Updated: May 1, 2020
When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, my doctor actually said, “The results of the blood test suggest you have celiac disease. This means that you should follow a strict gluten-free diet for the rest of your life. Good luck with that. Gluten is in everything – even toothpaste.” Not exactly the caring, compassionate or even informative response one might hope to receive!
Throughout the ups and downs involved in going gluten-free, I’ve ended up in tears in grocery stores and restaurants because I felt so frustrated, alone and often really hungry but unsure of what I could eat. Over time, following a gluten-free diet became easier as I learned what did and didn’t work for me. After following a gluten-free diet for about 8 months, my husband and I came across the ‘Paleo’ way of eating, and it changed my life. I loved that I could finally open up any Paleo cookbook or recipe blog and choose to make anything I wanted without modifying it!
While I have found a way of eating gluten-free that works for me, I have also heard stories from many friends, family and even complete strangers about the struggles they have experienced in changing their diet. As a researcher, I wanted to understand why some people seem to be able to change their diet relatively easily, whereas others seem to struggle quite a bit.
Science-based Strategies to Change Your Diet
In 2015, Dr. Mary Jung and I found that (not surprisingly) people who are more confident to follow a strict gluten-free diet were less likely to intentionally or accidentally eat gluten. Given that accidental glutening is common among people with celiac disease, these findings are particularly exciting because it means that you can learn how to reduce your chances of accidental glutening.
Accidental Glutening: How to Avoid It
Self-regulation involves 5 parts:
Developing coping strategies
Giving yourself feedback
To successfully follow a nutritious gluten-free diet, read the information below, then download and complete the Diet Behaviour Change worksheet to help you get on track.
Self-monitoring involves tracking your behaviours so you can become aware of what you are currently doing (or not doing!).
Using the self-monitoring guide in the Diet Behaviour Change worksheet you can track what you eat over the next week. This will help you become aware of if and/or when you eat gluten, and identify patterns about when you might eat gluten.
Goal-setting is important because it gives you something to strive towards and a standard to measure your progress. Make sure to set goals that follow the SMARTI guide: Specific, Measurable, Action-orientated, Realistic, Time frame, and Important to you. For example, your goal might be to: Consume a balanced, nutritious, strict gluten-free diet at every meal over the next week.
Coping strategies help you overcome barriers to achieving your goals. Start with identifying barriers that are relevant to you and come up with strategies to overcome each barrier.
For example, to overcome the barrier of not knowing if an ingredient is gluten-free, you might decide to purchase a resource, such as the MyHealthyGut app (free download available).
Action plans help you turn your goals (or your intentions) into reality. In order to change your diet, make sure to plan out meals and snacks for the next week, create reminder notes and a grocery shopping list to help you stay on track.
Using the action planning guide in the Diet Behaviour Change worksheet you can create a meal plan for the next week.
Feedback – every week it is important to look over your plan and think about what worked and what could be improved. The goal is to create a plan that works for you and your family!
*A version of this article was originally published on MyWholeLife.