarket and scan the barcodes of products to check that they are suitable for you. You can also search for products without scanning the barcode which is helpful if you are at home. I use this and a similar app for the low FODMAP diet, both of which I find even now, after many years, are incredibly useful.
4. Always ask!
Whilst the phrase gluten free is so often used these days, unless the restaurant has Coeliac UK accreditation, I always like to be safe and actually ask what they actually mean by that. I’ve found some cafes and restaurants use the phrase ‘gluten free’ just when there is literally no gluten containing ingredients in a dish, but there might not be strict cross contamination procedures in place.
Others are really clued up and even have separate kitchens to prepare gluten free food, but it is pretty rare. I always just make sure that I check before ordering anything because the distinction isn’t as clear as it probably should be. There is certainly a massive degree of trust involved with eating out, but once you find a place that’s safe for you, return visits are so much less stressful.
The phrases ‘gluten friendly’, ‘gluten conscious’ and ‘gluten reduced’ seem to be more common these days on menus too. But what do these really mean??? Always check, be in control!
5. Don’t risk it!
Finally, my most important tip is to never risk it! If you get to a restaurant with friends and everyone seems to be having a great time and you realise the food might not be safe for you, don’t just go along with it. It’s not about being the awkward one, everyone will be much happier knowing that you didn’t eat something you shouldn’t. If you take it seriously, they will too.
If you’ve planned to go somewhere and then when you arrive, you aren’t happy with the cafe/restaurant’s understanding of gluten free, then move on. You know that even the smallest amount of gluten WILL be damaging so just don’t risk it because it’s never worth it.
We’ve sat down in restaurants before, studied the menu and debated for about ten minutes and then had to awkwardly get up and walk out. But we’d both rather a little awkwardness than risking our health unnecessarily!
Another perfect example of this (which happens to us all the time) is when someone offers you food. No matter who they are or how good their intentions are, you need to make sure you are 100% confident the food is ok for you to eat.
It’s your responsibility to make sure food is safe for you and even if someone close has tried to do that for you, it’s still best to double check for yourself. Asking to see the packaging first is usually a good solution, after all, you’re the professional ingredients reader!
And if you just can’t be sure? It’s simple. Don’t risk it.
Right so there are my 5 Coeli-hacks! I often get asked for my top tips for living safely in a gluten free world so when Genius asked me to collaborate with them on this, I couldn’t say no!
Thanks for reading,