From experience, I know that grocery shopping can be one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to transitioning to a gluten-free or dairy-free diet. The grocery store you knew so well suddenly turns into a terrifying labryinth of hidden allergens, self-doubt, temptation, and what can feel like endless reading of ingredients, allergen warnings, and nutrition facts.
Now at one time, I was the guy who would go to the grocery store once or twice a month, loading up an entire cart on each visit. I have fond memories of being in college, the roommates and I piling into one car and making the pilgramage to Meijer's. I would stock up on canned spaghetti, mac n' cheese, frozen chicken breasts, loaves of bread, and boxes of Hostess treats. Real healthy, I know, and chock full of gluten and dairy to boot. But of course, both my mind and body reflected that food and how instead of eating to nourish and enhance my wellbeing, I was eating in spite of it. My food choices were more in pursuit of instant gratification, quick fixes, and a short-lived feeling of contentment before the cramping, migraines, and bloating would set in. I was still oblivious to that connection just staring me in the face.
Hindsight 20/20, indeed.
Hindsight 20/20, indeed.
Today, I go to the grocery store 4 to 5 times a week. Farmer's market on the weekend if I'm lucky. It's actually one of my favorite things to do. In the beginning, it was definitely an anxiety-ridden event, but now it's a part of my day that I look forward to and find relaxing; like a reward. As opposed to the poor, jampacked grocery cart, now I just take one reusable bag and fill it with items that I intend to eat within the next two days. Those items usually include fresh vegetables, fruit, a protein, and some snack items to pack while I'm on the go.
Understand that this process definitely did not happen overnight.
There was a lot of trial and error. And at first, this process will have to take you a good amount of time. The layout of the store may be the same, but the areas you will find yourself shopping more often may be different. And while to many it might feel like a chore (especially with our busy schedules), think of this process as an important opportunity for discovery. Use this time to find those foods that will help you feel better, more complete, and will help both your body and your mind to heal.
Lucky for us, there are several grocery chains nowadays that have implemented clear labeling and merchandising of foods that are marketed as gluten-free (e.g., Trader Joe's, Kroger's, Randalls, Whole Foods, HEB, Sprouts, Sun Harvest, Natural Grocers). Back when I started, it was more like "buyer beware," so these changes are quite welcome. Many products are now actually certified gluten-free, which can help you feel more confident in your purchases. Another thing I always look for is the allergy warning information, usually printed under the ingredients. If it contains any gluten or dairy or may potentially contain any traces of either allergen, I put it back on the shelf. Employees are also much more aware of different dietary needs and can be a wonderful resource. Remember, some of them might be "canaries," too.
Finally, if you have fond memories of making those pilgramages to the grocery, why not relive those memories now? Find a friend or a group of friends who have similar dietary needs and make grocery shopping a social event. Instead of wondering if GFDF mac n' cheese is also "taste-free," ask one of your shopping buddies if they've ever tried it. I will be the first to say that even though GF or DF items may be theoretically "good" for your body, there are quite a few that taste anything but. And when looking at the price tag of some of these certified gluten-free items and wondering if it fits into your budget, maybe split the cost with a friend who can also benefit from the purchase. The more you know as an individual, the more you will know as a group, and knowledge and trust are powerful tools on this road less traveled.
"Tell me and I will forget,
Show me and I may remember,
Involve me and I will understand."
- Chinese proverb
Become involved in your wellbeing. It is a precious gift of inestimable value, both to yourself and to those you love. You deserve it.