Looking back, I really wish there were a few key things (Tips) I had been told when I first started to understand/live with my intolerances. It appears so easy now, like second nature, but this took so long to figure out. For ages, I remember being ill because of silly mistakes I’d made to cross-contaminate myself.
I have created this list of Top Tips which I feel is helpful for people who are newly diagnosed/changing their lifestyle to a gluten and dairy-free diet. I hope that this helps ease you in to things a little more.
1. Buy yourself a separate GF-only toaster
This is probably my biggest thing of them all. It is the problem I had the most when first starting out. I had no clue what was making me ill for ages – it ended up being the fact I was still using a toaster with the rest of my family! Yes, even a crumb can make some people (mainly coeliacs or those with high sensitivity) very ill. If you cannot afford to buy a brand new toaster, I have also found toaster bags to be very helpful. This will catch any crumbs and protect your bread from coming into contact with any gluten residues.
2. Eating out is not as complex as you may think
This is exactly what my blog is trying to express – eating out with food intolerances may seem daunting, but with the right research, it can be really fun! I tend to check out places (and contact them) before I go to make sure the menu is suitable for me. One thing to mention here is that you should emphasise intolerances strongly to your waiter/waitress. Sometimes intolerances such as gluten and dairy aren’t taken as seriously as other allergies (although this is changing) so be brave and explain nicely that you require separate preparation areas (if applicable i.e. coeliac) wherever possible. There are also plenty of food blogs and allergy/coeliac-accredited places to eat if you’d like to be extra safe. These can be found on my useful links at the bottom of my page or also via a quick Google search. Where I can, I have also stated in my posts whether I feel the place is clued up for allergens and to what extent. You are also more than welcome to contact me to ask questions too.
3. You may need to use different baking and cooking equipment/utensils
Depending on how severe your allergy/intolerance is, you may also need to get yourself separate cooking equipment too. Although I personally need my own toaster, I do not have problems sharing utensils. I just make sure these are thoroughly cleaned between use (yes, I have managed to cross-contaminate myself but this has been on a very rare occasion and usually when I am in a rush). I do know some people who have everything completely separate from partners and family members, though. So I felt this was something to point out.
4. Free from products are expensive
I am pretty sure you are already aware that free from products are super expensive. This is common knowledge, even to those who don’t shop in that aisle. This does have a reason behind it though, the manufacturers aren’t just being greedy. As there is less demand for these products (even though the number of those diagnosed with food intolerances does appear to be growing), it means it costs more to make and therefore the products cost more.
I personally try to steer clear of the majority of the ‘free from isle’ unless I fancy a treat. You can buy most sauces and other items in the main isles. It takes getting used to reading the back of packets, but it does get quicker and easier. Don’t assume things are always OK though – I have been caught out on a number of occasions where the ingredients have changed and I haven’t checked and then given myself a tummy ache. You can also get other things like ready meals in the ‘normal’ isles too. Check out my Instagram for recent products I have found. For example, a lot of dark chocolate is naturally dairy-free.
5. Free from products can be fattening
It is no secret that free from products are often very high in sugar. I am not saying don’t buy goodies, just make sure you do this in moderation, like with any treat. As these foods are often much more bland in flavour, manufacturers tend to ramp up the artificial additives to make the products taste better.
6. Not everyone will understand your dietary restrictions
So overall I’ve been quite lucky here – my friends and partners have all been very supportive of my dietary requirements. I get that sometimes it’s frustrating for people when they have their heart on somewhere and you can’t eat there, but good friends will work around you. Mine always have. However, I have heard stories where people have struggled with this. It can also impact dating. I did have one occasion where someone wouldn’t date me because I was ‘gluten free’ which meant it was a pain. Their loss anyway!
I have had occasions where I have also gone to places where there was only one option on the menu for me. I am not a fussy eater, but it has happened on multiple occasions where this ‘one item’ was sold out. Unfortunately this has occurred on things such as work nights out/Christmas dos. This can be a little awkward so be prepared to adapt. Maybe also speak out if you feel the place isn’t suitable for you – I wish I had sometimes!
