Chef Calvin Eaton has made it his mission to make gluten-free living simple and available to everyone. He lives with fibromyalgia, celiac disease and chronic fatigue – all conditions aggravated by the presence of gluten in food. His desire to bring public awareness and understanding of how different conditions are affected by gluten has culminated in his popular blog, The Gluten-Free Chef Blog, and his cookbook Cooking with Fibromyalgia: A Young Man’s Guide to Simple and Delicious Vegetarian, Gluten and Dairy Free Meals.
He knows from personal experience how adapting a gluten-free diet is key to a happier and healthier lifestyle. Eaton recently spoke with Gluten-Free Living contributor Julia Wynn about how gluten-free foods help him manage his conditions and how to maintain a healthy diet over the long term.
Gluten-Free Living: What made you want to become a chef?
Chef Calvin Eaton: I received a Bachelor of Science from the Rochester Institute of Technology in hospitality and food service management, which planted the seeds of love for food and hospitality. Once I had an official diagnosis of fibromyalgia in 2010 my entire way of living and eating was transformed. That’s when I really honed my skills as a chef and went gluten-free.
As someone whose energy levels can be compromised by fibromyalgia, celiac disease and chronic fatigue, how do you keep on top of making healthy meals for yourself?
I subscribe to a weekly meal service called Freshly that is something that I value for my busy lifestyle. I also use services like Instacart to deliver my groceries so I don’t have to expend energy shopping and driving to the store. Setting a dedicated day and time for meal prep and cooking in batches as well as using a slow cooker saves time, money and energy in the long run.
My gluten-free diet is mainly due to my diagnosis with celiac disease. I have eliminated dairy and other high-processed foods like certain chips, crackers, salad dressings and marinades from my diet that helps reduce gut distress and reactions to medications.
What challenges and pitfalls did you have when switching from a “regular” diet to a gluten-free diet?
One of the challenges I faced early on was helping my family understand the severity and authenticity of my diagnoses. It was difficult going to parties and events where there weren’t gluten-free foods available. Educating others on this was one of the reasons I started glutenfreechefblog.com.
Early on before I learned how to pre-plan for being out in public, I found it challenging to stick to my diet when dining out or when I forgot to pack a lunch as many stores 10 years ago had very few gluten-free options compared with today.
Tell us how you started writing the Gluten-Free Chef blog.
In December 2012, I founded theglutenfreechefblog.com while living in Nashville. At the time I was experiencing a debilitating fibromyalgia flare, on a medical leave from my career as a Special Education teacher and unsure if I would ever work traditionally again. I started the blog as a way to journal my days and hopefully help others learn what I wish I knew when adopting a gluten-free diet.
What resources have you found that have positively impacted your gluten-free journey?
Today, there are many terrific online resources for those going gluten-free. Some blogs that I love are: Dishing Up The Dirt, EveryDay Maven, Elana’s Pantry, and An Edible Mosaic.
One book that I consider my gluten-free bible and which I still use today is Cooking for Isaiah: Gluten Free & Dairy Free Recipes for Easy Delicious Meals by Silvana Nardone. For those interested in learning more about the science and evolution of celiac disease, I highly recommend the book Gluten Freedom by Alessio Fasano.
What ingredients should you have in a gluten-free kitchen?
The top staples are bananas, some type of gluten-free flour blend, oats, quinoa, beans, rice and fresh vegetables like kale, broccoli and chickpeas as well as a meat or tofu for protein. You can do a lot with a few ingredients and be gluten-free on a dime.
What are some of the biggest mistakes when making gluten-free food?
Buying expensive flours and ingredients isn’t necessary. Starting small and simple is the best way to transition to a sustainable gluten-free lifestyle.
What tips do you have for maintaining a gluten-free diet in the long term?
First of all, think simple, non-processed whole foods that include fruits and vegetables. Get to know your local farmers market. It is a fantastic way to purchase fresh vegetables and fruit while also supporting the local farming economy.
Learn how to navigate your kitchen. Gluten-free means you must take control of your food diet. If you are someone that has a dining out lifestyle, you will need to begin to change your mindset.
Finally, don’t assume you will convert overnight to being gluten free. You will make mistakes you will crave your favorite foods and give in to your previous diet. Try to be kind to yourself.
Julia Wynn is a writer in Garrison, New York.