The Struggle is Real: My Journey With Celiac Disease and How I Made My Gluten-free Home Tasty and Nutritious
When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 24 years ago, I took it like a champ. When I was blind-sided by a celiac diagnosis this past September, let's just say I did not embrace it quite so readily. I knew that type 1 diabetes and celiac are a common autoimmune pairing. We are all learning that celiac disease may present relatively asymptomatically. A persistent burning sensation on my tongue led me to ask and investigate; sure enough Celiac disease. Not having any stomach complaints, abnormal bowel movements, any major deficiencies, or weight loss, everyone was shocked.
Coming to terms with my new reality has not been easy. I wouldn’t even say that I have fully accepted it if I’m being honest. There is still an anger and sadness I get especially in social settings and travel. With 2 young kids at home, (kids love gluten) there’s other considerations, such as a costlier grocery bill, finding replacements for their gluten filled favourites, whether or not to keep my house totally gluten free (GF), and ensuring the nutritional needs of my household are met.
The irony of living with type 1 diabetes and being a dietitian is that I am all too aware of the shortcomings of a GF diet. This goes beyond missing out on that flakey croissant; I’m talking about the nutrient density of my food. While GF diets have been trendy for weight loss, and diet fads like paleo, they are NOT necessarily healthier. Unfortunately for those with celiac disease, non-celiac related gluten sensitivity, and even IBS, a GF diet is often not a choice.
And so, I am now among this GF community. And as I continue on my path of acceptance, and being a professional helping others eat for success, I have no choice but to make the best of this. With that, I am now setting goals to make my home a GF haven and taking the opportunity to experiment with new and exciting products, and recipes that don’t sacrifice taste OR nutrition.
The reality is, GF products tend to be:
But don’t fret, there are so many wholesome grains and sources of carbohydrate still available to those following a GF diet. If you stick to whole foods and make an informed choice versus relying on the more processed, convenience foods such as breads, pastas, crackers, snack bars and cereals you won’t be missing a thing!
So how do you make the best of a GF diet and can you make it as nutritious as one with gluten? The answer is most certainly YES. In honour of celiac awareness month, I wanted to share my key tips to making a GF diet tasty and nutritionally complete.
1. Adding fibres. Just because your store bought packaged items are lower in fibre, doesn’t mean your diet has to be. On average we should be getting between 22-35 g of dietary fibre daily. Fibre is great for heart health, keeping blood sugars stable, keeping you regular, adding satiety to your meal, and proven to lower your risk of colon cancer. A few ways I have incorporated healthy fibres into my GF diet include adding psyllium powder, and GF chia and ground flax seeds to smoothies, salads, yogurt and baked goods. If you’re experimenting with your own homemade breads and bakery items these can be easy add ins. Quick tip: you may need to add more liquid to compensate for the absorptive nature of these fibres.
2. Read labels. GF or not, I have always encouraged this for my clients whether it’s for weight loss, health, diabetes, or other chronic conditions. Yes, occasionally you’ll opt for the closest replica to your favourite glutinous item. But for items eaten on the regular seek out those with more fibre and protein per serving, and look for the key word ‘whole grain’. This means more of the nutrition is intact. Comparing labels can help you make an informed choice. For bread, local GF producers often have healthier items with fewer preservatives. For more commercial brands, Udi’s millet-chia loaf, and their omega flax and fibre loaf fit the bill for me. In the toaster the taste is good and offer 3g fibre and protein per slice! The price is more reasonable as well. Northern Bakehouse whole grain loaves are also texturally pleasing and offer about 3 g fibre per slice. Better yet, try making your own!
3. Pick whole foods. Another practice I preach to my GF and non-GF clients alike is to stick to the outer aisles. This is where your whole foods are found and everyone should be practicing this! It’s a cheaper way to shop too. Fruits, veggies, and starchy veg like squash, sweet potatoes, edamame, turnips and fresh corn provide complex carbohydrates to fuel your day. They provide soluble and insoluble fibres and are loaded with vitamins and minerals. The more variety and colour the better. Your minimally processed whole grains like GF certified quinoa, millet, oats, beans and brown rice are also safe and nutritious choices for your family’s plate. Fresh proteins, tofu, eggs, and dairy items are also found here (which are almost always GF), provide loads of nutrition and are minimally processed. I loved the creative use of leftover sweet potatoes in this recipe. A wholesome pancake, great for breakie, pre- workout or as a portable kid friendly snack; they were a hit in my house!