I do often feel guilty that I have to dictate where I go to eat. My partner is great with this though – it means he doesn’t have to worry about finding places. I always have a list handy (even months before we go somewhere).
If you feel comfortable, do not be embarrassed to bring your own food. On several occasions, I have taken my own food to parties and functions to make sure I am not missing out. This is often also more suitable as I then know that I won’t get ill mid-meal too!
7. You will have to plan ahead where you are eating - especially when travelling
OK, I know I said eating out isn’t as bad as you think, but you do have to plan in advance. I cannot emphasise this enough! I have had it before where I went to countries where I was barely able to eat. It is gutting, but do remember to take some of your own food in your suitcase in case this happens. I now take breakfast bars with me wherever I go ‘just in case’.
A tip I use: grab a local map and on the first day (or even before you go) mark out all of the GF/DF spots. I find this really useful for when I am walking around a city and need to ‘pop in for a bite’. This means I am prepared and know where things are/can help plan my day around them.
8. Travelling to a non-English speaking country is difficult
Oh my! The memories of travelling to China. I ended up eating rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner and STILL managed to get cross-contaminated every meal. This was despite having a translated card.
Do not panic though, this was a very rare case and has only happened to me the once. The tip here is to go online. There are websites where you can grab downloadable/printable cards which explain ‘coeliac disease’ and other intolerances in various languages. I have found these really helpful when travelling in Europe. A lot of these people do speak English, but in some more ‘authentic’ restaurants, you may find the translation card helps a lot!
9. Eating 'just a little bit' really isn't worth it
I know it seems ever so tempting to have ‘a tiny slice’ of cake, for example. Oh believe me, I made these mistakes myself. I wrote all about this on my journey. I promise you, it really isn’t worth it! Your gut will already take a long time to heal after eliminating the trigger foods from your diet, do not prolong this. The more you cut it out, the more sensitive and more reactive you will feel too. Just do not do it – you will regret it later.
10. You are entitled to a 'just can't wait' card
If you have IBS, IBD or any other similar condition, you are entitled to a ‘just can’t wait’ card. You can apply for this on the bladder and bowl website here. I highly recommend getting this! It entitles you to pop into any toilet in case of emergency (i.e. if you have been ‘glutened’). I have found it amazing for when I couldn’t resist ice cream! Oops.
11. There are so many others just like you
I know that it can initially feel overwhelming and lonely, but there are so many others like you. For me, I was the first in my family to have any dietary problems (we now have others who have been diagnosed and we now adapt meals together). I felt like I had no idea where to begin! I have found reading blogs and checking Instagram awesome for ideas and connecting with others. Useful hashtags I follow on Instagram include: #glutenfree, #dairyfree, #glutenanddairyfree, #freefrom, #coeliac, #paelo, #glutenfreelifestyle and more. I find this platform amazing for recipe ideas, cooking and products too. I tend to go to the ‘most recent’ tab for each of the hashtags for the latest updates.
12. Gluten can be in toiletries as well as food
I am lucky that I only have to watch my ingestion of gluten and dairy, but some people may be allergic to gluten on their skin. If this is you, make sure you check the back of products for either a ‘GF’ symbol or to check the ingredients. There are lots of forums which have helpful information on this and recommended brands.
13. Eggs are often classified as 'dairy'
When eating out, servers often class eggs as ‘dairy’. This is a common misconception. If you follow a vegan diet, you will avoid eggs. However, on a dairy-free diet, eggs are fine. I always let my server know that I can eat eggs, which often gives me more options for dessert. Who doesn’t love a cake anyway?
14. A lot of products/meals are either gluten OR dairy-free, but not both
I still struggle with this today. I find that places are good for catering for gluten OR dairy-free, but not often combined. You can find good places in my blog for combined meals. Also note that a lot of ‘dairy-free’ options will be vegan. Do not knock this, some of the best meals I’ve had when dining out were vegan! Do your research though – there are some hidden gems about.
Likewise to this, I refer back to following the Instagram hashtags.