A Gluten-Free Living Primer

When you were first given the diagnosis of celiac disease (or dermatitis herpetiformis, its itchy kin) you probably felt relief. At least it wasn't any of those other awful -- some of them fatal -- diseases you considered might be causing all those probems. And the common experience seems to be that the doctor who hands you the diagnosis makes the solution sound so simple: "Just don't eat anything with wheat, rye, barley or oats in it." You walk out of the office contemplating a future with no bread, no pasta, no more cookies, and maybe that seems like it might be a little tougher than the doctor made it sound, as you start to think about it, but it'll be worth it to feel better, and to reduce the risk of intestinal lymphoma (1 in 7 for untreated celiacs) and the many complications of malnutrition.

As time goes on, though, the reality of the situation may begin to sink in. This may take either of two forms:

  1. You're doing the best you can eliminating gluten, but you can tell you're not getting it all, because you're not feeling as well as you know you ought to feel. You go in search of more information and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot available.
  2. Maybe you're lucky enough to get good information on what's safe to eat and what's not, but when you start seeing all those items being crossed off of your list, you begin to feel something like claustrophobia. How can a person survive without eating all those foods with gluten in them. What's left? It seems like there's nothing safe!

But I'm here to tell you not to despair. You can learn the ins and outs of this diet, you can find safe food, and given time, you can become comfortable enough to forget about it for long stretches of time. The main thing to keep in mind is that while things may be difficult right now, they will not always be so. When you know that the situation is going to get better, that you're going to learn what's safe and what's not, that you're going to find lots of good, tasty food, even eat cookies and bread and pasta again, it makes it a whole lot easier cope with the present moment.

If you don't believe this can be so, think about the first time you tried to drive a car. You had to keep in mind which foot was operating the brake, which the gas, how to shift, looking in your rearview mirrors, watching out for traffic, and all the rules of the road -- all simultaneously -- and it may have felt impossible at first, certainly it felt unnatural. Learning the celiac diet is a lot like learning to drive, but everyone who gives it time, study, and practice does eventually learn, and soon the whole struggle to figure it out fades into the background until you feel as though you've always known how to drive.

I hope these pages provide a good solid starting point for your "driving lessons" in living gluten-free. What follows is an index of subjects these pages cover. Start at the top and work through, or choose whichever section you're interested in.

Introduction to Celiac Disease and More
What is celiac disease? What is dermatitis herpetiformis? How are wheat allergies different from celiac disease?
Gluten-Free Diet Basics
What foods should I avoid? What ingredients should I watch out for? Are there lists of safe products?
What Can I Do To Help Other Celiacs?
Some ideas on things you can do to make the life of all celiacs -- or even just a few -- better.
Travel on a Gluten-Free Diet
The beginnings of a section on traveling on a gluten-free diet: currently includes England, Wales, and Midland, Texas!
Y2K Preparedness for Celiacs
An excellent article on how to be prepared for disaster -- any time! not just for the potential Y2K crisis -- considering issues all celiacs need to think about.


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Copyright 1998 Linda Blanchard All Rights Reserved. Date Added: February 16, 1998. Last Update: November 14, 1999.