For many, the diagnosis of celiac disease is a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, you may have been sick for years, so finding out the source of your discomfort is highly welcomed. On the other hand, the reality of living with celiac—and the strict gluten-free diet that comes along with it—can be overwhelming.
It doesn’t help that most doctors simply hand you a pamphlet with common foods to avoid and send you away to figure it out yourself. Here are four important topics your doctor likely won’t breach:
1. How to weed out cross-contamination.
Cross-contaminated foods are those that have come into contact with gluten-containing items, making them dangerous for celiacs. For example, while French fries are technically gluten-free, they’re often off limits at restaurants because they’re fried in the same oil as wheat-laden foods like chicken fingers or onion rings.
The same rule applies for pans, cutting boards, knives, and gloves. Since you can’t waltz into the kitchen to check for yourself, you’ll need to make sure your server understands the severity of the situation and relays the information appropriately. It can help to say you have a gluten allergy instead of simply telling him or her that you’re gluten-free. Though celiac is an autoimmune condition, not an allergy, restaurants typically take allergies very seriously, so you may avoid cross-contamination by pulling out all the stops to stress the importance of a safe meal.
Though it’s most common in restaurants, cross-contamination at home can also pose a problem, especially if you live with a gluten-eating partner or roommate. For this reason, you should do a deep clean of your kitchen and toss any utensils (like wooden spoons) that have small nooks and crannies where gluten can hide. Designating certain appliances (like your toaster) as strictly gluten-free goes a long way in keeping you safe.
2. Why going gluten-free isn’t always enough.
When you first go gluten-free, you’re likely to feel like a weight has been lifted. After a few weeks, your skin may clear up, you could start sleeping better, and it might feel like you can finally get through the day without napping or running to the bathroom. But depending on how much damage has been done to your system, it takes a while to reverse the symptoms and fully heal.
Many celiacs find that in addition to dealing with an autoimmune disease, they’ve also wrecked their digestive tracts, leaving them susceptible to intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and gut dysbiosis, including conditions such as candida overgrowth. Years of living with undiagnosed celiac disease can cause other serious issues from adrenal and thyroid dysfunction to mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression.
In this case, while going gluten-free is a step in the right direction, it’s not a silver bullet to living your best life. If you’re not feeling absolutely amazing after six months eating gluten-free, you’ll want to see a functional medicine doctor who can work with you to treat any underlying problems.
3. How to attend a dinner party.
Many celiacs find dinner parties tough to handle because they don’t want to be a burden to the host. While it’s true that cooking gluten-free can be intimidating at first, your friends and family don’t want to see you sick, so it’s fair to say they’d rather you speak up than risk falling ill.
Reminding your host that you’re gluten-free is usually all it takes, but offering to read through any recipes or ingredient labels before the big event is helpful. You can also suggest bringing along a dish or two. That way, you know for certain that there are some safe bites, and it takes the pressure off a host who may be confused about what to make.
4. Why your lifestyle might need to change.
If you’re already a whiz in the kitchen and love to cook, going gluten-free could be easier to stomach. But if the majority of your meals are takeout, or your favorite activity is visiting your city’s microbreweries, adopting a gluten-free lifestyle can be a bumpy road.
Once you start feeling better, it’s generally easier because you’ll be feeling so good that you don’t want to cheat. In the beginning, write down the reasons you want to feel your best, like getting pregnant or finally seeing your adult acne take a back seat—and then share your list with a few close friends.
When you feel like you might slip up, tell them you’re struggling and ask them to remind you why staying the course is so important. As you continue on this path, remember that while it may feel overwhelming now, it will get better. In the meantime, be gentle with yourself and try not to let falling off track be an excuse to spiral into a whole day or week. Your body will thank you!