4. Healthier flours. Sure there will be times that using a GF flour mix is the best and quickest option. But, I have had success with GF oat flour, almond, chickpea, and coconut flours as a base for delicious baked items and feel good about the lower glycemic effects and less refined quality of these options. Making your own baked goods for snacks, and kids’ lunch boxes is a great idea. Batch cook and freeze to save time. Again, I encourage this for both GF and non GF-clients because you can often pack-in more healthful ingredients like fruits, yogurts and applesauce to control the fat and sugar content too. Adding psyllium and GF ground seeds to the mix can further boost the fibre, protein and omega content of your recipe. I’m not known to be a baker, but I make these ones on the regular, minimal ingredients, done in the blender, and the kids love them!
Writer: Debora Sloan (RD)
Debora Sloan Healthy Solutions
I recently was given a Fitbit with a heart rate feature so decided to give it a go. I’ve been wearing it for a solid month now, both in the gym and out, and love the instant feedback gained with a quick toggle through the watch options. The features that have me hooked are the steps counter, the heart rate monitor, and the energy expenditure readings. Sure, accuracy is always debatable but the info it provides has merit and is great for goal setting.
We all know being active has many benefits, and when I saw this title pop up in a medical journal the other day, “Prolonged sitting leads to brain atrophy”, I was further compelled to share my experience wearing the tracker and how it influenced my daily activity.
Wearing the device, I noticed how my heart rate fluctuated quite a bit by simple activity changes in my day. For example, walking my kids to school, running upstairs to grab my socks, leaving my desk to grab my lunch from the fridge, or taking a bathroom break. Obviously; we all know that exercise increases heart rate and therefore helps burn more calories. But, in this context I was less interested in my planned training sessions at the gym and more in the simple daily activities that increased my heart rate above baseline. Let’s face it most of us spend 23 out of 24 hours a day sitting at a desk...
So, what can we do about that? While I’m certainly not suggesting we forego the gym, is it also possible to consciously build-in simple things that break up our sedentary day? If we can do this, can we also improve our overall mental and physical health, AND have an easier time maintaining our weight?
After wearing the watch and also applying what we know from the literature, here are my quick tips to getting fitter at work - tried, tested and true:
Stand instead of sit:
A simple change to your work environment can help with healthy lifestyle changes. Ergo desks are becoming a thing and for good reason. Standing instead of sitting has benefits for the low back, neck posture, and preventing hip tightness that inevitably leads to poor mobility and chronic back stiffness. Standing requires more muscle activation and thus increases heart rate compared to sitting, therefore a few extra calories burned. Since I see clients much of the day, I wasn’t sure how to implement this but wanted to give it a try. So, I tried out a small, portable option for my laptop that has adjustable heights, so I can easily switch between standing for when I’m writing nutrition plans and sitting for my client counselling. Here’s an example of what I’m using: It was easy to assemble and a no fuss solution to making my otherwise sedentary day a little more active.
Take the stairs:
Simple tasks like taking the stairs or parking farther from your destination are simple ways to get the heart rate up throughout the day. I know we’re busy, but by the time you wait for the elevator, or circle the parking lot ten times for a closer spot, it’s likely going to take you longer! Using my Fitbit, I loved seeing how I could elevate my heart rate and increase my daily activity by incorporating these small things into my day. Small adjustments like this help you get closer to achieving the health standard goal of 10 000 steps a day.
Walk instead of drive (if you can!):
While this doesn’t always pan out for various reasons, I was shocked to see how FEW steps I did on some days. Yikes! For someone who claims to be active, I was frankly embarrassed by my stats. Sure, I tend to make it to the gym 4 days a week, but that’s only 1 hour of my day. Studies show that more physical activity leads to better weight management, improved mood, higher insulin sensitivity and much more. While walking doesn’t spike the heart rate, it certainly contributes to total daily activity and increases heart rate above baseline which ultimately contributes to higher daily energy expenditures. With this new info glaring at me from my wrist, I make efforts to set goals around increasing my steps when possible.
