Going Gluten-free: My Month of GF Eating
My name is Stacy and I’m the Director of Customer Care here at Nima. That means that I am very often talking with our community members — helping educate on using Nima, resolving issues, and passing feedback onto all the internal teams.
It’s tough navigating a gluten-free landscape. My niece was diagnosed with Celiac disease a few months after I started working at Nima, so Nima’s mission and vision that I loved already got even more personal and real for me.
While I have learned a lot about Celiac Disease, gluten-free living, and other free-from communities while working at Nima, as a non-gluten-free eater, your experience is always limited to an outside perspective. I always try to put myself in other people’s shoes but I believe that until you really do it, you can’t fully fathom the difficulty of the situation. I wanted that perspective, so I decided to try living one month (the month of May in honor of Celiac Disease Awareness month) completely gluten-free.
Note: I recognize that eating gluten-free is not a fad, but is an important health concern for many (especially those with celiac disease). This personal experiment was to help me better identify with our community. I actively tried to avoid gluten. I did not cheat. If Nima detected gluten in a dish, it was passed over to someone else to eat.
Meal planning for the week got harder. My husband offered to cook tomorrow night, but had no idea what might have gluten. We went through a bunch of our go-tos and very few would work. Looks like I might be the primary cook this month – or preparing multiple dishes.
• I usually have avocado toast for breakfast but couldn’t find the gluten-free bread (since I usually use regular) so I had a banana with almond butter. Read the almond butter ingredients to check it was gluten-free. Nothing concerning in the ingredients and then I noticed it said gluten-free. I didn’t test since it was in the Nima kitchen and the team is pretty careful about cross contamination.
• I was excited to make a clean eating / gluten-free recipe. The ingredient that from the recipe that I was suspicious of / curious about was the chicken stock. First I read the ingredients on the label and nothing jumped out at me. Next (just to be sure)I tried the gluten-free label scanner and it said MIGHT CONTAIN GLUTEN so I had to scrap the dinner. 🙁 We ordered poke bowls instead. I was required to select a sauce so I just ordered it on the side and didn’t use it.
• I wanted to grab a piece of gum on my way out of work but I wasn’t sure if it was gluten-free. I didn’t have time to test it with Nima so I decided to eat pumpkin seeds instead. The next day I went back and tested the gum — I put tiny, tiny pieces in the capsule so it wouldn’t clog — and got a smile. YES! Good to know I can have some gum when in doubt about snacks.
• I also tried Bread Syrsly gluten-free bread for the first time. Yuck. Shireen (Nima CEO) told me I have to toast it. Oops. I toasted it the following day and it was WAY better.
Lesson: This made me realize how helpful having a gluten-free community is. Toasting gluten-free bread is a small thing, but it’s an example of how important it is to have people in your life who know how to navigate the gluten-free diet.
Grocery store food
• I went to the local grocery store and purchased their corn chowder soup and citrus salmon. The corn chowder soup was labeled GF, but the citrus salmon was not. I read the ingredient list on the citrus salmon packaging and to the best of my knowledge, it was gluten-free. I felt pretty confident so I started eating but did a Nima test just to be sure. Got a smile!
Lesson: It’s hard to be patient when you’re hungry!
• First grocery store trip while on a GF diet today! The experience was definitely different. In my daily life, I already often read labels when purchasing a new item, but this time I had to check all my regulars purchases as well. In some cases, packages had clear GF labels, which made it pretty easy. In other cases, there was no clear labeling and it was hard to tell whether it was gluten-free or not. In order to feel like I was making an informed decision I read labels AND searched in my Nima app AND used the gluten-free barcode scanning app.
Lesson: Grocery shopping takes a lot more planning (at least when you’re new to the gluten-free diet). My husband and I did some on the fly meal planning and had to switch up a few of our meals and ingredients to ensure they were gluten-free. For example: the photo below is of a new sauce we tried out because the ingredients looked gluten-free. However, it wasn’t specifically labeled gluten-free so we double checked with Nima.
