Tuesday, December 13, 2011

GF Giveaways

Check out all the amazing giveaways that are going on for the holidays! Love the free stuff...

Everything from toasters to baking mixes to books...oh my! I'm hungry already...

25 Days of Christmas Giveaways, Gluten Free of Course! Event

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gluten Free PhD

As I've survived graduate school and celiac disease, it feels as if I'm earning two degrees: one in Psychology and one in Gluten Free Studies. With my newfound knowledge, I'd like to start transitioning this blog away from my personal journey and more toward current gluten free issues, including cooking, travel and science. I will begin posting about news articles, food products and restaurants I encounter during my studies. I think I bring a particularly valuable perspective to this world because I know how to view science critically so I can comment on current research and news. In fact, I'm considering starting an entirely new blog that's less personal and more oriented towards useful information and commentary on all things gluten free. I gave a talk for an allergy support group recently and discovered that I have a unique perspective because I've experienced food restrictions myself but I can also communicate relevant research and coping skills from my studies in Psychology... I was thinking about titles and would love feedback. I was thinking "Gluten Free PhD" or something of that sort. What do you think?

What a Difference a Year Makes

Last Thanksgiving, I was miserable, inexplicably sick all the time, and depressed about my diagnosis. I hid away in a hotel room for the whole weekend and couldn't bare to eat with other people since I often felt the need to lay down to digest. I remember my husband telling me that in a year we would look back at that time and realize how much better I've gotten. I didn't totally believe him, but I agreed that would be nice.

I'm happy to report that this Thanksgiving was a complete 180. The entire trip to San Diego was completely enjoyable and devoid of anxiety. I made my own stuffing and gravy and brought some pumpkin bread, but otherwise the lovely hostess did a fantastic job making everything else gluten free! She hosted last year as well and felt guilty that I was feeling sick the whole time, even though I tried to tell her it wasn't anything she could have controlled. It was great to prove to her that she did everything right!

The last night, we stayed in the Gaslamp District and ate at our favorite place ever, Nobu. Even though they don't sport a formal gluten free menu, they had plenty of options and provided me with gf soy sauce for my enjoyment. Our very favorite dish,  black cod miso, happened to be marinated in gf soy sauce because it's so popular and they wanted people with gluten allergies to be able to eat it. Yummy!

We've really mastered the art of looking up restaurants that offer gluten free options, and Avi managed to find this super popular breakfast place, The Mission SoMa. They have DELICIOUS rosemary gf bread and had lots of great options. We overate but loved every minute of it!

The last meal we had before leaving San Diego reminded me that not everyone is exactly clued in when it comes to food restrictions. We ate at a cafe on Coronado to meet up with some friends who live near there. We needed somewhere that allowed our dogs to sit on the patio with us, and I figured I could get a salad pretty easily so I didn't look anything up about the place ahead of time. When I told the person at the counter, she gave me a blank stare. I said, "do you know the ingredients that go into the salad dressing, at least?" She replied, "Well, there's a guy who comes in once a week and makes it from scratch. No one really knows his recipe." Oooookay. I ended up having a very bland spinach salad with plain chicken and oil and vinegar. It just reminded me that even when the food options aren't great, the most important thing is getting to spend time with friends. Ultimately, I stayed healthy and enjoyed delicious food for nearly every meal... so all in all it was a success!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A little wisdom so far...

Sorry for the major lapse in posts! I'll try to get back on track...
I've talked to a bunch of people lately who are thinking of trying to go gluten free for a couple weeks to see if they feel better. I thought I'd post some of the bits of advice I'm giving here.

-Protein! Try to focus on getting lots of protein-- meat, nuts, soy, etc. I drank a lot of Ensure and Muscle Milk to supplement my diet at first. It also helps rebuild your damaged digestive system to eat protein. Think Thin bars are gluten free and help give you a bunch of protein too. Peanut and Almond butter was my best friend for a while. I'd eat it a lot on apples or rice cakes.

-Whole Foods. The Trader Joe's near me doesn't really have the best selection of GF stuff... so for additional things, I'd recommend Whole Foods. It's expensive so I usually only buy the things I can't get elsewhere. Keep an eye open for stuff by "Enjoy Life" brand-- they are mostly allergen-free and make AMAZING snickerdoodle cookies: http://www.enjoylifefoods.com/our_foods/cookies/snickerdoodle.html. I also really love "Food Should Taste Good" chips, which are made with a lot of GF grains:http://www.foodshouldtastegood.com/#/home/. Glutino brand makes great crackers, and Chex or Envirokids are great breakfast cereal brands.

-Gluten Free Registry (http://glutenfreeregistry.com/) and Urban Spoon (urbanspoon.com). These are two websites I use to find gluten-free friendly restaurants. Urban Spoon allows you to search for gluten-free friendly places by selecting it under "Special Features" Don't assume Urban Spoon is always right because anyone can say they are GF friendly... but then take a look at the Gluten Free Registry and other reviews to see if people have commented on them. I'd recommend trying to stay away from eating out for the duration of your little experiment, although places with gluten free menus are helpful when you do eat out (California Pizza Kitchen, P.F. Chang's, and some other chains are good with that). 

