Back to Basics: Adopting a Pseudo-Paleo Lifestyle that Suits a Gluten-Free Athlete

OK, the holidays were bad. Very indulgent. Lots of treats (yes, I bought the one- pound peanut butter cup over the holidays…), and I was buying Immaculate’s pre-made GF cookie dough at LEAST once a week to make a batch so I had a constant supply of fresh cookies. When I was training, I was eating things like marshmallows, GF cookies, chocolate and more GF cookies. My diet was full of bread, refined pasta and rice, and I was just feeling sort of bloated, tired and not very satisfied with myself.

I realize that if I want to be a decent marathoner, I need to treat my body right, and start fueling it properly. You don’t put 87 regular in a car that is supposed to run on premium. It’s worth making the switch to see if your body can positively respond, so I knew I REALLY needed to work on cleaning up my act. I had to stop acting like marathon training was a license to eat everything in sight.

I decided to research a diet that would benefit a gluten-free lifestyle that wasn’t loaded with empty and unsatisfying carbs and processed foods. I really wanted to put a muzzle on my sweet tooth. I also wanted to try to reign in my salt tooth (which is JUST as bad, if not worse, than my sweet tooth). I wasn’t interested in cutting calories, just cutting the ones that weren’t as beneficial to my training.

I found the concept of the Paleo diet intriguing. It’s naturally gluten-free and relies on whole foods for a bulk of the diet plan. I will admit though that I am not into super-strict dieting, and when I saw that Paleo involved avoiding dairy, peanuts, legumes and (God forbid) coffee and wine, I was a little hesitant. After all, I already have to eat a strict diet for medical reasons, so I didn’t want to cut gluten-free foods that were considered natural, whole foods.  I decided to look into a pseudo-paleo diet, which was basically a whole food diet but not nearly as restrictive…maybe more like a P90X Phase 1 diet plan.

So what sorts of changes have been made thus far?

Cauliflower Rice
Instead of incorporating rice and pasta into my meals, I am using riced cauliflower. It’s simple to make and actually somewhat satisfying as a substitute. Instructions on how to make it can be found here. I also attempted to make my first cauliflower crust pizza, and I will say it turned out very well! It’s definitely a trial and error process, but one I think I can easily stick to. Now a tub of cauliflower rice is always on hand in the fridge, and even though it has maybe a 5-day window for freshness, I can promise it NEVER lasts that long.

New Flours and Baking Adventures
I decided to see what I could do with low-carb, higher protein flours, like coconut flour, ground flax and almond meal, and it’s definitely been somewhat adventurous. Coconut flour is VERY different than anything I have ever baked with, as you don’t need much at all to make a recipe. Most recipes call for 1-3 TABLESPOONS instead of the usual 1-2 cups of flour simply because the flour absorbs liquid very easily. But on that same note, the recipes also call for eggs. Lots and lots of eggs! In fact, most recipes for something like a loaf of bread call for 4-5 eggs. Also, a lot of these recipes I’ve tried rely on nut butters as a binder, and may call for something like ½ CUP of almond butter, so I’m grateful I can stop by Trader Joe’s and load up on their organic nut butters!

Different, yes, but the results have been GREAT. I made this recipe not too long ago and the banana bread was a HUGE hit with Chris, he really loved it! Unlike a lot of gluten-free recipes, it turns out very dense but moist, unlike the usual dense and dry. Also, I swear that we are satisfied sharing one slice, mainly because it’s protein-rich so it’s also very filling. Also,HOORAY there’s natural FIBER in the recipes, something processed gluten-free foods sorely lack. Another fun thing about these recipes is they call for the use of parchment paper, and that makes clean up and getting the loaf from the baking pan an absolute BREEZE.I love to cook but hate to clean up afterward, so this is a win-win.

One of my favorite indulgences on weekends, especially when I have a long run, is pancakes. Fortunately I don’t have to go without them, as I’ve made pancakes with almond meal and also tried one with an almond meal/coconut flour combination and both turned out incredibly satisfying (and almost too filling). A lot of my GF pancake mixes had a lot of salt (600+ mg for a ¼ cup!!), not enough fiber, and a lot of calories…the almond meal ones are incredibly easy and very much satisfy that pancake craving I enjoy on weekends.

Snacking
I’m trying to rely much more on fruit, nuts and protein for my snacks. In the past it was easy to grab a cookie, tortilla chips or pretzels, so I had to adjust my snacking mentality.  It was a little tough at first, but now I find myself actually CRAVING something like an apple or a banana with almond or sunflower butter, or even something as simple as a hard-boiled egg. Salt cravings are put to ease with something as simple as a handful of pistachios or almonds, and if I have a sweeter and more indulgent craving…that banana bread is pretty damned good and all you need is half a slice.

