Going Gluten Free
– An adventure for the foodie in all of us
Mari Geier, Atlanta based fitness and wellness expert, shows us a new way to give up the gluten!
Awarded Best Personal Trainer of the Year by Atlanta Sports and Fitness Magazine for two consecutive years early in her career, Mari Geier challenges you to achieve sustainable lifestyle changes within an active, supportive community. Mari’s diverse background (BS in Horticulture, BA in Anthropology and MBA in Finance, plus 15 years in the health and fitness industry) allows her to see health from many angles and gives her the ability to help others find their way to a healthier lifestyle. As founder of The American Boot Camp Company, a local outdoor fitness studio, and an active participant in local volunteer organizations, Mari is deeply involved in the Brookhaven community within Atlanta, GA where her healthy food store Nuts n’ Berries resides. It was with the mission of forming a cornerstone for community health that she and co-owner Kevin Parker took over Nuts ‘n Berries in January of 2015.
Once upon a time, eliminating gluten from your diet meant cardboard bread and tasteless snacks. It meant sacrifice and isolation from social events and eating out. Even to this day, many people with celiac’s disease or severe gluten intolerance withdraw from normal activities related to food because to them contamination means weeks and even months of pain.
But for the average person that needs to eliminate gluten, which is found in grains, barley, rye and oats, the approach is simply to stop eating all foods containing gluten. Easy, right? This is exactly what a friend thought recently when after years of upset stomach she decided that gluten just might be the culprit. So after clarifying what gluten actually is and the main foods that contain gluten, she jumped right in. Gluten free oatmeal or hardboiled egg for breakfast (when she actually took the time to eat), salad for lunch and gluten free pasta and meatballs for dinner. For a week she ate some variation of this and actually started to feel better. But then the boredom set in. Add to that, she doesn’t like to cook. Top it off with the feeling of self-denial. That hunger for a slice of pizza that her co-worker was devouring at lunch. The carnal desire for a juicy hamburger – bun and all. And within two weeks she was back to her old routine. The sacrifice was just too big. It was just too hard to cut out gluten and live the same lifestyle that she was accustomed to.
Something would have to change for a gluten free diet to work for her. And for many of us. Why we are cutting out gluten doesn’t really matter. It can be to eliminate our child’s eczema or to help reduce bloating or pain in the gut. It can even be to give the digestive system a break for a while. Regardless, the old methods of simply cutting out bread and gluten containing carbs and replacing them with meals of gluten free pasta and salad are up for an overhaul.
This topic is near and dear to my heart. In 2010 after years of trying to understand why I got sick after I ate, why my sports injuries wouldn’t heal and why I always felt bloated, I took the leap and decided to go gluten free. So I stopped eating bread, which I used to love to bake. I stopped eating pizza, which was my favorite weekend cheat meal. I stopped cheat meals all together. And while over the next six years I found ways to incorporate gluten free baked goods and pizza crusts and even breads into my regular routine, the love of food disappeared. Yes, my body healed. And I learned to use food as medicine. I’m 41 and in better shape than when I was 29. But until recently there was something missing. Over the past several years since committing to a gluten free lifestyle (I am also dairy free), I had distanced myself from the joy of eating. I began to hate food.
As a health and wellness expert, I know that is not beneficial to my overall health and so in December of 2016 I decided to get to work on a very important relationship, my relationship with food. In doing this, I knew that creativity was going to be key. So I started by trying every new and old product on the market. I found products like KNOW Better Foods bread and buns which are not crumbly and dry like so many others. What a joy it is to eat a juicy grass fed hamburger on a delicious KNOW Foods Gluten free bun with all the fixings. I found these onion crackers (Absolutely Gluten Free Flatbread) and almond milk based cream cheese that is a snack to die for, and I have even found a couple of restaurants that make eating out something to look forward to.
And it is with this little taste of normalcy, that I am going to suggest to all of you looking to go gluten free that keeping a healthy relationship with food is what will give you the freedom from pain and keep the fun and enjoyment in eating.
Because I think a healthy relationship with food is a journey, my next steps will be ones we can take together. Check out four ways that I am going to flip eating out on its head and turn myself back into the foodie that I used to be!
Our challenge: Create a gluten free experience for the foodie in all of us. You don’t have to move through these in order, find one that fits your occasion or sparks excitement. That’s the whole point!
Mission # 1 It’s all about the bun.
Did you know many restaurants carry some type of gluten free bun for their burgers? And those that don’t typically carry either iceburg lettuce or sweet potatoes that can be sliced to create your own smaller slider buns? Next time you are in the mood for a burger and in Atlanta, check out these spots that have gluten free bun options: Farm Burger, Yeah Burger, Zin Burger, True Food Kitchen, Ted’s Montana Grill, Dantanna’s, Four Seasons, Park Tavern, South City Kitchen and even the Wrecking Bar brew pub! This is not even an exhaustive list. Now the real challenge will be to sample them all and rate the entire meal!
Mission # 2 Bring the party to YOU!
Grab your closest friends and throw a CHOPPED themed pot luck dinner party that excludes gluten, but includes creativity! Give everyone five to six ingredients to include (make these all things you LOVE – mine would be spinach, coconut milk, strawberries, sweet potatoes and Kite Hill cream cheese). Then set them loose. And while you are at it, get inspired yourself by checking out some gourmet gluten free blogs.
Mission # 3 One of each please!
Stop into your local health food store and ask for a tour of the gluten free products. Every time you come across one that is new, put it in your basket. Sample one product from each food category that you enjoy. Sample chips, pretzels, cookies, chocolate treats, breads, pastas and even prepared foods can be gluten free. Take one Saturday a month and drive to a new health food store or grocery store in a different neighborhood and dedicate it to building your pantry. Even if you don’t cook, you will always need snacks on hand. And when you find one that you like, look at the brands website to see if they have other flavors, or products that you might want to try! I found a gluten free/dairy free ravioli this way! But sadly they no longer make it so I am back on the hunt!
Mission # 4 Gluten is so 1996.
Ordering like a rock star – or a food critic. I have always said that if you walk into a restaurant and the waiter/waitress gives you a blank look when you ask for a gluten free menu that you should leave. And typically if the manager comes to the table after you tell the person waiting on you that you have a food allergy, the restaurant is probably going to be a good, safe choice. But this mission throws caution to the wind! Or rather tips the table upside down. First, choose a smaller local restaurant and make sure you are eating out Sunday-Wednesday. These slower times allow for more personal attention. Instead of approaching the person waiting on you from the “I can’t eat” side, challenge them to help you pick. Start by telling them you don’t WANT to eat any bread, pasta or carbs, so which dishes are the best if you don’t have that? Take it a step farther and ask to see the chef. You could explain how the evening is special and that you want to include his restaurant in your adventure. But you just can’t eat gluten. See what fun thing he can come up with. Many chefs love the challenge! Calling ahead helps, too. Then check out this blog on going gluten free gourmet in Atlanta.
Come by Nuts n’ Berries in person or let us know in the comments what success or failures you have! Happy eating!