-Bring your own condiments. Regardless of what I eat out, I seem to most often get exposed to gluten from sauces and dressing-- probably because of utensils double-dipping after spreading them on bread, etc. I usually carry my own packets of salad dressing and soy sauce if I'm eating out (soy sauce is nearly always made with wheat unless you buy it GF). I ordered mine from Amazon.com.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

5 Months Gluten Free

How time flies! Fortunately, I think time has gone by quickly because I've been feeling so good. It's good timing because I've been working 12 hour days at work/school all semester, but miraculously I have the energy to keep going, even after giving up caffeine!

Let's see... to recap, I have ventured into restaurants since the 3 month mark. First I treaded carefully, ordering only from places that have very good gluten policies and special gluten free menus. Slowly, I've been moving into other restaurants, with some more successfully than others. I had In N Out Burger a few weeks ago, and was amazing! I ordered the "protein style burger", which is bunless and wrapped in lettuce. I told them I had a wheat allergy and they announced it to the staff, who carefully separated my order and changed gloves before preparing it. Recently, I've been re-incorporating dairy into my diet, which makes me very, very happy. In fact, I had my first gluten-free pizza last night! We went to Barro's, whose owner has family with Celiac disease. Gotta love the influence family can have on a business. It was pretty good! I was just happy to eat anything resembling pizza. The patience with dairy seems to have paid off, because at least in small amounts, I have no problem whatsoever. I never could have thought I'd be so improved after less than 6 months.

We just got back from Maui for our (very) belated honeymoon. The best advice I've heard about traveling is to either pack lots of food just in case or to stay in a condo with a kitchen. We opted for a condo, which saved us a lot of money in addition to reducing stress because we didn't need to buy prepared meals 3 times a day. I think the best meals we had were those we just threw together using local fish or beef from the island and grilling it. We enjoyed mahi mahi, ahi tuna, sweet okinawa potatoes (they're purple... my favorite color AND my favorite food!), and tons of fresh papaya, mango, pineapple and apple bananas. As for restaurants, we opted for inexpensive places, which are notoriously more difficult and clueless. So I'd suggest paying extra to eat at the fancy restaurants to get safer food, and calling ahead, which would have been smart!

The first night, we went over to Beach Bums in Ma'alea, which was a couple blocks from our condo. According to my husband, they had delicious BBQ chicken. Sadly for me, they had no clue what ingredients were in the BBQ and the person who actually makes it wasn't there that night. So I ordered a salad with grilled Mahi Mahi, and asked that they check the ingredients in the salad dressing. What I FORGOT to do was ask them to grill the fish on a clean pan and not to season it at all. I ended up with some cross contamination symptoms the next day, but fortunately for me that ended up being just some moderate stomach pains.

The places where I had successful experiences were at a sushi restaurant (I brought my own soy sauce packets) and Vietnamese food (I had pho, which is supposed to be naturally gluten free if made traditionally). We tried going to the Kahului Ale House, which was one of the few places on the island with gluten free options (pizza crust, wraps, etc). When we walked in, we asked the hostess about their gluten-free options. She looked at me like I had two heads. Turns out the restaurant is under a new owner and no longer even knows what gluten is. Such a shame. I tried to plaster the internet with comments about the restaurant that it is no longer gluten free.

 Our last full day there, we went to Cheeseburger in Paradise in Lahaina, which said they could serve me a gluten free meal if I ordered a cheeseburger without the bun, and fruit salad instead of fries (apparently most fries on the island use seasoning mix that includes flour to keep them crispy). Again, I sort of made a silly mistake. They served me a side of thousand island dressing, which comes spread on all the hamburgers. My guess is there were plenty of crumbs in the dressing from all the knives spreading it on buns over and over again. Like clockwork, 12 hours later I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night with stomach pains and a racing heart. Similarly to many people, my body gets sort of amped up when it's exposed to gluten. It feels as if my immune system is calling "all hands on deck!", which isn't exactly convenient at 1am. Nonetheless, it's tolerable, and seems to pass in a few hours. I think I'll survive.

Our last day, we went on a 6 1/2 hour snorkeling/whale/dolphin cruise through the Pacific Whale Foundation. I called ahead (the only time I did this the whole trip, silly me!), and they assured me they would ask the caterer for a gluten free meal. They served breakfast and lunch on the boat, and I was skeptical they would have anything I could eat. I was partially wrong, fortunately. For breakfast, they served fruit, bagels and muffins. So I ate the fruit and some rice cakes I packed. At lunch, I told them I was the gluten free person and they excitedly pulled out freshly grilled chicken breasts. Turns out the caterer sent them 15 breasts for just one person! The staff were happy because they got to eat the extras. They grilled the meat separate from the other food, and called me down first to get mine before they opened up the buffet. I ate it with sliced veggies, which was pretty good. Although I was sad that the only side they had was pasta salad. Oh well. Avi tasted some of mine and said mine was actually better than the regular grilled chicken. They were the only people on our trip who seemed to handle the gluten-free situation appropriately. To be fair, though, it was probably the only time I handled the situation appropriately as well...

