Archive for September, 2010

Food Allergies, Celiac Disease and the Pursuit of Happiness

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Today when I was grocery shopping I was accused of being “too happy”.

This accusation, my friends, came from a young gal who was just recently diagnosed with celiac disease and a dairy intolerance. I randomly met this girl in the gluten-free section of the supermarket.

As I approached the section, a girl was just standing and staring at the shelves of gluten-free products. After I selected a few packages of pretzels and crackers and started to walk away, the girl turned towards me, and barked, “Don’t you just hate eating gluten-free?”

I stopped dead in my tracks, turned, and stared.  I had to actually rewind in my mind what she had just asked me.

Don’t you just hate eating gluten-free.

And without much hesitation, I looked at this despondent girl and said, “No, I don’t hate eating gluten-free, and the trick is to stay positive and enthusiastic.”

Quizzically she looked at me blankly, then asked how anyone could ever be happy about eating gluten-free, never mind positive and enthusiastic. I then started jotting down names of great resource books; gluten and dairy-free products that are must-haves; and tidbits of information that any newly diagnosed would ever need.

Halfway through my frantic scribbling of resources and tips on the back of my shopping list, she stopped me, looked me square in the eye, and asked me to help her with the real question she had asked: How can you be happy eating gluten free.

Caught off guard, I asked her to give me time to think about the question, and that I would answer it on this blog within a day. With some guidance and tips about finding happiness from the book, “The How of Happiness” by Sonia Lyubomirsky, here is how I have become a happy, positive and enthusiastic celiac – who, matter of fact, does loves to eat gluten-free.

Don’t Stew: After I got diagnosed with celiac disease I gave myself one day, and one day only, to grieve the loss of the foods I could never eat again. That day was full of crying and venting. It sounds crazy but it actually helped me to mourn the loss of bread, crumpets, pizza and beer, as I once knew it. After that day, I moved on and start living my life without it. No tears allowed!

Which leads us to the next tip…

Count Your Blessings: Being gluten free has helped to appreciate the little things in life. Things like simple sliced strawberries for dessert, fresh vegetables from my garden, a gluten-free cupcake made by your best friend so you can share in a birthday celebration. Every day find the little things that you appreciate, and maybe took for granted before your diagnosis.

Look on the Bright Side: There are plenty of people in this world that have worse problems than not being able to eat bread, beer from a keg, or ice cream. Get over it.

Build Relationships: Do what I did and join a celiac or food allergy support group. Share, share and share! Remember, you’re not in this alone!

Manage Stress Serenely: When times get tough, and yes indeed they will, don’t get angry, pout or feel sorry for yourself. When I start to feel the stress, I go for a walk, page through a cookbook packed with yummy gluten-free recipes, or call my sister who also has celiac disease. For me – fitness, food and family always make things better.

Respect Your Body: I know its cliché, but your body really is your temple. Take good care of it physically and emotionally. Also, sneaking a bit of gluten here and there and cheating on this diet is a HUGE no-no. Don’t do it. Ever.

Pursue a Life-Long Goal that You’ve Been Neglecting: Have you always wanted to get involved in volunteer work? Help out with projects at your local support group. Have you secretly wanted to write and publish your thoughts? Start a blog about your new allergen-free journey. Interested in cooking? Sign up for an allergen or gluten-free cooking class.

Whatever it is you desire, use your recent diagnosis as a spring board to reach your goals. I’ve done this… and it makes my life that much more meaningful, and my celiac diagnosis a reason to make myself, and the world I live a happier & better place – even without gluten.

Friday Favorite: Heartland Gluten-Free Pasta

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

The La Cantina, a family owned Italian restaurant located in Framingham, Massachusetts, was one of my favorite restaurants to visit before going gluten-free several years ago.

The folks over at La Cantina believe in “true Italian cooking” which shines through in all of their menu items. Dishes that include fresh vegetables and meats; antipastos topped with homemade salad dressing; and their signature pasta dishes that feature the best ingredients tossed with hearty and hefty portions of pasta.

Unfortunately after my celiac diagnosis, I nicknamed “La Cantina” to “La Can’t Eat It”.

But last Saturday, as I was doing a drive by (would this be considered stalking my favorite restaurants of the past?) I saw a huge “Gluten-Free Menu Available” on their front sign.

A celiac dream come true.

I happily ran walked in, grabbed a seat, and asked the waitress for the gluten-free menu. She immediately advised me that they had just switched brands of gluten-free pasta and the new one “really, really, really tastes like the regular pasta – but isn’t”.

If there was a bubble that popped over my head that mimicked what I was thinking it would have read, “Yeah right… I’m just happy to be sitting here. Quit teasing me, Miss Real Pasta.”

But when the dish arrived, the penne “looked” like real penne. It wasn’t sticky, it wasn’t pale, it wasn’t one big glob of pasta. But remembering the comment Miss Real Pasta made I decided to give it a try it. So I took just one tiny bite – and instantly I knew that this was not gluten-free pasta.

Thoughts of a piece of penne pasta making me sick for days ran rampant through my noodle.

So I called Miss Real Pasta over and asked her to double-check with the chef to make sure that I was served the gluten-free pasta. She did – and informed me it was indeed gluten-free. (Note: I even asked her if she checked with the chef that actually put the pasta in the water to cook, since I was still skeptical.)

Feeling a little bit leery about being able to really enjoy the meal (I’m sure many of you know the way I was feeling here), I called Miss Real Pasta back over yet again and asked her if she could tell me the brand of pasta “since it tasted so good, I want to see if I could find it for myself at the supermarket.”

As I was asking her this another bubble could have been floating over my head with the words, “I am positive that you people have confused organic or all-natural pasta with gluten-free pasta. This is a trick question and will confirm my suspicion of you serving me glutenized pasta”.

But… lo-and-behold I was wrong. I discovered that this “miracle-that-tastes-like-the-real-thing” pasta was Heartland Gluten-Free Pasta. A new gluten-free pasta that has been toted as “matching the color, texture and flavor of traditional pasta – an industry first.” After doing some research, and finding an article about this new pasta, I found out that Heartland Gluten-Free Pasta comes in spaghetti, penne and fusilli shapes and owes its real pasta taste to a unique yellow corn/white rice blend.

This pasta is unbelievable. SO good! When I was eating it I had NO inkling that this pasta was gluten-free.

Oh… and I almost forgot… besides finding Heartland Gluten-Free Pasta (which is also dairy-free too) at La Cantina Restaurant in Framingham, Massachusetts, you can also find it at Wal-Marts.

Heartland Gluten-Free Pasta is this week’s BeFreeForMe Friday Favorite for making gluten-free pasta that, spoken like Miss Real Pasta, “really, really, really tastes like the regular pasta – but isn’t”. Honestly and truthfully…. no need to triple check.

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