Back in September, when I was staying at my parents’ house for a few weeks as a break after I finished school, my sister Alison mentioned she was suffering from some stomach problems. I listened to her describe her symptoms, which sounded a bit like my own acid reflux, and suggested she try and keep a food diary to determine what may be ailing her.
Now, my sister is seventeen. Ask nearly any normal seventeen-year-old to try and write down everything they eat (a handful of chips at a friend’s house, an apple after school, half a candy bar at the mall…) it’s not going to be easy! So she struggled at first. I suggested maybe she see a doctor to determine whether or not it was acid- the doctor gave her medication, which I don’t advocate using instead of dietary changes but with my own experiences know is sometimes the easiest way to relief. Unfortunately, the medication didn’t work.
So my mom, frustrated she couldn’t help her second daughter with stomach problems, came to me asking for other suggestions. I explained the easiest way to determine my own problems sans- medication was research and food journaling- by determining what food triggered my aches and pains and doing an elimination/detox diet (with the go-ahead from my doctor), I figured out what foods affected me and effectively eliminated all of my stomach problems.
So back to the diary it was. My sister started writing down what she ate and noticing a pattern: her stomach problems occurred most often when she would eat bread, pasta or the like- pizza sent her reeling in pain and she had no idea why. My mom immediately thought of gluten, the protein in wheat, barley and rye that I myself have issues digesting, even though I have been tested for celiac disease.
I agreed that there was no harm in trying out a gluten-free diet for week or so and see how she felt, and go from there. So I set my mom and sister up with a week’s worth of menu ideas, brands I prefer, recipes, and resources I find helpful. Five days into their experiment, I texted my mom. “How has five days of gluten-free been?” I typed. “Very good, she has not had any pain. The crazy thing is I was just doing it to help her but I have been sleeping better then I have in a long time and feel great. Ali also has more energy,” she responded.
I couldn’t have been happier. “It’s amazing to discover you can feel better than you ever thought you could,” I answered. My mom agreed. Three weeks later and both of them are gluten-free and going strong.
However, neither of them have the nutrition or culinary experience I do, and both thought things like eating out and grocery shopping, even for natural foods to be hard at times. I offered up my services as a “coach” of sorts, to help both of them recognize terms and feel comfortable eating gluten-free in any situation. After all, I know better than most how great it feels to be symptom-free after nearly ten years of aches and pains. Not to mention as a personal chef I will be aiming to help people in similar situations navigate the world of allergen-free living.
So after a few emails, phone calls and skype chats, last weekend, on my quick trip to the Ocean State, I took my mom and sister to Whole Foods- on a “crash-course” to gluten-free. We focused on a few points: familiarizing yourself with gluten (including reading labels), familiarizing yourself with gluten free grains and options, navigating a menu with a gluten intolerance and how to approach eating away from the home.
Just yesterday my sister texted me a picture labeled, “yummy g-free chocolate chunk cookies!”. I’m impressed with her enthusiasm and determination. Learning at a young age that listening to your body is the key to good health isn’t easy, and it is an incredibly admirable trait. I’m happy to have helped her, and my mom along the way.
I thought, if this kind of information could be useful to my mom and sister, it must be useful for someone else too. So welcome to my Crash Course in Gluten Free series- a five-post series dedicated to everything gluten-free from a chef, and gluten-free girl’s perspective.
Do you have any food allergies or intolerances? Do you have any advice or suggestions for this series?