Some of the most well known celebrities today have vocally supported gluten free diets as the new wave to lose that extra belly fat or get into shape for their next movie role, publicly shaming gluten for being evil. But does anyone actually know what gluten really is? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye that acts as a glue in many products; bread, pasta and cereal just to name a few; to help hold the shape.
Unfortunately there are the select few who are stricken with Celiac disease which could lie dormant inside of you for years without your knowledge. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack the small intestine whenever the presence of gluten is detected. With so many food products today containing gluten, and even some medicines, maintaining a well-balanced diet is very difficult let alone if you are a high-level athlete. A friend of mine recently lost his appetite over a span of three weeks, by the way he’s 300 pounds so it was quite strange, and would experience severe intestinal discomfort anytime he ate from the dining commons. On top of studying for finals he also had to attend football practice several times a week and his lack of appetite not only mentally and physically drained him but caused him to lose over 15 pounds before finally being diagnosed with late onset Celiac disease. The solution is not as simple as drinking some Pepto Bismol and continuing to eat gluten because continual exposure to gluten can actually worsen the condition, increase discomfort and detract form athletic performance. Here a few strategies to help ease the transition to a gluten-free diet.
Food Labeling and Preparation:
Confide in your family and roommates about your condition and make them aware of the risks that you run by consuming any sources of gluten. To make it easier on yourself, and notify your roommates not to eat your food, use colored labels or tape to clearly identify which products are safe to consume. Try to store all of your specific foods together as well so that you are not constantly searching for the colored labels and save yourself some extra time to meal prep.
Nobody wants to gruel in the kitchen for an hour or two preparing meals that you won’t be able to enjoy fresh out of the oven but it saves you time during the week and ensures that you are not consuming any sources of gluten. Meal prepping is great particularly when you are studying for finals, when most people would usually take a study break to grab the closest McDonalds, but you are already prepared and have your healthier and safer food option at your side. If you get invited over for a dinner date/party, I know it is unappealing to be that one friend who has to request special food accommodations. I am sure your friends wouldn’t care to begin with, but if you feel at ease about saying anything but still want to attend, then bring along your prepared meal.
Go to the grocery store a little earlier than planned to have enough time to read every single label before purchasing. Nobody wants to spend time doing this but manufacturers are not legally required to list gluten on their labels, only wheat, so try to look for gluten containing ingredients like malt, wheat, barley, rye, triticale or malt vinegar. Websites like Celiac Disease Foundation, Canadian Celiac Association, and Coeliac UK provide a plethora of resources on where to buy gluten free ingredients.
Contact your local registered dietitian and educate yourself about vegetables, fruit, nuts and proteins that you can substitute to ensure a well-balanced diet. Alternative grains like quinoa, tapioca, taro, buckwheat, millet and green banana flour are great alternatives for carbs. Quinoa in particular is excellent from a protein standpoint because it contains all nine essential amino acids for the full spectrum of proteins.
Dealing with Celiac Disease can be very difficult especially if you recently developed symptoms and are not accustomed to a tailored diet but with a steady support system; friends, family, coaches, dietitian, athletic trainer; you will be able to work through this together to help you attain your goals. Education and preparation are absolutely necessary if you do not want to worsen the symptoms and maintain a healthy life style.