So Long Bread and Tortillas, Hello Lettuce Wraps
I actually don’t mind lettuce wraps at all, if anything, GF bread rolls make me feel too full. I’m attempting to make tacos with lettuce wraps (not even close to being as fun, so perhaps I can find or make a flaxseed wrap of some kind) and they are actually not too bad either. It’s an easy enough switch and saves plenty of empty calories.

In the End…
Now will I have a cheat day once in a while? Sure, life’s too short.  I was actually treated to sushi the other day and wasn’t going to turn THAT down! But I definitely do like the idea of overhauling my diet and sticking with it to the best of my abilities. Sometimes it’s harder when traveling, but all it takes is proper planning. And I think on days I run a race…I should allow myself the extra indulgences…but who knows, I just might like sticking to healthy fare anyway.

I’ll be interested in seeing how I fare with my upcoming races on this diet. My training hasn’t suffered from “low-carb” living because I still eat plenty of fruit, at least 3-4 pieces a day and I haven’t felt my energy levels flagging any more than usual. So I will be sure to keep you posted once I cross the finish line! My first race will be on February 14, the Myrtle Beach Marathon. It will be my 22nd state and my 25th marathon and I am hoping to do well since it’s flat and the temps should be ideal for racing. I personally don’t like pancake flat courses, but considering I have been doing a LOT of treadmill training this winter, it might be for the best!

Have you tried a low carb or paleo diet? How has it worked for you?

No Longer Feeling Isolated as Someone with Celiac

Or: Suddenly Being the “Go-To” Person for Gluten-Free Living

I apologize if this seems to be a ramble…because it is.

When I was diagnosed with celiac disease almost three years ago, I felt very alone, confused, and frustrated. It’s bad enough that I oftentimes feel like the odd man out at any social gathering (or in public for that matter), something I have learned to embrace long ago since I have never wanted to be a cardboard cut-out of Jane Normal, and having a severe dietary restriction made me feel even MORE out-of-the-norm.  It was a whole new way of life I had to learn very quickly, and there was no easing into it. You just had to jump in with both feet. Luckily though, I have been extremely fortunate to have so many wonderful friends and family who make sure my needs are met, and for that I am grateful! They sort of helped me parachute down into this new way of life, and trust me, it’s not something that is easy to do by yourself. For the longest time I felt pretty isolated…but I have noticed things are changing.

Lately I am finding myself being approached by friends, acquaintances, and even strangers in the gluten-free section of the grocery store…with questions about gluten-free living, cooking, what you should or shouldn’t do. People constantly say “I thought of you the other day when I saw *insert gluten-free reference here, whether it’s a menu, product, bakery, etc.*”. I have become the go-to for GF living in my social circle. And you know what? It feels GOOD to fill that role.

Erin Smith, a wonderful GF  blogger, had posted a great tweet recently that really struck me: “A Celiac Disease diagnosis isn’t a death sentence, it’s a life sentence. What other disease can you treat with food? #thinkpositive #celiac”  Her words were SO meaningful to me because of the truth they contained. I love the phrase “life sentence”, how awesome to look at it from that perspective! She’s right. It’s wonderful to live without pain, it’s wonderful to have a normal life with just a few tweaks beyond the norm. It may sound strange, but having a disease that can be treated with NUTRITION, and not pharmaceuticals, is really a blessing in disguise!

I know several people who adopted the GF lifestyle because it was a last resort to trying to figure out what was wrong with them. Some have never been tested for celiac due to factors like lack of insurance, but are amazed at how good they feel on a gluten-free diet…and never looked back. Undiagnosed or not, they feel great, and I was so happy to be able to help them along in their journey. It’s nice to not feel alone suddenly…it’s great to share GF tips, recipes, and treats with others.  It’s also nice to talk with others who felt they couldn’t talk to ANYONE about their issues, because they felt no one would understand them, and lately everyone feels the need to throw in their snarky 2 cents about the gluten-free “fad” and how it will fade in time to something else. No one understands the severity of celiac and gluten-intolerance…until it happens to them or someone they know or love (I know it was that way for me years before I knew or understood ANYTHING about gluten). Then suddenly the perspective shifts and they have a newfound respect for the lifestyle. Changes are happening, awareness is being created, and more and more people are adopting the lifestyle and feeling better than they ever have in their lives. It’s really an exciting time!

But I digress…I realize this is a ramble. My main point is that I am glad I can help others. I’m glad people feel they can come to me with questions about gluten-free living. I am glad the GF community is expanding, thriving, and embracing one another. It feel goods to be part of something like this, where I can feel connected to others with a common thread, and in doing so we are all helping one another heal, adjust and grow.

I’m no longer alone, and it feels PRETTY good to say that!

