Our family's gluten free story

Gluten free bread pictured was made by Liam (age 10) from the book Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which he highly recommends!

My gluten free story

Nearly 15 years ago, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease after 8 months of symptoms that confounded doctors. I was experiencing  sudden panic attacks for the first time in my life, intense headaches, and dizziness. I was also losing weight. Celiac disease was not on many doctors’ radars 15 years ago, so even though I was poked and prodded and even underwent an exploratory endoscopy, doctors saw intestinal damage but didn’t test for Celiac. Eventually, a chiropractor suggested the possibility of Celiac disease, so I scheduled an appointment with a new GI specialist and finally received a Celiac diagnosis.

Celiac is a tricky genetic disorder and manifests itself in many different ways throughout life. Looking back at my own history, it’s evident that I was always intolerant to gluten but didn’t know it. For example, I had asthma and allergies and frequent bronchitis in middle school, and severe acid reflux in high school. These symptoms and others point to Celiac, though (at the time of my diagnosis) most patients weren’t diagnosed until their early twenties or even later when your body finally says, “Enough is enough” and there is a more acute reaction. Most experience gastrointestinal symptoms; some never do. 

My doctor told me that I had to be on a completely gluten free diet for life. At the time, I didn’t even know what gluten was. It was a steep learning curve, but within two weeks of completely removing gluten from my diet, I never experienced another panic attack and my other symptoms disappeared. As much as I grieved this new reality (I even dreamed of croissants on multiple occasions, knowing I'd probably never taste that texture again!), I was deeply grateful to get my health back.

Today, thankfully, testing for Celiac is more readily available, and living on a gluten free diet is much easier. 

Bear’s gluten free story

Fast forward to three years ago. Our pediatrician at the time recommended that we have all four children tested for Celiac with a simple blood test because I have Celiac and it’s a genetic disease. So we did. None of them were exhibiting symptoms from eating gluten regularly, and all four tests came back negative, so we continued allowing them to eat gluten. However, I'm now unsure that testing for Celiac that early (our youngest was 9 months old) is effective. And it doesn't rule out the fact that any of them may have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, without having Celiac disease. 

Fast forward to one year later. Our son, Bear (then age 3.5), was complaining of daily tummy aches and frequent diarrhea, so I brought up my concerns with our pediatrician. She did not recommend any diet changes, but encouraged us to have him re-tested for Celiac disease, even though we'd just had the test the year before. Because the test was very expensive and not covered by our insurance, that didn't seem like the best option at the time. So I decided to take him off gluten for a time to see if his tummy aches were relieved. I didn't tell him; I just gave him gluten free food. Within a few days, he stopped complaining of tummy aches completely.

A few months later, my parents were visiting from out of town and my dad commented on how Bear's behavior and demeanor had changed and he seemed much happier. I hadn't really thought about it, but when I did, I realized he was right. The timing of the change matched taking him off of gluten. He was happier, sillier, and less moody—likely because he wasn't in constant pain.

Beck’s gluten free story

It was my dad who later wondered aloud if our youngest child, Beck, might benefit from a gluten free diet. Beck, though not complaining of tummy aches, was throwing intense daily tantrums. By the time he turned 3, I started wondering if the tantrums were more than just a normal 3-year-old behavior. Sometimes, they lasted well over an hour despite all our efforts. There were times Beck would bang his head on the tile floor to the point of bruising his forehead. Many times, we couldn’t even figure out what set him off in the first place. Looking back, I realized he was also having very frequent bowel movements with loose stool. And he would often wake up crying in the morning for no reason that we could discern. It felt discouraging and sometimes hopeless, not knowing what we could do to help him. None of our other kids had experienced this.

So I decided to give a gluten free diet a try, once again. Within a few days, the tantrums disappeared. Beck is still strong-willed, but the intensity of his difficult behavior softened immediately and drastically. Also, his stool regulated and he was no longer going multiple times a day. He is a new kid!

As we’ve sought to heal his gut, I’ve been giving all of the kids this daily probiotic, along with raw milk yogurt and dairy for natural probiotics. I know other families who have needed to cut out more foods (specifically dairy or peanuts) to see improvements, but that hasn’t been the case for us.

Navigating a gluten free diet

Eliminating gluten from your diet can be tricky and expensive. However, if it's what your body needs (or your child's body needs), the challenges pale in comparison to how wonderful it is to feel better! I've been 100% gluten free for 15 years now. Though I miss the texture of a croissant and the ease of eating at any restaurant of my choosing, I don't miss how I felt before I knew I had Celiac. I enjoy amazing health, in part because of this medically necessary diet.

There are only three things that Celiacs generally cannot eat: wheat, barley, and rye. Unfortunately, there are lots of foods that contain these ingredients: any breaded/floured meat or vegetables, soy sauce (which contains wheat; I substitute gluten free tamari), bread, muffins, pasta, cake. There are some things that are “maybe” foods: soups and sauces. Sometimes wheat has been used to thicken them, which makes them risky if they aren’t homemade and you aren’t sure about every ingredient. 

If there are questions about specific ingredients, it’s safest to look on the nutrition label and near the bottom of the ingredient list, you should be able to see “contains wheat” if it does. It doesn’t have to say “gluten free” on the label to be gluten free. Lots of foods are naturally gluten free and aren’t labeled as such.

What are your go-to meals? 

For breakfast: 

Scrambled eggs, gluten free toast, smoothies, gluten free waffles, oatmeal, overnight oats

For lunch:

See this post: Homeschool lunches

For snacks: 

Fresh fruit, dried fruit, gluten free pretzels, nuts, applesauce pouches, veggie straws & hummus

For dinner:

See this post: Weekly dinner rotation

What are your favorite go-to brands and restaurants?

Our favorite gluten free sandwich bread is from Walmart. It's perfect for toast or sandwiches. It's not cheap (no gluten free breads are), but it's the best gluten free bread I've found. You may even be able to substitute it in for sandwiches or toast without your little one even noticing! I keep ours in the freezer until I need it, then in the fridge.

Our two gluten free kids like Annie's GF Mac and Cheese and Van's gluten free frozen waffles. I like to bake with King Arthur Gluten Free Measure for Measure flour—just substitute it into cookie or pancake or muffin recipes and you won't be able to tell the difference! We all love Jovial brand gluten free pasta

Other than those products, I don't buy many specifically gluten free products, but focus on naturally gluten free foods. Potatoes and rice (in all their various forms) are good fillers when you can't easily have a lot of bread. I do buy gluten free oats from Trader Joe's or in bulk from Azure Standard because while oats are naturally gluten free, they are often grown next to wheat that inadvertently gets mixed in. So it's important to purchase GF oats for oatmeal or recipes.

We love eating at Chipotle as everything is naturally gluten free other than the four tortillas. We eat at Chick-fil-a and get grilled nuggets. Mod Pizza or Blaze Pizza both have great gluten free crusts available; just make sure to ask them to change their gloves to prevent cross contamination. 

I sincerely hope this is a good place to start!

This is not medical advice. It is, however, an encouragement to listen to your gut (no pun intended).