The first step is to take a two week break from eating out. I know that is a hard pill to swallow because we all live busy lives and eating out is a real lifesaver since we rarely have time to prepare every-single-bite we put in our mouth! Plus, eating out is our social outlet! Church groups, ball teams, and play days with the kids often end up at a restaurant. But for two weeks, take a pass on eating out – even if the restaurant offers a gluten free selection. I’ll explain why shortly.
Next, check the labels of absolutely EVERYTHING you eat. If it says “Gluten Free” or “Certified Gluten Free,” you can generally trust that it’s safe. If it says, “Manufactured in a facility that also processes wheat,” pass it up for the same reason you are taking a pass on eating out – cross contamination.
What is Cross Contamination?
If you are new to the idea of gluten intolerance, you are almost certainly going to be surprised at how little gluten it takes to do damage the gut of a person with Celiac Disease. Even the smallest amount will set off an autoimmune response that, for some CRAZY reason, makes it attack the villi in the gut. This attack causes “blunting” of the villi, which basically means that it kills the greater part of the villi and leaves the lining of the gut smooth and raw. When this happens, the lining of the gut is irritated by almost everything that is put into it!
Every single time a Celiac eats gluten, the villi is damaged in this way, and every single time, it has to regrow – a process that researchers say can take up to a year in severe cases. In our experience, we have found that it takes about two weeks for the most prominent symptoms (pain, bloating, and “bathroom” drama) to settle down and return to a more normal state, even if the villi has not completely revived in that amount of time.
Because it takes only a TINY amount of gluten to cause this “killing off” process, cross contamination is just as damaging as eating an item made with gluten. Cross contamination happens when gluten free food is prepared on the same countertop or conveyor belt as food that contains gluten. Small particles of the previously prepared food finds its way into the next food, and BAM, you have hidden gluten! THAT is why it is important to read the labels on ALL products and pass on it if the label indicates that it was processed in a facility that also process gluten.
LESS gluten does not equal “healthy” if you have an Autoimmune Disease that reacts to gluten! Your goal must be ZERO gluten.
For the same reason, eating at restaurants without getting cross contamination is a BIG challenge. When gluten free foods are prepared on the same countertop as regular foods, cross contamination is going to be an issue. If foods like french fries are fried in the same fryer as breaded chicken strips, cross contamination is going to be an issue. If a gluten free sandwich is made with the same utensil or the same jar of mayo as sandwiches that contain gluten, cross contamination is going to be an issue.
You may find a few restaurants that can be trusted, but our experience with eating out has been very discouraging due to accidental glutening followed by two weeks of pain. For this reason, we always suggest that newbies take a two week break from eating out. That will allow the gut time to heal a little, and it will also give you time to carefully consider where you might find a safe meal away from home.
Pro-Tip #1: We typically opt for a baked potato if we are eating out because that seems to be the least likely to be contaminated. Wendy’s has a good one and so does Sweet Peppers Deli and McAlister’s Deli.
Pro-Tip #2: In the early days of our diagnosis, we would eat bunless burgers from Wendy’s and grilled chicken nuggets from Chick-Fil-A, thinking they would be gluten free. We eventually tested both of these items and learned that they BOTH contain gluten – either in the seasonings or in hamburger filler. So don’t think you’re getting something that is gluten free just because you remove the bun!
Our Biggest Mistake
Our biggest mistake is forgetting to check EVERY label. For example: One day, Rose and I spent a whole HOUR reading labels on everything we bought from Walmart, but on our way out, she picked up a small bag of yogurt covered raisins. We FORGOT to check that label, and on the way home, we ate a handful or two. She was in pain before we even got to the house! And of course, that took two weeks to heal.
Encouragement Along The Way
I know it sounds overwhelming, but it is possible to find things that don’t contain gluten. You will get the hang of it! There are more products out there now than ever before. Plus, there are some great support groups where we can learn from each other and speed up our journey toward better health. Rose and I regularly participate in this one: Celiac, Gluten Intolerance, And Wheat Allergy Support Group