Do some squats, or push-ups, or burpees, or jumping jacks, or toe touches, or basically anything that you can do right where you are that elevates heart rate and moves your muscles:
Not only will this help burn some calories, but it also increases adrenaline and blood flow, aiding in digestion, alleviating joint stiffness and also boosts energy and mood. Apparently, it can also improve memory and brain function. Test this out when you’re falling asleep at your desk at 3:30 pm and see how you perk up. It’s better than coffee! Your co-workers may think you’re nuts but point out some of these benefits and they may be joining you. A quick set of push-ups for example may take as few as 30 secs to 2 mins and can instantly double your heart rate. If you set a goal to do 10 or 20 squats or push-ups every hour or two, think about the cumulative effect on your cardiovascular health and daily energy expenditure.
My message today is don’t have an all or nothing attitude when it comes to improving your health. Every little bit counts. Setting some small goals to facilitate being active is a good step. This may mean making some small changes to your work or home environment or re-evaluating daily habits to facilitate more movement. For me, the wearable tracker uncovered that I wasn’t as active as I thought. Using the data, I have now made some small changes to my workspace and am making more efforts to walk. Elevating heart rate whenever possible has both physical and mental health benefits and always remember that when it comes to healthy lifestyle change, the cumulative effects of small things can sometimes make the biggest difference in the long term.
Writer: Debora Sloan (RD)
Debora Sloan Healthy Solutions
One of the main questions I get more than any other is how to reduce or eliminate bloating. One of the most common symptoms that brings people I see together is this almost silly symptom of bloating. It sounds like just a pest that plagues you, usually brushed off as not a real problem. Many women rate their bloating and distention as if they were pregnant! The actual complexities of what bloating is, where it’s coming from, and the problems it can be caused by and that it relates to are far and wide.
Bloating is the discomfort and pressure or physical appearance of distention in the abdomen. First, let me say that I have some good and bad news about bloating.
The good news about bloating is that often times, we confuse it with fat — when that’s not really the case! Some people call it “false fat” for this very reason. Bloating comes in the form of gas and water weight, adding inches and puffiness to our body, especially around the waist.
This means, when you reduce bloating, you look significantly thinner and healthier — even if you haven’t burned off any additional fat! Pretty great, right? That’s yet another reason to drop our unhealthy obsession with micromanaging weight by obsessively weighing yourself! Which is amazing.
Ready for the bad news?
It’s simple: bloating is really a health issue, and as such, there is no quick fix. The key is identifying why you bloat. There are a variety of reasons why you may be experiencing it and no two people are the same. But once you have identified the cause there are things you can do to help.
Causes of Bloating
1. Food Allergies or Sensitivities
You may have food sensitivities or allergies. The most common allergies or sensitivities that can cause bloating are gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, shellfish, and fruits. True food allergies result in hives, anaphylaxis and swelling, rarely cause bloating. Sensitivities are harder to diagnose and are often the primary cause of GI distress. An elimination diet and food journal to track how you digest and feel after certain foods is usually the way sensitivities are found. Whereas food allergies are something to avoid throughout life, food sensitivities may be resolved by a time of food elimination and some digestive healing.
2. Eating Under Stress
Eating under stress causes some degree of digestive shutdown. When we eat under stress it reduces stomach acid and enzymes for breakdown of food making our whole digestive tract work harder to convert foods into usable nutrients.
Our body has a rest and digest mode, OR a fight or flight mode. When we eat, the optimal state to be in is in rest. When we eat under stress, in the fight or flight mode, our body thinks it’s under attack and starts to respond to food as if it were a foreign invader. The blood rushes out of our bellies into our limbs, making digestion more difficult. Eating under stress, therefore, plays a role in the development of food sensitivities.
No matter how rushed we are, slowing down and becoming present during a meal has many beneficial properties for overall health and less bloating. From a digestive perspective, it’s better to eat less in a more mindful state than to eat more while disconnected from your body.
3. Too Much Food
When we overeat, it can cause a stress response in the digestive system, which can lead to bloating. Our digestive system is like a wood-burning furnace. We want fuel, but if there’s too much wood and not enough oxygen, fire won’t happen. If all our resources are attempting to manage a large amount of food, the body registers this as a stressor, not fuel. Digestion slows or stalls and we feel tired, rather than energized.
Excess food slows the transit time in your digestive tract. When this happens, we don’t use our food efficiently. Food sits in the digestive tract longer and can ferment, and as a result, bloating occurs.
4. Antibiotic Use
Antibiotics destroy not only bad bacteria, but healthy gut bacteria as well, and commonly cause bloating for many users. The good bacteria living in a healthy colon help us from a nutrient standpoint, and they fight off local infections in the gut. When we take antibiotics, we kill good gut bacteria, which contributes to bloating, decreased mood, depressed immune function, and constipation.
