One of the biggest hurdles to making any diet change is actually doing it. Whether it's finding a new job, trying a new movement at the gym or deciding to clean up your diet, the act of DOING IT is typically where people either get stuck. That problem is no different for those who decide to give a gluten-free diet a try.
When I was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity in 2008, I was given 3 websites to help me and wished good luck. I went from a fairly traditional Italian diet of pasta and bread to one that slowly evolved into something much healthier today. The point is that my transition didn't happen overnight, but is the culmination of many baby steps taken each day... which mirrors the phrase I always tell clients -- "Rome wasn't built in a day".
If you're really serious about eating better (and reducing or entirely removing gluten), start by learning the basics of what gluten is and where it hides out. Talk to others who've done it and see what two or three steps really helped them make a change and see if your significant other or a friend will do this with you. Remember that taking stock of the new landscape to which you're headed will make the transition easier.
Here's a few points that I find often help people make eating gluten-free easier:
1) Know the basics about where gluten hides. Typically gluten exists in foods that contain any part or derivative of barley, rye, oats (which aren't automatically gluten-free), wheat and spelt. To remember this, use the acronym BROWS. Granted the list of grain and cousins of wheat is longer than this, but these are the most typical problem areas you'll encounter and can make explaining to people where gluten comes from a lot easier. Also, be aware that the label "wheat free" does not mean "gluten free" since gluten is found in more than just wheat.
2) Focus on foods that are naturally gluten-free. Most everything in the produce aisle is gluten-free. Meats, fish, nuts, seeds... all are as well. Unless you've got celiac disease or you know you're gluten sensitive, then looking for a gluten-free label isn't as important and can often lead to having blinders on to the food that just happens to be gluten-free.
3) Plan your meals. I know... it's not sexy. Meal planning isn't something that will make you jump up and down with joy, but it is a life skill that will not just ensure you'll have food on hand for your week, but can also save you a ton of money since on average people throw out about 25 to 40% of the food they buy. That waste is literally throwing money in the trash, my friends. If you want to see what a meal plan looks like, you can download this free resource or my book that guides people step-by-step through the process.
4) Make the recipes come to you! Sign up for newsletters or updates from sites you love so that new recipes are sent to you rather than having to search for them. Create a folder in your inbox just for them and drop in those that sound good to make later. Before you know it, you won't need to search for them when you're meal planning, except when you don't have one, you can...
5) Ask Google questions about food. If you don't have a recipe in your inbox or bookmarked on your computer, use Google to search for something. I'd recommend adding the word "paleo" to the search because most "gluten-free" recipes are loaded with so many weird and unnecessary ingredients that your head will spin. If you want to make chili, type in "paleo beef chili recipe" and plenty of options will come up. To make it gluten-free (which is less restrictive than paleo), add in rice and beans.
6) Enjoy your social life and dine out easily! Use apps like "Find Me Gluten-Free" and search for restaurants no matter where you are that cater to gluten-free diners like yourself. Depending on how strict you need to be will determine how much research you may want to do about a restaurant before eating there. An easy go-to-option is typically a salad with grilled, baked or broiled protein on top. Beware of anything fried because unless a restaurant has a dedicated fryer (which most do not), whatever comes out of it is contaminated with gluten even though something like tortilla chips (made from corn) or real potato french fries inherently don't contain gluten.
7) Replace the gluten intelligently. If you love bread, try making your own paleo bread instead. Elana's Pantry has some great (and easy) recipes. Use lettuce or collard greens to create a wrap. You can also try rice wraps, large nori sheets, or even paleo wraps made from coconut. Pasta can be replaced with gluten-free versions (there are plenty on the market), but consider buying a spiralizer and making your own pasta from sweet potatoes or zucchini which cooks in minutes. Try making pizza crust from cauliflower and substitute flour with more nutrient dense options like coconut or almond.
8) Get (and use) the appliances that actually save you time. Start using a crockpot to cook food overnight or while you're at work. (No, it won't burn your house down) A rice cooker is great (which can be purchased for about $17 from Target) and can cook rice and other gluten-free grains without much attention required of you. High-speed blenders, though expensive, are well worth their weight in gold because of how much they can do so quickly. You can make soft serve ice cream, non-dairy milks, coconut milk, flours, soups, smoothies, etc. in these incredibly powerful machines.
9) Beware of anything that ends up on your mouth. That means you should check your lipsticks, glosses and balms. Gluten is a common ingredient in these products because it helps provide the consistency we as consumers are used to. Even though these items are applied to the outside of your mouth, you will end up eating it. Also swap out your dental products such as toothpaste, mouthwash and floss for those without gluten. Again... if it goes in your mouth, you will end up ingesting gluten if it's present in the product.
10) Have fun! Make dinner dates with friends who are interested in or on board with your new way of eating. Cooking with others is a great way to learn and enjoy new dishes. Buy one new spice each week, google how to use it (or get The Spice Bible and learn how to pair spices properly), and start making flavorful dishes that you and your family love. Eat foods that you actually like and slowly build upon them giving yourself permission to try new ones with an open mind.
She is the founder of Gluten Free School and teaches gluten-sensitive individuals simple, savvy and empowering steps to get healthy. Living gluten-free since early 2008 after a gluten sensitivity diagnosis, she knows what it's like to feel overwhelmed by the cost and seemingly complicated aspects of going gluten-free. A sought-after expert, advocate & speaker about healthy, gluten-free living, Jennifer has been featured on Dr. Oz, Yahoo! News, eHow, CNN, and Philadelphia Magazine and is the author behind the ground-breaking book "The Savvy Gluten-Free Shopper: How to Eat Healthy without Breaking the Bank".