You're not just 'a little bit coeliac'

It's really easy to moan about how crappy labelling is at restaurants and cafes. But recently I've talked to a few restaurant staff who are being driven crazy by people's requests for gluten-free food that's not really gluten-free, or requests for the gluten-free menu and then receiveing an order for something that's not gluten-free.

Not sure what I mean? It's the people who ask for the gluten-free options and then when told something on the menu isn't gluten-free will order it and eat it anyway. It's the person who says they're 'only mildly coeliac' so can get away with having chips cooked in the same oil as gluteny goodies. 

Yup there are a lot of people around who fit into one of these two those categories.

Gluten intolerance/sensitivity

If you're gluten intolerant and don't have major symptoms, you might be able to eat gluten-free most of the time and get away with a little bit of gluten on the odd occasion. Since you're not a coeliac, the symptoms aren't likely to be life threatening or dangerous, and I can see why you'd want to eat gluten sometimes. Whether you do or not, is up to you to assess your symptoms vs. the option of eating something yum.

Coeliac disease

If you have coeliac disease regardless of how mild your symptoms are, you must still adhere to a strict gluten-free diet at all times. That's less than 20 parts per million of gluten i.e. barely detectable. This means you can't eat gluten-free chips that are cooked in the same deep fryer as gluteny products. This means you can't take a holiday from being gluten-free.

There's no such thing as being 'a little bit coeliac', it's like saying you're 'a little bit pregnant'. Even if you don't seem to have symptoms when you do eat gluten, you're still doing damage to your small intestine. You'll also be increasing your risk of developing some cancers, other auto-immune diseases, mineral deficiencies, osteoporosis and a host of other crappy things you'd rather not have.

 

So while I'm frustrated at the standard of gluten-free food labelling in some cafes and restaurants, I can also see how annoying it could be for owners who are trying their best to deliver a product that their customers are asking for.

Thank you so much to the cafe and restaurant owners and staff who are super careful with their food labelling, food handling and the time you take to keep us safe - you're awesome. I bet sometimes you'd just like to give up on the whole 'gluten-free' altogether. Please know that you're appreciated so very much by those of us coeliacs who are trying really hard to stay well. 

Preserving your energy

You know those people who seem to be able to do everything? They work 12 hours a day, study towards a PhD in the evening, have eight kids who all play a different sport that they take them to after school, bake cookies for the old lady next door, run marathons, volunteer for three charities and still have time to knit a blanket for a king size bed in the weekends? Yeah that's not me.

I wish I had that level of energy, but I don't. Like many people, I've had a brush with chronic fatigue syndrome. Years ago I had a rough time with it and had to just do what I could to get through it. Fortunately today I'm largely on top of it, I work full-time, hang out with friends, write this blog, write a column for Fitness Journal and still have energy to do other fun things.

I learnt some valuable lessons from experiencing chronic fatigue. These are things I didn't want to learn in my early twenties while everyone else was out partying and building their careers, but you can't choose what life throws at you.

I was talking to a friend yesterday who was feeling really burnt out from work, and I wished that she would not have to feel like she does at the moment. Feeling burnt out is the worst. And I think most people experience it at some time in their lives.

But it's not just the burnt out and the fatigued who need to take a look at how they're spending their energy. The practice of self-care is important for everyone. Life is short, and all of us have a limited well of energy to call on. Spend your energy where it matters, take care of yourself and life is so much better.

Here are my tips for looking after yourself:

Don't be afraid to say no

This has got to be one of the hardest things to put into practice. But if you say yes to everything you won't have any energy left over for the things that really matter to you. One way to deal with the guilt of saying no is to think about how you'd treat your best mate if they said no to something they didn't have time or energy for. You wouldn't want them to feel guilty for looking after themselves, so why should you feel guilty for saying no? It's not selfish to say no, it's healthy.

Spend time with people that matter

Some people are vacuums for energy. It's normal to have friendships that are give and take, but if your friend is always sucking up your energy and never giving back then maybe it's time to rethink why you're spending your time on them.

Eat well

Convenience food is convenient. But it's not all that nutritious. Putting your time into eating good food fuels your body and your spirit. You can't possibly have good health (and energy) if you're living on crap food and caffeine.

Get enough sleep

"I just want to read one more chapter." <---- that is totally my life. My mum used to have to steal my books away every night to make sure I got some sleep or I would have been up till the early hours reading. Discipline yourself to go to bed at the same time every night and make sure it's not too late, because you know you'll pay for your lack of sleep in the morning.

Listen to your body

Are you feeling exhausted and ill? Stay home and go to bed. Occasionally you have to push on and do something important. But be honest with yourself, do your workmates really want you in the office spreading your germs? You'll get better faster if you do what your body is trying to tell you.

Work/life balance

I get it, you love your job, and there's lots to do. But overtime is for emergencies, not for every day. There will always be more work than time. You owe it to yourself to get enough down-time so that you can come into work every day with a good level of energy, able to do a good job. You can't possibly be doing your best job if you're working 50+ hours a week every week.

Do things that give you energy

Does painting give you energy? Do you get energy from hanging out with your best friend or playing fetch with your dog? Do that thing at least once a week. I get cranky if I don't get enough time for my creative projects. So I make time for it every weekend.

Take time out

Everyone needs time alone. Even extroverts need time for reflection and rest. Schedule it into your week so you get the time you need. This can be a real challenge for parents of small children - but if you can get time for a half hour walk by yourself, or a soak in the bath while your partner watches the kids, this is a good start.

Look after yourself out there guys. Make the time to enjoy the good things in life.

Recipe: Noodle yums (gluten-free, dairy-free)

I'm sure this recipe has an official name, but we simply call it noodle yums. The original recipe comes from my brother in law, Ted, who is a really good cook - I love it when he's in the kitchen!

You can use either fresh rice noodles from Asian supermarkets or any other gluten-free grain or pasta in this recipe.

Also in this recipe you'll see the use of tamari. Tamari is usually gluten-free (be sure to check the label) and is a good alternative to soy sauce which has a similar taste but usually contains wheat.

Ingredients:

Approx 1 Kg of beef

Green vegetables for stir-frying e.g. bok choi, pak choi

Rice/fresh rice noodles/gluten-free pasta

4 Tablespoons Tamari (gluten-free)

3 Tablespoons of Sesame Oil

Approx 1 Tablespoon arrowroot or cornflour

Quarter cup water

Chop up approx beef into bite sized pieces. In a bowl mix tamari and sesame oil. Add beef to bowl and allow to soak for an hour.

Chop up greens e.g. pak choi, bok choi and place to the side.

Cook rice noodles/pasta/rice, drain and set aside.

In a separate bowl mix three eggs, a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Pan fry egg mixture (you're making an omelette here). Once ready, cut omelette into bite sized pieces and remove from pan.

Pan fry beef with tamari/sesame oil mix and water. In a small cup, mix arrowroot or other thickener (eg. cornflour) with a small amount of water. Slowly add the mix to the pan until thickened to the desired consistency. If the mix gets too thick, just add a bit of water.

Once meat is browned, add greens, egg mixture and rice noodles and mix.

Add salt, pepper and more tamari to taste. Voila!