If you need to take antibiotics for a specific infection, make sure you combat the dying of good bacteria with a probiotic. These need to be taken at least 2 hours apart so the antibiotics don’t kill the probiotics. Eating fermented foods will help cultivate good gut bacteria.
5. Unprocessed Emotions
There is such a thing as psychological inflammation. When our social, family, or work environment is toxic unsupportive or non-optimal, we can get bloating or inflammation, manifestation in physical form. If you’ve tried all the other suggestions and are still experiencing bloating, talking to someone about it can help!
Writer: Alysha Coughler, RD, MHSc, Sports Dietitian
Sports Dietitian with Evolved Sport and Nutrition
2017 was a monumental and widely publicized year for feminism with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Making this year’s International Women’s Day theme that much more fitting: #PressforProgress. This year’s theme is aimed at striving for gender parity within society. Although gender parity is a very important aspect of equality and women’s rights, it’s only one aspect. There are many areas we can Press for Progress, within society as a whole and within our personal lives.
International Women’s Day should mark the beginning of a year full of pushing for progress for yourself and women everywhere. I challenge you to spend the year following Women’s Day learning to love yourself and your body. Feminism, by definition, is an act of rebellion. It’s the act of rebelling against current societal and patriarchal norms for gender equality. What’s more rebellious than going against everything society tells us about our bodies, and loving who we are?
I know firsthand how disheartening looking at any form of media can be to your self-esteem. There are articles and ads everywhere about how to get ready for bikini season, how to make yourself as thin as possible, and how being anything other than in impeccable shape is viewed, each alongside images of scantily clad, unrealistically super fit, modelesque women. On top of it all, cosmetic, supplement, and fitness companies profit from our feelings of poor self-worth. It is in their best interest for us to feel poorly about ourselves. This deserves to change.
Here are 4 rebellious acts you can do to Push for Progress and learn to love yourself this Women’s Day:
1. Change how you talk about yourself
As women, we have a terrible habit of talking poorly about ourselves and our bodies. We are our own worst critics and we would never say the things we say about ourselves to our friends. They would probably punch us for it. To truly change how we see ourselves, a great first step is to cut out all that negative self-talk. It’s damaging and not beneficial to our self-esteem. Instead, replace those negative comments with things you are proud of doing or skills you possess.
2. Unfollow social media accounts that damage your self-confidence
Social media has become a huge part of our lives. We passively consume so much information and images throughout the day because of the amount of time we spend on social media. Because of this, we’re bound to come across accounts or posts that aren’t beneficial to our self-esteem. Whether it be a celebrity that is always posting about the latest diet to lose those extra 5lbs or an account that shames people for being anything other than perfect, you don’t need that in your life. Cut that garbage out of your life and don’t look back.
3. Embrace self-care
In the last year, there has been a huge boom for self-care and it’s amazing. Nothing screams love for ourselves and rebellion like providing ourselves with the self-care we deserve. Carve out time in your schedule to unwind and relax by reading, having a bath, knitting, preparing your favourite meal, or ensuring you get enough sleep. Self-care is individualized and non-prescriptive and should include something that’s important to you. Self-care should be a regular part of your lifestyle to help you feel grounded and to realize all you’ve accomplished in a day is worth celebrating.
4. Be proud of your body
Our bodies are capable of so many amazing things. It allows us to move the way we want, tells us what it needs, allows us to feel and explore within ourselves, to learn, and our bodies can even bear children. That’s amazing stuff. How we treat our bodies should be a reflection and celebration of all it’s capable of, not punishment for everything it’s been through. Don’t shame your body for showing its age or the scars it bears. We have such unrealistic expectations of how bodies should look and we will go to great lengths to keep it looking young, scar free, flat, toned, and tanned. Why not just be proud of your body for getting you this far?
As International Women’s Day is here, I challenge us all to be aware and cognizant of how we can make progress. And I challenge you to think differently about yourself and what your body is capable of. Take part in the rebellion and flex those feminism muscles with me. Happy International Women’s Day. #PressforProgress
Jessica Saloman, MAN, RD
Sports Dietitian with ESN and Athlete's Care Yonge and Eglinton and Liberty Village
Jessica has a unique interest in women’s health, specifically managing hormonal changes, treating PCOS, gut health, and the female athlete triad. She works alongside women to reach their individualized goals in realistic and manageable ways.