• I was too exhausted from the day to cook so we decided to order Chinese food because Paige (my daughter) likes the wonton soup. Unfortunately nothing on the menu expressly said gluten-free. I ordered a veggie dish with a spicy garlic sauce and added a note that said, “ABSOLUTELY NO SOY SAUCE. CELIAC EATER”, just so they would take the order seriously. I didn’t taste any hints of soy sauce but did wonder, and had run out of Nima capsules / didn’t have any left to test with.
• I tested my Chinese food the next day and Nima found gluten. I’m really disappointed. I included a note in my order but I knew it was a risk. I don’t suffer any physical reactions but I’m still really annoyed and bummed my gluten-free month has already been ruined. I will not be ordering from them for the rest of the month.
Lesson: Community members definitely run out, misplace, or forget capsules so not being able to test the food immediately is something people experience. Having to decide whether to take the risk by trusting the restaurant and eat the food is incredibly stressful. I can’t imagine being mad, frustrated, AND sick.
• Went to our favorite sushi spot. I always order very plain sushi and don’t like soy sauce with it so I felt confident eating at dinner. But I was a little jealous of my daughter Paige’s noodles!
Eating GF at events
• This weekend we grilled out with some friends in the park. That was rough. I was going to just eat minimally and avoid drinking but my husband told everyone I was gluten-free for the month…which led to me being berated with questions. Why? What is gluten? Blah, blah, blah. Also, I realized I didn’t have any capsules left (I hadn’t gotten a chance to re-stock yet) so couldn’t test anything and ate very little overall.
• My mother in law made a chuck roast with beef broth which I was worried about. I tested with Nima…gluten-free. She also made banana cream pie for dessert. Even better? She made me a special one – no crust. I couldn’t understand half the ingredients on the jello box so I tested it with my Nima…gluten-free!
• Eric wanted burgers for lunch so we went to a bar nearby for lunch. Not many gluten-free options on the menu but the salad I got was actually really good. Eric’s sweet potato fries looked amazing. I didn’t think they were gluten-free but I tested them with Nima on the off chance that they were because they looked so good…gluten found. No fries for me.
• My mother in law wanted the Arsicault bakery croissants. I couldn’t eat them (gluten city) but I treated myself to a gluten-free blueberry and lemon scone – yum!
• Everyone wanted to order Chinese for lunch. Since I got glutened last time, I abstained and made myself a roasted vegetable scramble. I’ve noticed that I’ve definitely been eating more vegetarian this month.
• I continue to be bummed that the gluten-free bread is so small (it’s about half the size of what I’m used to). My almond butter, banana, peanut butter breakfast is not big enough.
• My husband and babe wanted noodles with their pork and veggies. Paige (my daughter) asked why I wasn’t eating noodles. It was hard to explain “gluten-free” to a 3 year old.
• I had ice cream in the afternoon with the family. Was out of capsules and wasn’t sure about the options so I went with sorbet. Need to check if that’s gluten-free but would have been better to know before the fact.
Lesson: It’s surprising how difficult it is to anticipate how many capsules I’ll need / how many tests I want to run. I would hazard a guess that this is especially difficult for folks who are just starting their gluten-free diet…and people who have been eating gluten-free for a while probably have a rhythm nailed down.
Eating GF at events
• I ran a 12K race today this weekend! Unfortunately the only food in the post race area was grilled cheese… no gluten-free option and regular beer. No cider in sight. #bummed
• My husband made beef tacos for dinner. He’s getting a bit better at knowing what is gluten-free and is getting really good at reading labels. The taco seasoning package said gluten-free but the beans did not. I double checked the beans with Nima and got a smile!
• I switched from gluten-free bread and almond butter for breakfast to certified gluten-free oatmeal. It was more filling and delicious! I’m starting to get a better handle on how what works and doesn’t work for me.