Gluten Free and on a Budget? Some Tips I Have Learned Along the Way

2014 is hopefully the year of many positive changes in my life, but one of these changes is also learning how to properly budget for groceries while on a strict gluten-free and vegetarian diet. It can get very expensive really fast if I’m not careful, and every week I allot myself a certain dollar amount that I do my best to stick to, and so far it has proven to work well. Sometimes it takes a little organization and planning with shopping, and sometimes I have to make multiple stops for just a couple things.

Now I will be the first to admit I am not huge on Extreme Couponing, but I do occasionally clip a few coupons…very few are even helpful, to be honest. Generic sometimes still is cheaper than name-brand with a coupon, so you sometimes have to just use judgment. Sometimes there are cross-contamination concerns with generic, so read labels carefully. Clipping coupons is the obvious way you can save money, so I won’t even get into that. But there are some other things I have found really help with budgeting, and I think it’s important to share them:

Produce Markets are a Must

Produce in grocery stores can sometimes be a good deal, but I have never found better deals than at local produce markets, even when produce is on a good sale at the supermarket. When I go to the produce market I can walk out with pounds and POUNDS of fresh fruits and vegetables and maybe spend around $20.00, and a lot of this stuff easily will last longer than a week. Expensive foods like avocados are usually on sale at a grocery store, at best, for 3 for $5.00. At a produce market I can get 6 for $4.00 (and trust me, I go through them!). Rather than buying bagged salad mixes I just get fresh heads of romaine or bags of baby spinach, and it goes much, much further. I realize that some produce markets force you to buy something like 5 lbs. of bananas for $2.00, but whatever we can’t consume in time will go towards baking/pancake mixes or be frozen for future use, like smoothies. Never any point in having things go to waste, I try to consume or freeze whatever I can to ensure nothing gets thrown away. That even goes for things like carrots, berries or zucchini.

Learn to Make Things From Scratch

Certain things can be quite costly when bought pre-made, such as hummus, pesto, or guacamole. With a food processor it’s easy to make a lot of these items from scratch for a fraction of the cost, it definitely just takes a little extra work. Hummus can usually cost $3-$5 for an 8-12 oz. container, but making it from scratch can easily cost less than a dollar once you have all the ingredients on hand (tahini is usually the most expensive ingredient, and plenty of hummus recipes don’t even use tahini). Pesto is something that can easily be made in large batches and frozen for future use, but it’s definitely crucial to use good quality olive oil, you can’t cheap out on that, but it will last a LONG time if prepared properly. I always crush a vitamin C tablet into powder and blend it into the pesto as a preservative, otherwise it can go moldy unless you freeze it. My mom has actually taught me how to make jams, and she can crank out tons of preserves that will last for a LONG time if preserved properly.

Gluten-free granola can be VERY expensive, but making a batch by hand takes very little prep work. Even things like French fries can easily be made from scratch rather than buying bags of frozen Ore-Ida fries, and I can guarantee they will be much healthier for you! I’m hoping to get more into some of my favorite recipes and foods for future entries, so stay tuned. Obviously treats like cookies and brownies are always cheaper when made from scratch, even pre-made cookie dough in the refrigerated section (yes, GF versions of this DO exist) is going to cost less than a dozen GF cookies in a box, plus it’ll taste ten times better!

I also make my own soup. I find canned soup to be outrageously expensive, close to $2-$3 a can for GF soup. It’s easy enough to buy a quart of certified GF base (potato, corn, vegetable broth, etc.) and throw in all fresh ingredients for a hearty soup that will yield tons of leftovers. I have yet to make my own broth, but I imagine in time I can experiment with that as well.

Even snacky foods like popcorn, flavored almonds, and chips, can all easily be made from scratch for a fraction of what you’d spend in the store with far less preservatives and unpronounceable ingredients. I recently just got a bag of chocolate-drizzled popcorn in my Taste Guru delivery, and can’t wait to try to make it on my own. Sure it takes a little work, but it will cost less than a dollar for probably three times what a 6 oz. bag would offer. The internet is obviously a fantastic resource for finding good gluten-free recipes, and if you seek, you shall find more than you need.

Buy in Bulk (Subscribe and Save)

While I do make plenty of foods from scratch, I still buy my baking and bread mixes online and make bread at home using a bread maker. I have yet to play Mad Scientist with mixing five different kinds of flour, xanthum gum, etc., and usually just buy mixes and throw everything into the machine and walk away. Two and a half hours later, a fresh loaf of bread is ready! A good bread maker with a gluten-free setting is usually around $100, and I can assure you that you’ll get your money’s worth from it.

