It’s hard enough being gluten free, but how do you face the struggles of a special diet and the seriousness than can result from cross contamination when you live in the country? One family shares their story and gives us all hope!
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By Sarah Constable
My journey to natural living started because of my daughter, so I’ll start by introducing her.
Rachel is 22-years-old, but is intellectually challenged which to us means that emotionally she operates at about a 3-year-old level, but with a teenager’s sass, an incredible memory, and perception that sometimes takes us by surprise.
She also has some fine minor motor issues, but in that she just seems a bit clumsy with things like buttons on her sweater or putting something together. Rachel’s cognitive issues become apparent once she gets to know you. It’s then that she proceeds to ask the same questions over and over repetitively.
She can be adept at small talk, but not generally for long periods and often she becomes shockingly blunt about her observations.
Nowhere is she more opinionated than about cars, she is a fan of the British Top Gear car show and has absorbed much of their sarcastic lingo to describe cars. Our favorite moment was when walking through a parking lot, she declared a gold Chrysler PT Cruiser to be ‘rubbish.’
When things got bad
A few years ago, Rachel started having a lot of behavior issues, even beyond some of her teenager mood swings and complaining of stomach aches.
Diagnosing anything with Rachel is a challenge because, as with any 3-year-old, the source of the pain moves regularly. Rachel also used “my stomach hurts” as a catch-all for being uncomfortable in a place or situation since she learned that it usually got her excused.
Dealing with a surly 3-year-old who is taller than you are and surprisingly strong for a string bean is bad enough at home, but in public it can be a disaster. This is especially true since Rachel looks completely normal, even in short conversations.
We sought help from our family doctor, of course, because Rachel takes several medications. We’ve found that sometimes one medication can get out of whack and cause odd things to happen. No test results came back out of the ordinary, but we continued to struggle with a lot of new behavioral issues and embarrassing public meltdowns.
The light bulb moment
Finally, my mom, Pat, mentioned that her great aunt and aunt both had Celiac disease and that maybe what was happening was diet related.
Being the internet connected parents that we are, we dove into all the information about Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity that we could. We decided that taking Rachel off gluten was worth trying and our family doctor was supportive of the idea.
Going all in
At that point, we lived in Northeast Florida, in a fairly large suburban area and we had no idea how big of a change going gluten free would be.
I love to bake and my family members, who were all at home at that point, loved my baking; but how to do gluten-free for one person?
So we went all in, switching from wheat flour to rice flour for most things and mastering the mysterious xanthium gum. It took a lot of trial and error, but we were able to make it work for nearly everything…everything except pizza, and boy did we all love pizza.
Discovering my own gluten problems
During this journey, I started to realize that many of the things that created issues with Rachel were causing stomach issues for me. I was fighting issues with gas and bloating and just generally feeling poorly with my stomach.
Cutting out the gluten in our cooking made an immediate difference and so now our entire family is gluten free.
The ongoing problems we face
The dual challenges that you face going gluten free are finding gluten free food and avoiding food with gluten.
Unless you live in downtown Hipsterville or a major city in the Northwest, finding a variety of gluten free flour and other foods is difficult. That said, it has gotten easier and you are no longer limited to only going to a Whole Foods or Fresh Market to find gluten free items.
Finding out what foods have gluten when they come out of a package isn’t too hard. Just read the ingredients!
Even today, though, a lot of restaurants don’t offer gluten free menus or disclose which menu items contain gluten. And often when they do disclose things, you end up with a choice of salad, salad, or…salad.
Many major restaurant chains are now recognizing gluten sensitivity and it has gotten a lot easier to find gluten free options, even if most of those options are still salad. Kudos to Domino’s Pizza for having a gluten free crust pizza and Chick-Fil-A for delicious and gluten free waffle fries.
But again, one little crouton (we’re looking at you, Panera Bread) can cause a big issue so even when we ask for things a certain way, we have to be vigilant.
Rachel doesn’t completely understand the connection between food and not feeling well. She knows that there are foods that she cannot have and that if she eats them it will make her sick; but her 3-year-old brain doesn’t always keep those connections in place.
We have to watch out for potato chips; generally anything with seasoning; hot dogs; most fast food French fries; and of course anything breaded. Fortunately we aren’t big fast food people, because most fast food restaurants have no way not to cross-contaminate gluten free items with gluten items. And it doesn’t seem to take much to cause an issue.
Insert the problem of country living
Now that we’re living in rural Indiana, it is still a bit of a shock that very few people here have any idea what gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease are.
Gluten free options seem to be in vogue in the larger culture and I think my husband and I are more aware than most people are.
But again and again, we find ourselves explaining to our friends at church why we generally avoid social events that involve food, or explaining to Rachel’s Sunday School teacher that little powdered doughnuts are a recipe for a bad day.
Eating out now is a lot harder because the closest Chick-Fil-A is about an hour away. There is, however, a wonderful local pizzeria that does a great gluten free crust and offers all of their different toppings options on it.
Getting rice flour and gluten free items is getting easier, even in our small town. Amazon is also a great option for non-perishable items like rice flour.
The problem with grocery stores is that they tend to group “healthy foods” together in a fairly random order. You have organic items, next to GMO-free items, next to sugar-free items, and none of those is a gluten free item.
So we have learned to very carefully read packages, even though many companies are making the gluten free label more prominent.
There’s always hope!
All of this is not to say that if you or someone you love has issues with gluten that there’s no hope.
My husband Terry says that I do an incredible job of cooking (and baking!) without gluten, but it takes a lot of research, planning, and trial and error.
Sometimes you have to eat out, especially when traveling, which we do a lot of. Much like cooking gluten-free, eating out gluten free usually requires planning and trial-and-error.
We tend to look for Chick-Fil-A (grilled chicken nuggets and GF waffle fries, Panera Bread (salads), and even Cracker Barrel (more salad) when we’re on the road. Most chains can modify for gluten free, you just have to ask.
It’s a challenge, but we’ve flown and driven all over the eastern half of the country and we’ve always made it work.
Our favorite gluten free chocolate chip cookie recipe
- 1 1/2 cups raw sugar
- 1 cup raw/organic butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 egg
- 2 1/4 cups rice flour
- 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- Chocolate chips like Enjoy Life
- Heat oven to 375 degrees
- In a large bowl, beat sugar, butter, vanilla and egg with electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with spoon. Mix in flour, baking powder and xanthan gum. Stir in chocolate chips.
- On ungreased cookie sheet drop dough by rounded tablespoons about 2 inches apart.
- Bake 8-10 minutes or until light brown. Cool on wire rack.
Do you face a special hurdle in your natural living journey, like being gluten free in the country? How do you overcome it?