The Best (and Worst) Things About Being Gluten-Free

Shine's going gluten-free this week for National Celiac Awareness month. We'll be serving up smart ideas, solutions, stories, and of course, super-delicious recipes to help you eat sans gluten––without feeling like you're missing a thing.

Gluten-free Date Squares and TeaWhen I finally figured out I had celiac disease in 1996, the gluten-free diet felt like a long awaited miracle cure. Within two weeks the monstrous looking rash that had taken over my face and body were gone, as well as my depression, and what we'll just refer to as "digestive woe." Along with my newfound health, I impressed myself by learning how to bake delicious gluten-free treats and discovering new exotic-sounding gluten-free grains. But it wasn't all unicorns and rainbows. Eating out became like Russian roulette, with confused waitstaff thinking that white flour and wheat weren't related. One mix up and my rash would appear overnight, I'd be hit by flu-like symptoms, and it would take two weeks for me to fully recover. Overall though, after being gluten-free now for over 17 years, I feel the good still far outweighs the bad when it comes to eating gluten-free.

THE BEST THINGS ABOUT BEING GLUTEN-FREE

1. Finding a restaurant with a gluten-free menu becomes the best thing since sliced gluten-free bread.
Although we have a long way to go with gluten-free awareness, the availability of gluten-free menus at restaurants that have been properly trained to serve safe gluten-free food is growing. Hello, gluten-free mac and cheese at S'MAC in NYC!

2. Being gluten-free develops your skill of thinking before you eat, a la mindful eating.
No more eating something just because it is there, as in all of the donuts and candy laying around like dieting booby traps at the office. But thanks to this, no more extra "baby fat" from my past human garbage disposal days.

3. You can still eat chocolate!
Pure cacao is naturally gluten-free, but be sure to check chocolate product labels to make sure they are gluten-free.

4. Reading food labels and deciphering ingredient terms becomes second nature, something health experts have been begging everyone to do, gluten-free or not.
When I first went gluten-free, I used to dream (or should I say nightmare?) of eating things like a big plate of spaghetti. Afterwards I would have a deep sense dread, realizing it was going to make me sick for two weeks. Thanks to the gluten-free diet, I actually know what I'm putting into my body and what modified food starch, malt, and triticale are. Do you?

5. Dining more at home - which can be less expensive, slower paced, and used for quality time with family.

It might seem like more work, but in the long run it is time well spent and an investment in your quality of life. And really, when you count the time it takes to drive somewhere, or wait for a delivery, are you really saving time?

6. Health complications due to celiac disease, autoimmune diseases, and gluten-sensitivity may clear up naturally (better than just masking symptoms with pharmaceuticals, right?).
Next time you see a TV commercial for a pharmaceutical drug, pay close attention to the long list of life-threatening complications. Then go kiss your gluten-free bagel! (Joan's GF Great Bakes are the best!)

Gluten-Free Flours7. Becoming a connoisseur of gluten-free grains, like sorghum, millet, and teff--foods that you otherwise were less likely to ever discover.
No need to fear getting trapped in a conversation with the resident food snob anymore. Bring it on!

8. By default you tend to eat more fruit, vegetables and unprocessed meats = real food.
Yay! We are given the best excuse to escape the unhealthy food matrix otherwise known as the Standard American Diet.

9. Better digestion. Because whether they realize it or not, no one digests wheat very well.

Some doctors know it, athletes know it, and some say even cavemen knew it.

10. Stumbling upon a gluten-free bakery feels like you just discovered the mother lode.

Thank you, gluten-free cupcakes, for being rare and even more precious.

...And 5 Of The Worst
1. It's harder to just grab food on the run, like fast food.
I won't lie, sometimes I'd like to just grab a deli sandwich on the way to the beach.

2. Gluten-free foods can be more expensive

$7.00 for a loaf of bread, anyone?

3. It can be socially awkward at times, think: dinner parties and wedding receptions, dinner dates and work meetings.
Sometimes I feel like either people think I have an eating disorder or that I'm just super high maintenance. Whatevs.

4. People think you are on a fad diet, instead of taking your prescription for optimal health seriously.
This is usually shown by eye rolling or saying, "A little won't hurt you."

5. Making a mistake and getting sick from the tiniest amount of gluten, after you've been trying so hard to avoid it.
It's not the same as just blowing your weight loss diet for the day and hopping back on track tomorrow. It's feeling like you have the flu for several days, and you just can't win. But once I feel like myself again, gluten-free cupcakes are there waiting for me.

Gluten-free since 1996, Kelly Courson has been sharing fun gluten-free lifestyle tips on her award winning blog Celiac Chicks since 2003. Sign up for her expert advice, recipes and gluten-free discoveries.