Pretty much any GF baked good is cheaper when made at home. I have always found pre-made GF foods to be outrageously expensive. A loaf of GF bread can easily cost $5, gluten-free hamburger rolls usually can cost around $1 for ONE roll, a small bag of GF cookies sometimes costs close to $8.00 (what’s in them, diamond dust?), and pre-made pizza crusts can be astronomical in cost, I’ve seen two pre-made crusts in the freezer section for around $7.00. I can promise you will always save if you just roll up your sleeves, and you will almost always have plenty left over to the point where you can freeze half of it for later. I do this often with pizza crusts, I will make one for now and another will be stored in a freezer bag providing quick and easy access for a future meal.

I usually order my bread, pancake and pizza crust mixes from Amazon using their Subscribe and Save program, and I assure you it is quite economical to go this route. Another place you can find things at a reduced price are places like Big Lots and smash-and-ding grocery stores; many people have told me they’ve found good gluten-free products there, but obviously you need to keep an eye on the expiration dates and make sure the bags are sealed and haven’t been tampered, etc. You can pretty much find any GF company’s products on Amazon, and I’ve easily saved close to 50% on buying in bulk. What’s good about a lot of GF products is that they freeze very well, and that’s a plus when you are only cooking for one or two people in your household.

Go Veg!

I am a vegetarian, and even though my husband is not, he still eats vegetarian quite often. One of his favorite meals is simply beans and rice with salsa, fresh avocado and a huge side of grilled veggies. I’m not kidding when I say this meal is quite cheap to throw together, and very delicious. The sky is the limit when it comes to what I can throw together. I often make penne corn pasta tossed with lots of veggies, white beans and olive oil or pesto. Throw in a side salad or steamed vegetables and some fresh bread and olive oil and it’s a quick and easy meal. We eat salad a LOT, and if I am feeling lazy it’s quite easy to throw together a salad and a veggie burger for a well-rounded meal.

Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, it’s easy enough to plan a few vegetarian meals throughout the week and it will definitely ease the strain on your wallet. A pound of tofu is less than two dollars (I get it at Wegman’s for $1.69), and even cheap meat often involves a lot of waste by trimming away fat, bones, etc. In the end, vegetarian is much less wasteful, affordable, and healthier.

Improvise

Gluten free rolls for sandwiches are pretty expensive. I have learned to use corn tortillas as a substitute for rolls, and it not only saves you money, but calories and sodium as well. Best to warm them up on a skillet and then fold them over and then just cut the sandwich fixin’s in half. A pack of 30 tortillas is usually around $1.50 or less…compare that to 4 GF hamburger rolls for $4-$5! They also have less preservatives and sodium, things I like to look out for when label reading. Stale bread can easily be turned into bread crumbs or croutons, which is far better on your wallet than buying them pre-made. Oftentimes when you have a gluten-free diet improvisation is just part of the game, so you may as well make it worth your while.

Another way to improvise is simply take items in your fridge and experiment. For example, earlier I had a decent sized batch of quinoa, so I tried my hand at making veggie burgers with them. It wasn’t even a matter of trial and error, but I just thought back to old recipes I had used and decided to try making some spur of the moment. Surprisingly they turned out pretty good!

Make Things Stretch

I am by no means an extreme cheapskate (that show appalls and fascinates me on so many levels), but I really like to get my money’s worth out of food. I love to stretch out a meal so it will last a couple days, and usually it just means bulking it up a little. I can easily take a batch of fried rice from P.F. Chang’s, add extra cubed tofu and steamed veggies and stretch it out for several lunches’ worth of meals. Same goes with something like soup, I will simply add more veggies, extra broth or water, and bulk it up so it lasts longer.

Brown Bag It

Such an obvious one, but this really needs to be reiterated. It’s very easy to spend $40-50 a week minimum on breakfast and lunch for a 9-5 job, but I find it’s far more satisfying to pack meals from home, and it costs you no more than you’d spend that would already be allotted in your grocery budget. When preparing dinner I usually make one or two extra servings and pack them in Tupperware so I can just grab them and go later that week.  When you’re on a strict GF diet, brown bagging it is the only way to go most days, I think. No matter what, buying meals means risking exposure to cross contamination even if it’s claimed as being GF.

I hope these tips helped steer you in the right direction when meal planning on a budget. I know when I first started on my GF diet I spent a LOT of money on pre-packaged products simply because I had no idea what I was doing and still had a lot to learn. My 3-year celiac anniversary will be here in a couple months and I found I have learned and evolved in many positive ways. I can only hope these suggestions can help you as well! The bottom line is, it does involve a little extra work, but in the end you will reap the rewards and lessen the pressure on your wallet.

Do you have any tips for people trying to eat gluten-free while on a budget?