• I got glutened at dinner. I ordered Thai chicken noodle soup from a restaurant. The soup was made with rice noodles, which shouldn’t contain gluten. Unfortunately I started eating before the Nima test completed. The Nima test completed quickly…I was just so impatient and confident that I knew what was in the soup — the test came back with gluten found. Once I saw that gluten was found the soup was distributed to the rest of the family and I ate some random packaged items in the fridge instead.
Lesson: I had been on a streak of not being glutened + I thought I knew exactly what was in the soup. Sometimes you can get too confident and too impatient. At least I found out there was gluten in it (even if it was after the fact) and was able to stop eating before I consumed the whole dish.
• We went to a Burmese restaurant for lunch, specifically because they had a gluten-free menu. They said their fries were gluten-free which made me really excited. I hadn’t had fries all month! But my Thai chicken noodle soup experience was heavy on my mind so I tested the fries and the sauce just to be safe. I don’t know who was smiling bigger me or Nima. I totally destroyed the whole basket.
• I was craving a chocolate caramel at work. Chocolate is usually gluten-free but the package had no GF label. So just to make sure, I tested it incase there was something in the caramel. Got a smile!
• My husband wanted Vietnamese food for dinner but I was concerned about hidden soy sauce. I zeroed in on the papaya salad but just to make sure I called the restaurant to ask if there was soy sauce in their “Vietnamese vinaigrette”. The staff told me it had no soy sauce, and the sauce was clear (not a soy sauce color) when it arrived. I test the vinaigrette and a bit of the shrimp (with a mystery seasoning) with Nima just in case. Smile!
• Paige is loving testing everything with Nima. If I don’t point Nima towards her, she adjusts it so she can watch it run the test. She likes to see the smile and always asks if we are going to be testing our food.
I decided to do my Glutenostics Gluten Detective tests late on the last night of the month. I had planned to take these tests at the end of my month, to see how successful I was in cutting gluten out of my diet. I did both tests, and both came back negative for gluten. Seems that at least my last few days were a success!!
What I learned
1. People will be curious.
When you start eating gluten-free, you will get lots of questions. From your friends, from your family, from strangers at restaurants. You need talking points prepared!
2. You become a GF expert (with help).
You turn into the expert. Resources are key. Checking foods online, using a gluten-free barcode scanner, having Nima. A collection of tools allowed me to navigate with less interruption to my day to day.
3. The gluten-free community is important.
Knowing someone who is an experienced gluten-free eater is invaluable. They can tell you all the little things you may not know yet — like how you should toast Bread Srsly bread because it makes it taste better, how to read labels, which packaged food replacements taste better, where they have been glutened before, etc. I had several colleagues that helped me along with all the Nima community members in the app.
4. Restaurants are unreliable.
This is not really a surprise, but restaurants often serve gluten-free meals that are not gluten-free. So it’s always important to double check your meal, especially if you’re trying out a new restaurant. Putting in order notes for delivery is DEFINITELY not enough.
5. Gluten-free bread is mini!
Not much more to say here other than my breakfast sandwich of almond butter and banana (with GF bread) was about half the size it normally is.
6. Patience is key.
It can be hard to wait for the Nima test to run — especially when you’re hungry and ready to eat — but if Day 22 taught me anything, it was that it’s important to let the full test run before digging in. The wait will be worth it if it means saving your gut!
7. You must be vigilant.
You have to be constantly vigilant. Whether you’re eating out, or just shopping at your local grocery store…in order to be safe you have to do research, talk with others, read labels, and test your food when you’re suspicious.
8. Get your family involved.
Eating is a communal time. Get everyone involved, share your knowledge and try and make it fun. Paige (my daughter) loved seeing the Nima smile.
This experience gave me even greater appreciation for the struggles that the Nima community members (and beyond) face. This past month helped grow my knowledge, my empathy, and gave me new energized resolve to continue to push our team to develop new tools and help ensure we are supporting this amazing community.