So I was glutened twice on the trip...and yet I barely noticed. Being exposed to gluten wasn't as nightmarish as I thought it might be. In fact, it didn't get in the way of any of our plans. That said, I don't plan to go eat a slice of bread anytime soon. But it's good to know I can at least work on being better at ordering in restaurants and be "normal". It's certainly a steep learning curve. I think the hardest challenge for me is being okay with taking a lot of time to explain exactly what I need to my server. I hate being difficult, but I guess I can always make up for it with good tipping.

The next venture to prepare for might be a little more challenging... going to a conference in Montreal. My guess is it's a very gluten-free-friendly city, but I'll be busy and with other people the whole time. I requested a fridge for our room and will either find a grocery store once I get there or pack some of my own bread, etc. for the trip. That will be a good test. Fortunately, I'm getting more confident and healthier every day.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The 3 Month Mark

January 9th was my 3 month mark of being Gluten Free!

It has felt more like a year. It's been an emotional roller-coaster, and a more intense coping process than I expected. I had to mourn the loss of a simple food lifestyle for the rest of my life (or until they invent an enzyme to allow me to digest gluten, which my doc says is likely to develop in my lifetime). Still, in order to accept my current status, I had to deal with the likelihood that I will never eat certain things again-- at least not in their original form.

Right around that point, though, I suddenly noticed feeling dramatically better. My digestion is just, well, normal. Better than normal, I think. Granted, I'm still avoiding dairy, soy milk, eggs and most coffee and tea. Still, it's nice to just be able to eat and run and know I'll be feeling good. The anxiety about food is going down, and as it does, I feel care-free again. It's a feeling I haven't felt in a long time.

I had my follow-up bloodwork and guess what? I'm officially gluten-free as far as my Celiac is concerned. I had 54 antibodies in my original test. Know how many antibodies I have now? Three. Just three little guys. That is a completely negative test. As far as my body is concerned, I'm not sick anymore. What a strange little disease.

My other nutritional bloodwork came back totally normal too, which is a shocking but great surprise. All the fatigue and dizziness turned out to be allergies. Once I started taking the right medicine, it helped a lot. And I'm getting started on allergy "drops", which is a new alternative to shots I take on my own every day.

Since seeing the nutritionist and eating a ton more protein, combined with cutting out difficult foods, it's been a rapid change. We've been getting more creative... we sort of had to, and I think I'm eating more well-rounded and diversely than I ever have before. I discovered almond cheese, which sounds nasty but is actually a pretty decent substitute for real cheese, especially shredded and melted into stuff like pasta.

So overall, things are stabilizing. Maybe the next step is getting foods back that I didn't have before. I thought I couldn't digest peppers at all, and this week I've had peppers three times with no issues whatsoever. I also had given up nearly all raw veggies for the same reason, but now I feel great after having salad. Amazing! It's like I'm re-learning how to eat. I've even had Chipotle twice... FYI, all their food is gluten free except the wheat tortillas. Both times I've gone and told them about having a wheat "allergy", and they've gone to impressive measures to make sure my food isn't contaminated at all. I'm actually becoming a bit less afraid of being contaminated, which is liberating.  I'm drinking about a 1/4 cup of coffee on weekends successfully, so hopefully I'll build up to tolerating occasional coffee when I have a long day. I don't really know how much better I can feel past this point, but I look forward to whatever comes of continuing to be gluten free!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gluten Free for the Holidays

We took it easy this holiday season and opted out from visiting family back on the east coast. We Skyped in for Christmas and opened presents we had mailed to each other, which was nice. It was 75 and not a cloud in the sky here, so we were okay with just taking it easy here. I also made GF cranberry cornbread using a Pamela's brand mix and some fresh cranberries. Not too shabby! To be honest, it felt sort of weird to be eating bread though.

I used the break to really pursue the health oddities that have popped up lately. I started off by going to a new doctor, who is an osteopathic doctor. I'd never seen one before and looked up what a DO rather than MD means. My understanding is that their medical training is slightly different than MDs in that they view the body as more of a system rather than a series of functions and symptoms. He came highly recommended by my nutritionist, so gave it a try.

The doctor suspects anemia and maybe Thyroid issues, which are common in Celiac suffers early in their diagnosis. Once he mentioned those possibilities, it seemed like a big possibility I've been getting dizzy spells and easily fatigue from exercising. I'm coming up on my 3 month follow up with my GI, so the new primary care doc added some blood tests to the antibody and nutrient tests that were already ordered. I'm actually sitting in the lab waiting to get that done as we speak. Hopefully, I'll have some answers soon. They never told mr that my health would likely feel worse before it gets better!