What I am Thankful for, as Someone with Celiac Disease

Yes, folks, it’s time for the tried-and-true cliché of “What are YOU thankful for this holiday season?”. To be honest, I am thankful for SO much in my life. My life is really, really good, I have many things to be thankful for on a daily basis and the list would be long (and maybe to some, pretty typical). But I would like to focus on the fact that I have celiac disease for a moment and reflect on how thankful I am in regards to how my environment, friends and family are all so wonderful in helping me heal, thrive and LIVE.

I’m so thankful for:

My wonderful and amazing husband who insists on making sure I am never put at risk, checking and double-checking labels, always looking out for me, always handling “his own food” when we have gluten in the household (it’s not very often, but I find it to be unfair if he can’t have pizza from his favorite place once in a while, I just steer clear of it). He eats anything and everything gluten-free (and likes a LOT of it!), has never once complained while traveling that we have to find a place that is safe for me, enjoys any GF recipe I put in front of him, loves GF beer and never makes demands of me at ALL when it comes to anything regarding food. The most important thing to him is that I am healthy and safe from harm, and living in a GF home is 100% fine for him. He’s never complained about gummy pasta, or having rice again, using tortillas for hamburger buns, he just accepts and enjoys every meal without complaint, and that is amazing to me when I read the horror stories of others who have spouses or SOs that refuse to convert to a GF life to protect their loved one. He’s such a blessing in my life!

Having family that never fails to make sure my needs are met. There is always a gluten-free dessert, always a lot of gluten-free options, and everyone has made sure to be very well-versed in what contains gluten, cross-contamination risks, and other things that come with a gluten-free lifestyle. There is always some Angry Orchard or Strongbow stocked just for me, and my mom especially loves to try new GF dessert recipes. They have never once teased or belittled my having an autoimmune disease and always have taken it very seriously. I think this is SO SO SO important for anyone, of any age, in order to thrive with celiac. If you don’t have the support of your family, I think it can really affect your health, well-being and also self-esteem. I really couldn’t ask for a better family.

Having friends that make extra sure my needs are met whenever we socialize. I have been to parties where there are GF desserts and snacks that are specially marked GF and set aside specifically for me, and I find that so incredibly endearing and thoughtful. Whenever we go out to eat, they never complain about going to a place that is safe for me, and are completely easy-going and have zero demands that things go their way. They take my having celiac seriously, and sometimes even order off the GF menu in case I want to try something. It’s pretty amazing when I think back on all of the good dining experiences I have had with friends. I may not have a million friends, but the ones that I have are gems and I couldn’t ask for more wonderful and selfless people in my life.

Having awesome co-workers that bring in GF treats for me, are always looking out for things that are safe for me to try, and never making me feel left out. Time and time again I find myself pleasantly surprised by this, and I won’t ever forget the time a co-worker went out of her way to get a GF cupcake just for me when we had cake in the office. In fact, that has happened more than once, and with different co-workers! You guys rock on so many levels, seriously.

Thanks to my GI doctors that have helped me through this journey, and I am glad I can be so frank with them when it comes to discussing my symptoms. When discussing bowel movements, bloating, and GI distress, you have to sometimes approach it with a  sense of humor…and I have definitely brought on quite a few laughs and have been called “quite a character/very interesting individual”  on more than one occasion. Hey, I like to keep things lively. But I am so grateful that they finally pinpointed my celiac with no further questions after years of being misdiagnosed, not to mention they have personally called me just to check in, remind me to take my supplements, and have made themselves available if I need them without having to go through 5 receptionists first.  

Thank you to the online celiac and gluten-free community, that is tirelessly working to promote awareness and not taking crap from anyone! You guys have been great on calling out the scams, standing up for what you think is right, getting on the media that dismissively regards the “gluten-free trend” as a fad, and have been vigilant with educating on celiac disease and gluten-free living. You bring us all together when, as a very small part of the population, we can often feel alone. You are a wonderful asset and resource to the celiac community, and I am very grateful to know you!

Thank you to the restaurants that are becoming more and more aware of the dangers of cross-contamination and having knowledgeable staff and management when it comes to gluten-free menus. When I have questions, they either immediately know the answer or they take the time to consult the chefs or management to get a concrete answer. In the first month or two of my diagnosis, I was glutened a couple times, but lately I have found that the staff seems more trained, the menus are clearly marked, and they are really getting wise to safely providing for my needs. It’s amazing to see how things have progressively gotten better in the 2+ years of my diagnosis. And I will give a special shout-out to P.F. Chang’s, Pei Wei, and Q’doba, all places I have gone to multiple times and have had excellent experiences with when it comes to safely eating gluten-free. And believe it or not, I have YET to get a serious eye roll when I ask for a GF menu. That’s a plus. Oh, and lastly, FIVE GUYS for their fries, always guaranteed to be GF. I’m a pretty healthy eater 90% of the time, but there are days where I need that fix, and they deliver.

