Many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) decide to give up gluten. Indeed, going gluten-free is a component of the popular Best Bet Diet, the MS Recovery Diet and the diet recommended for people with MS by Dr. Terry Wahls. Besides that, many people without MS are giving up gluten and claiming huge improvements in how they feel.
This article is not about whether you should go gluten-free or not, rather it is about how to give up gluten if you decide this is what you want to do.
I was strictly gluten-free for five years. Now, I have allowed myself to "cheat" now and then if I feel something is really worth it, and have had no big repercussions from these moments. However, I would characterize myself as about 95% gluten-free.
I remember when I decided that I was going to eliminate gluten from my diet. I stopped eating all bread and baked goods (and thought it was really hard). Then I found out that these things were only the tip of the iceberg – there were many, many more food items that contained gluten. At that time, there was little information about the gluten-free lifestyle and very few products. The products that were available back then tasted like cardboard.
After some trial and error, I figured it out. It took about a month to become completely gluten-free and some time after that before it became completely natural and actually easy. Based on my experience, I put together a four-week program to help others give up gluten – mostly because people kept calling me and asking me if I was absolutely sure that cupcakes and beer contained gluten.
In my opinion, everyone who decides to give up gluten must figure out many things for themselves, whether their decision is part of an MS-specific diet or just for general health reasons. Everyone has their favorite foods that they may miss desperately, as well as established patterns of cooking and eating out. By paying attention to the actual process of going gluten-free, you are more likely to stick with it.
Four Weeks to Becoming Gluten-Free
I recommend spending one week on each of the following steps to becoming gluten-free, although you could take longer on each one or combine two steps.
Step 1. Eliminate the Obvious
This is probably the most challenging part of giving up gluten. You will cut out all obvious foods that contain gluten – anything with wheat, barley or rye. No doubt, many of your favorite foods will be on the "no-no" list. You will make mistakes. You will fall "off the gluten wagon" when you are first starting. Keep trying and you will eventually find solutions to some of your biggest gluten challenges and, if you are like me, find things that you like even better.
Read the full article: Eliminate the Obvious Sources of Gluten for People with Multiple Sclerosis
Step 2. Find (and Eliminate) Hidden Sources of Gluten
During this step, you will take a much closer look at what you are eating. Hopefully, you have successfully gotten rid of many of the gluten "biggies" – pasta, bread, beer, baked goods, etc. Now it is time to really start reading labels and learning about the places where gluten hides. This can be intimidating at first, but you will quickly learn to identify foods by reading labels that are potentially problematic, as well as find gluten-free solutions.
Step 3. Master Restaurant Situations
It's one thing to follow a restricted diet when you are preparing your own foods, but when you go to a restaurant, things can be more challenging. You will need to practice reading menus very closely to decipher possible places gluten is lurking. You also need to get comfortable interviewing waiters about menu items.
Perhaps the most difficult part for some people is asking for substitutions, and even being able to make suggestions yourself. Eventually, you will become comfortable asking for vegetables or salad in place of pasta or to have a simple butter sauce rather than the flour-containing Alfredo sauce on your fish.
Take heart – many, many restaurants have made this much easier for you by offering a gluten-free menu, which you can ask for when you are seated. Not only does this get rid of much discussion about individual items, but it also helps (me at least) avoid the temptation that inevitably comes when looking at the full menu full of gluten-laden items.
Step 4. Experiment
You will probably get to a point where you are sick of broiled meats, vegetables and salads and are ready to cook something more interesting. This can be very fun if you approach it in the right way. If you look around, you can find gluten-free cooking classes. You can also try different regional cuisines – most Asian food can be prepared in a gluten-free way. Gluten is not part of most Mexican dishes, either.
I know that it is no fun trying to eliminate something from your diet, especially such a common item as gluten. Over the years, I have cut out gluten, dairy, legumes, caffeine, as well as many other items on short-term or more permanent basis. Basically, I have followed the steps outlined above and eventually achieved success.
I can't say that it has always been easy, but I can say that it is possible. Try not to focus on what you are giving up, but look at the possibilities. Think of it as a challenge. Reward yourself with special (gluten-free) treats as you successfully make it through whole days and weeks without gluten. You can do this. It might make a big difference in how you feel. Give it a try.
Read more about diet and MS
Readers respond: Do you think a certain diet can help slow MS?
Food Sensitivities and Multiple Sclerosis
Are you a vegetarian with multiple sclerosis?
Can Diet Help Multiple Sclerosis?
The "Best Bet Diet" for Multiple Sclerosis