Going Gluten-Free With Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

My Tips for Being Successful

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Are you living gluten free with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, or are you considering a gluten-free diet?

This is a tough diet to follow because gluten hides in a lot of different places. Fortunately, it's become popular enough that you have a lot more options that we did even a few years ago.

I've learned several things that have helped me succeed in my gluten-free diet, and they may be able to help you as well.

What is Gluten & Why is It a Problem?

First, it's important to know what gluten is and why it's in so many foods.

Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, and rye. It's what makes baked goods that wonderful moist, spongy texture. It's also used as an additive in a lot of packaged food products, such as powdered sauce mixes and many others.

Some people have an autoimmune condition called celiac disease that makes them unable to tolerate gluten. Some people without celiac disease also have symptoms related to gluten and are considered gluten sensitive or gluten intolerant.

Going gluten-free is a major lifestyle change that takes a lot of commitment. While it can be overwhelming at first, it does get easier as new habits take hold.

Learn the Hiding Places

The first key to a gluten-free diet is learning all the places that gluten can hide.

Gluten is everywhere. It's in obvious places – bread, cereal, hamburger buns, pasta, etc. – as well as in things you'd never expect. For example, some fast-food places use grilled chicken that contains gluten. That one really stunned me! If even meat isn't always safe, you know you've really got to keep an eye out.

At first, it might seem simple to identify gluten-containing products. Foods are labeled, right? It seems like you should just be able to peruse the ingredients list, or even just the allergen statement that many labels have.

Alas, it's not that simple. Allergen labeling requirements include wheat, but not gluten specifically. While wheat is the primary source of gluten in our food supply, it's not the only one by a long shot.

All kinds of seemingly innocuous things contain gluten as a food additive. These can include maltodextrin, natural flavors, food starch, and a host of others that you'll find in all kinds of foods.

Verywell.com Celiac Disease Expert Jane Anderson has a great list of terms that do or could mean gluten on food labels. Especially while you're adjusting your shopping habits, it's a great thing to have printed out and in your purse or wallet:

Lists of What You Can Eat

As you find products that you can eat, write them down. That way, you'll save time at the grocery store instead of having to read the nutrition label every time. The ones labeled gluten free are easy – it's the ones you have to work for, reading label after label all through, for example, the spaghetti sauce section, that you'll want to keep track of.

Perhaps more importantly, if someone else ever shops for you, they can just take the list. I didn't have anything like this when I ended up having emergency surgery, and my poor husband had some frustrating experiences trying to find things for me.

Keeping Things Separate

Another issue you need to be aware of is cross-contamination. The simple act of putting a gluten-free bagel in your toaster can transfer small amounts of gluten to this previously safe food. If you live with people who don't share your diet, you really need to be careful.

Common things that can lead to cross-contamination include:

  • Toasters,
  • Butter,
  • Cutting boards,
  • Knives,
  • Pasta strainers,
  • Cooking utensils.

The simplest part is using separate utensils: one butter knife for your toast, another for your family's; one pasta spoon for your spaghetti, another for the regular stuff.

When it comes to cutting boards, avoiding wood is a good idea, since it's absorbent. I use plastic, and I have one that's just for gluten-containing foods and one that's kept free of them. Same goes for your colander.

To save on dishes, you can also prepare your food first and then re-use things for everyone else's.

In my kitchen, you'll also find two butter dishes in use so I can keep mine from free from all those little glutinous crumbs that are transferred from the knife. My butter is kept on a higher shelf as well, so my kids don't accidentally grab it.

The toaster is an annoying one because it can be expensive. I considered two options: adding a second toaster to my kitchen, or buying a four-slice model with good separation between "their" side and mine. Because I don't have the space for two, I opted for a four-slice one. I get the two slots on the left, while everyone else uses the right.

Jane has some great articles on this topic here:

Adapting Recipes

Because gluten is responsible for the textures we're used to in baked goods, you may find that the things you bake with gluten-free flours just don't measure up. I've even found mixes that end up dry and crumbly.

Something that really helps is using xanthan gum or guar gum. They help bind the food together and have a better texture.

I don't bake a tremendous amount, but for everything I have baked with gluten-free flour, a multi-purpose blend with a little xanthan gum has worked really well. Some people do prefer different types of flours for different recipes, though. Lots of advice is out there, online and in cook books, from people who really know what they're doing.

You can find a lot of gluten-free mixes on store shelves, and some of them are really good. However, some can come out quite dry. I've had good luck with adding an extra egg or a bit more liquid than what's called for. It takes some experimentation and might not always work, but it's worth it when you end up with something that's a true replacement for a food you miss.

Keeping Options On Hand

When you're on a special diet and also have an illness that can prevent you from certain basic tasks, such as cooking from scratch or grocery shopping, it becomes important to keep simple options on hand.

I make sure to keep a few frozen, gluten-free meals in my freezer for when I need them. When I haven't had them, I've regretted it!

I've also found some gluten-free wraps and tortillas that I like, and they're great for making a quick meal out of leftovers or sandwich fixings. (Watch out for gluten in prepared lunch meats, though!)

When I'm able, I try to cook enough for multiple meals.

On the Go

It can be hard to find a gluten-free meal or snack when you're out and about. To keep from getting into a bad situation, I try to keep something safe and filling in my purse and car. A small bag of peanuts, almonds, or dried fruit are good options.

Eating out is a huge issue when you're gluten free. You'll find more on that below.

More Resources

This is a medical diet that may not offer benefits to those who don't have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. You can learn more about these things here:

Be sure to explore both Jane and Teri's sites for more information to help you be successfully gluten free.

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