Thank you to the supermarkets I frequent with the gluten-free sections all clearly marked and an amazing selection of products. I will never get bored eating the same thing, as I am finding plenty of variety and I appreciate how careful you are with being specific about CC possibilities and clearly marking your labels of freshly made foods. Wegman’s is a godsend, and Giant has also been very good to me!

Thank you to all the gluten-free food manufacturers that take a lot of time and care to process food safely and are so careful with disclosure when it comes to cross-contamination concerns. I am finding I am getting glutened a LOT less as of late because the labels have been very clearly marked and I always am made aware when a product is processed in the same facility (or with the same machinery) as wheat or gluten. I am really happy to see more and more gluten-free products that are safely marked as GF certified, it really puts my mind at ease! Oh, and to all the gluten-free beer and cider distributors, I bow to you, it’s been so nice to be able to enjoy a nice cold one after a marathon!

I can only hope I covered everything, and if there is anything you are thankful for that you feel I may have missed, please feel free to comment!

I wish you all a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving. Take some time to reflect, and realize how good you really have it when things in life sometimes seem less than ideal; trust me, we’ve had a rough year with some bumps in the road and are still grateful and consider ourselves quite lucky.

May your holiday be filled with love, family, friends, good food and drinks, and most of all, thankfulness for all the good things in your life.

Gotta Love the Element of Surprise: I Can’t Believe it’s Gluten-Free!

Having celiac disease means you have to immediately conform your life to a gluten-free lifestyle with absolutely no cheating and really make sure you avoid cross contamination at all costs. I can’t tell you how many times I have had someone tell me “I could never have celiac, I would die if I had to follow that diet.” There is one part of me that just wants to hit them in the head with a sack of gluten-free flour and retort “Really? You’d die? YOU’D DIE?” Way to be a total drama queen. And you might as well tell me how much it sucks to be me. It’s about that insulting to insinuate eating gluten-free is the equivalent of  swallowing a cyanide pill. You have absolutely NO idea how much it has changed my quality of life. It’s like I have been given a whole new life, but without constant pain, fatigue, pain, discomfort, bloating, pain…and more pain. If given a choice, I will go with Door #2, thanks.

My first year of having celiac disease was a major shift in my life where I had to completely overhaul every aspect of my carefree and food-obsessed life. I had my moments. My temper tantrums. My meltdowns. My self-pity parties filled with tears and frustration.  It was like trying to swim upstream while wearing concrete shoes and a weighted vest. And then one day the weights finally fell off, the current shifted and I was coasting freely, lightly, and happily with my diagnosis. It didn’t happen overnight, but it DID in fact happen in time.

To those naysayers that think celiac is the end-all of life as you know it, I have to say:
You know what? You adjust. You try new things. You learn to cook more and order take-out a lot less.  You learn to rely much more on yourself and a lot less on others. But you also learn to share your new-found knowledge with others.

I think a good portion of the population assumes gluten-free means tasteless, dry and not fit for human consumption. But time and time again I find that they are surprised to find that gluten-free actually tastes GOOD.

I host dinner a lot when it comes to social gatherings with friends and family, and since I run a pretty tight ship my meals are always GF across the board. And time and time again, the naysayers are pleasantly surprised at how good everything can taste. Homemade bread, salad, steamed veggies and baked ziti are often quick and easy staples for a group meal, and more often than not, guests are going for seconds and thirds, and I am left with VERY few leftovers.

Sometimes I bring in gluten-free goodies for the office, and time and time again people are pleased and surprised that the GF Oreos or cupcakes actually taste better than “real” ones. It actually makes me feel pretty good at the end of the day when I can “trick” someone with GF fare and reveal the “big secret” once all is consumed.

Gluten-free does not equal a culinary death sentence.  If anything, it expands the palate and makes you experiment and try new things. And you know what? Now many of my friends and family embrace the “dark side” of gluten-free, and some actually prefer it over ordinary fare. That is pretty significant, and means that GF is actually NOT the equivalent of eating food made from a 3-D printer (and yes, apparently that idea is in the works, and no thank you I won’t try it!).

And one of the most common things I hear these days when the “Big Reveal” is made is “WOW, I can’t believe it’s gluten-free!” Well well well! Take THAT Culinary Cynics! Surprise, Gastronomic Gourmands! And a big Nelson-Muntz “Ha ha!” to the Epicurean Elitists! Imagine that…gluten-free does NOT suck! You certainly won’t know that until you try it for yourself. And while my life DOES depend on it, I still enjoy it immensely and I love being able to share it with others…especially knowing my body is finally thriving rather than dying a slow and agonizing death.

Don’t knock it ’till you try it, folks.

What gluten-free food have you shared with others that they were pleasantly surprised WASN’T GF? How did it make you feel?

