I was 21, and my diet consisted mostly of mac and cheese, bagels, pasta, and sandwiches of various types. Don’t get me wrong — I packed plenty of vegetables and protein into those carb-heavy meals, and I knew the basics of throwing a meal together. But, like any other typical college student, wheat was a big part of my diet, even if I didn’t notice it. It was just there.
So when I found out I had to get rid of all that wheat from my diet — hello, Celiac — it was a little overwhelming. Whaat? I can’t go grab a turkey sandwich for lunch between classes? No bagels with cream cheese? No sausage, egg, and cheese on a croissant every Saturday morning to cure my inevitable hangover? Shit.
What followed was a months long (err… years long? Ongoing?) challenge to identify every source of gluten in my diet, eliminate them all, and somehow find a way to replace them all with other wholesome, healthy-to-me foods. At first, I thought it was pretty easy. Eliminating the big sources — bread, bagels, pasta — made me feel a bunch better, so I wasn’t paying much attention to the “other” sources. Then, when I learned that I was in fact still consuming gluten — which is basically poison to my body — from unknown sources like soy sauce, dressings, Rice Krispies (what?!), and cross-contamination, I got more serious about eliminating those sources, too.
It’s been three years now. And I think I’m finally “clean.” Except there’s one thing — for the last year or so, whenever I eat out at a restaurant or even at a friend’s home, I inevitably feel awful the next day, even if the previous day’s meal had been “gluten-free.” I’ve started to refer to this feeling as a “gluten hangover” — because that’s exactly what it feels like. A hangover. No restaurant or friend is intentionally feeding me gluten, but sometimes, it just happens. Cross contamination is a bitch, people.
So I’ve adapted. I’ve adapted without even realizing it. Give me a choice of eating out or cooking at home, and there’s a 99% chance I’ll choose cooking. And it’s not because I don’t enjoy eating out — I do, ohhhhh I do. But if the result is going to be me feeling awful the next day, 99% of the time, it’s just not worth it. I’d rather do the legwork myself — buy the groceries, do the chopping, sautéing and baking, serving, and cleaning. That way, I know that what I’m putting in my body isn’t going to end up hurting me.
While feeling stressed about eating out can sometimes be annoying, it has had some perks. For one, I’ve really learned to love cooking: Probably in no small part thanks to the fact that cooking my own food is like medicine — it makes me feel so much better than anything procured in another manner. I’ve also become a pretty good cook. And I’ve become more confident in the kitchen, too. I’m proud of what I’m able to create with just my brain and whatever ingredients I have on hand. And social media — Instragram, for example — has allowed me to share those little victories with others. Sometimes, I’ve even been able to inspire others to head to the kitchen themselves, to create their own healthy meals. These little things, I think, make the rough parts of going gluten-free worth it.
That’s what I realized last week, randomly, while prepping some meals for a long day of traveling. Subway? McDonalds? No thanks, rest stop — I brought my own.