My first post-diagnosis trip to the grocery store took over three hours and I left in shock, daunted at the prospect of having to navigate aisles of hidden poison for the rest of my life. Slowly but surely, though, I've learned to do just that, and can now get through a grocery trip in a half-hour or so -- faster than before I was diagnosed.
My biggest mistake starting out was trying to hold on to my existing diet. That leads to $300 grocery bills full of gluten-free baked goods that sell for 6 times the price for half of the quantity of their alternatives, many of which, to add insult to injury, just didn't taste very good. The trick, for me, was to start fresh and build a new diet based on naturally gluten-free food, indulging in gluten-free specialty foods only as the occasional cravings dictated.
So here is how I've come to view the grocery store:
- Areas in green are either naturally gluten-free or likely to contain food that's specially designated as such -- it says gluten-free right on the front of the package. Note that the general pattern of following the outside of the store applies here. Just watch out for "natural flavors" in the meats, though in many cases they're benign.
- Areas in yellow are the hard ones to get through. Here's where ingredient-reading skills come in. I've included dairy and ice cream here since, if this is one of your first gluten-free grocery trips, dairy products are likely troublesome too. I generally don't buy from the yellow sections without some kind of confirmation; usually this just involves some web searching. Watch out for cross contamination here also.
- Areas in red will not only almost certainly gluten you if you eat from them but will also depress you if you look too hard at the vast array of products -- many of which were probably your favorites -- that are now off limits. Walk on through and hold your breath. I'm only half kidding.
My advice on the first few trips is to worry about just getting by until the next one. When you're told you can't eat such a wide variety of foods your instinct is to stockpile everything you can eat. But if you look at it meal by meal, snack by snack, you'll start to snap out of the panic and realize there's plenty left to get by on. And once you've learned how to survive week to week, you can start learning how to enjoy it. There are hundreds of blogs full of gluten-free recipes out there, but they can be a bit intimidating if you try to start out that way. You don't have to figure everything out at once -- I've still got a long way to go in rediscovering what I can eat.