NJ Marathon Eats: Gluten-Free Pre- , During- and Post-Race Fare

Getting to run a race so close to home means I have plenty of opportunities to carb-load MY way with very little fear of cross-contamination or going against the norm in terms of my usual fare, so it made for a very seamless and incident-free weekend!

Pre-Race Dinner

The night before the race I was fortunate enough to carb-load on my usual pre-race dinner of pizza and French fries. I made dough in advance using my favorite Bob’s Red Mill gluten free pizza crust, and loaded it with marinara, spinach, Portobello mushrooms and zucchini. There was a Five Guys less than 5 miles from the hotel, so an order of small Cajun fries was MINE, all MINE! And a small order of fries from Five Guys is usually, oh,  3 – 5 servings’ worth of small fries, depending on the generosity of the establishment. They won’t only fill the cup, but they’ll dump in a ton of extra fries into the bottom of the bag, which I dub “the bag o’ grease”.  I assure you I had plenty, and the massive salt overload is perfect for water retention to avoid dehydration and cramping on race morning. Oh, and I had two Strongbows…that counts as carb-loading in my mind.

Pre-race Breakfast

Race morning I was a little against the grain. I had my usual coffee and Silk creamer, but also had leftover pancakes from the morning before and brought a couple with me. I made them using Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free pancake mix, bananas, pecans, cinnamon and cooked quinoa. They are easy enough to make vegan with a flaxseed meal “egg” (1 TB flaxseed meal and 3 TB water, mix and let sit for a couple minutes so it congeals) as well as almond milk and a little oil. I smothered one with some Peanut Butter and Company Mighty Maple and had some unsweetened applesauce on the side. The part of me that obsesses about balancing my meals insists on having fruit or a vegetable with every meal or snack!  One pancake ended up being plenty for me, and definitely carried me though the morning until I could start fueling with gels.

Race Course Support

Atlantic City’s marathon has a lot of out and back sections to the course, so there really never seemed to be any lack of support whatsoever. They provided Gatorade and water at every stop, and lots of tables after Mile 9 had Powerbar Energy Gels and Powerbars. I obviously avoided the Powerbars (the idea of stomaching a whole Powerbar, even without having celiac, seemed ludicrous), and snagged three gels, the first being chocolate (blech) and the second two were Wild Berry. I’m not a Power Gel fan usually but it did the trick when I needed a quick energy burst.

Finish Line Fare

In true Jersey Shore style, the AC Marathon really delivered! Besides the usual water, Gatorade, orange slices and banana halves, they also had soft pretzels and rolls, hot seafood chowder, beer, caramel popcorn, and my favorite treat: Rita’s lemon water ice! I pounced on that like Mojo with one of his toy mice. And it was SO worth it. I ended up getting a second one because the first was so incredibly refreshing. So yes, quite a few strike outs in terms of food I could eat, but the water ice was perfect for what my body craved…all I wanted was fluids, fluids and more fluids.

Post Race Meal

I got to try a brand new establishment on my way home; a friend who wanted to spectate but was unable to make it really wanted to celebrate my finish, and kept telling me about a great place in Collingswood, NJ, called The Tortilla Press. This place really did a great job  great job accommodating all of my needs, and I definitely can’t wait to go back. They truly knew about cross-contamination and gluten free food preparation, which is not something I can say about many establishments. They made me a freshly-baked basket of corn chips and freshly prepped guacamole and salsa that was separate from the other chips and salsa that they bring for the table, not to mention a pitcher of virgin margaritas which we could de-virginize with our own tequila. I assure you that we did so with gusto! They also made me a special gluten-free veggie taco platter filled with seasonal veggies as well as a side of beans and rice. It was all so good I thought I would cry, and I actually had ample leftovers since I had loaded up so substantially on fluids. I was so content and happy to be relaxing with good food, drink and friends…I don’t think it could have gotten any better, but there was even a sweet reward on the radar as well.

My friend told me she scoped out the local cupcake place a block over called My Little Kupcake, and they had gluten-free cupcakes! So yup, you can bet we stopped in! I grabbed a gluten-free pumpkin cupcake in honor of the season (Chris got his favorite, coconut) and I enjoyed half of it later that evening. It was so incredibly delicious it took a LOT of willpower to avoid eating the entire thing in one bite.

I made sure to drink no more alcohol for the rest of the day after my celebratory lunch to ensure I had little muscle soreness and that my muscles stayed well-hydrated. I’ll be honest, if every weekend could be as good as this one in terms of my food experiences, I can’t wait to run my next race simply for all the treats! It was definitely one of the best I had experienced for a long time!

Montana Marathon: Pre-, During-, Post-Race – Gluten-Free Meals and Nutrition

Sorry, I have been SO behind lately on entries, so I will do my best to catch up before my next marathon this Sunday in Atlantic City, NJ.

Pre-Race Meal

My typical pre-race meal for marathons is pretty simple fare: pizza and French fries. I can’t say where this came from, but years ago I had it the night before a race, did really great the next day (I think I PR’d for a half marathon), and the habit stuck. When I am on the road, it’s sometimes hard to find either: gluten-free pizza can only be gotten from places I would trust, and those establishments are very few. As for French fries, it’s equally difficult to find places with a  designated fryer; in fact, a baked potato from Wendy’s often serves as a decent and inexpensive stand-in. But when I manage to procure both, it’s like a carb-load dream come true.

In Montana, I pretty much strayed from the norm on all counts. I did some research, but the only one tried-and-true place that everyone reviewed in a positive gluten-free light was a local eatery called The Naked Noodle. It was much like Noodles and Company, a place where you could customize noodle dishes depending on the cuisine you had a hankering for (Japanese, Thai, Italian, etc.), and there were plenty of GF options. They assured me they used separate water, pots and colanders, and I felt confident it would suffice for a pre-race meal. That night I went against pretty much all of my pre-race meal traditions and had Pad Thai with extra veggies and tofu, of all things. While I wanted potatoes in any form, I didn’t have much luck. Chris got some barbeque from a local popular place in Whitefish called The Shak, which touted gluten-free fare, including their potatoes and sweet potato fries. But when I asked if they had a designated fryer, they told me no. Ah, so it’s that kind of gluten-free.I get it.  I went potato-less that night. But happily, I did NOT get glutened, and I will happily endorse the Naked Noodle for anyone visiting Montana, as they had a couple locations.

Race Morning Breakfast

Our hotel in Montana had access to a toaster and a microwave, but unfortunately they were in a common room that was locked up after-hours and in the early morning of Race Day, I had no access to either. This was also my first time, EVER, where I would be unable to have coffee, and the concept alone is maddening. There were way too many strikes against me from the get-go and I had to simply improvise.

I brought some teabags from home and managed to “brew” some tea using hot tap water and let them sit overnight. Instant caffeine, albeit cold. Trust me, when you need caffeine as I do, you take what you can get. I would have had a Mountain Dew if I had to, though I shudder at the thought.  While I had Udi’s bagels at hand, there was no way I could eat them cold. GF bread and bagels are wonderful as long as they are warmed up or toasted, but there was no way I could stomach them cold. There wasn’t even an iron in the hotel room, so I couldn’t even use my iron-toaster technique.

In the end, I had rice cakes with Planter’s nut-trition peanut butter and banana slices and two cups of cold tea. Perfect. Calorie-wise, maybe a tad lacking, but it did the trick.

Race Support Nutrition

During the race itself there were ample tables set up with tons of water, Heed, Hammer Gels (FIVE different flavors!), bananas, pretzels (which I obviously avoided), orange slices, and in the final miles, electrolyte tablets. It was my first experience with Heed, and I won’t say I am a fan, but I have to admit I am not huge on sports drinks anyway. I was assured by the representatives at the Hammer Gel table that their products were all gluten-free, and the gels were actually quite good. I think I ended up having four of them along the course, as well as half a banana and two electrolyte tablets. They were also happy to fill my Nathan Sports bottle any time I asked, so I was never lacking in fluids, and for that I’m quite grateful. It was actually an unusually warm weekend in Whitefish, where they expected close to record highs, so I made sure to drink often. I felt that the Two Bear Marathon was incredibly well supported with plenty for all of the participants, and that means a lot to the runners!  It was definitely a first to see almost every table loaded with gels, whereas many other races only hand them out in the final 12 miles or so.

Post-Race meal

Post-race I was handed a bottle of water and had a moment to peruse the finish line spread. It was as if huge red X’s marked every option. Free Pork BBQ with coleslaw and BEER. To the ordinary finisher with no dietary concerns, the perfect end to a race. For me, it just meant finding sustenance elsewhere. This is something I am pretty used to by now.
Chris made my day by bringing me two cold Angry Orchard ciders, and I snacked on cold hummus and carrots as we started driving south toward Helena. In Kalispell I was satisfied with some fries from Five Guys while Chris had a well-deserved burger. In the end, I feel my post-race choices were QUITE lacking in nutrition and protein. Beer? Carrots? French fries? Ugh, I shudder to think how little I regarded my nutritional needs at the time. I really think, minimum, I need to eat a KIND plus bar, a PB rice cake  or some almonds, something that has some semblance of protein.

I think I fared well in Montana, but was definitely lacking in the post-race meal department. The next two races I think I will do a little better, as they are much closer to home, but I think overall I did well, save a small cross-contamination reaction which I will save for another time. I consider it a victory to not get majorly glutened while traveling!