Well once again I’m going to need to also thank Twitter for connecting me with this gem. Jennifer is extremely supportive in the gluten-free community and is someone that you will want to connect with. We shared many tweets, emails and even chatted on the phone which has allowed me to get a better understanding of where she has been, what her vision is and how she plans on helping others that suffer from food allergies. I will also be a live guest on her Gluten-Free School Radio Show on Wednesday July 25th at 8pm EST. I invite you to please sign up for this free event as we will be discussing The Truth About Dining Out Gluten-Free!
1. When were you diagnosed celiac or with gluten intolerance?
I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance back in February 2008 after being noticeably sick for many months. My doctors thought that I just needed more B vitamins. My blood work was fine and no one put my symptoms together until I ended up in my nutritionist’s office.
2. What was your initial reaction to it?
Relief. I was willing to give it a go since I had some awareness that gluten could cause certain people issues. I had NO IDEA how big of a change it would actually produce in my body.
3. What are some of your biggest fears with it?
I was afraid of never being able to eat my favorite foods ever again in addition to being able to eat out. I’m from a traditional Italian family and I wasn’t sure how everyone would take it and if relatives cooking holiday meals would be sympathetic and understanding. I was also afraid to eat out.
4. What resources helped you the most?
Glutenfreegirl.com was probably the biggest help to me. Next came my own personal ingenuity. I didn’t have much info to go on as far as making this lifestyle change and even back in 2008; there wasn’t a ton of info like there is now so readily available. I taught myself where gluten hid in foods and avoided them, substituted other non-glutinous foods and did it one step at a time.
5. What’s your take on living this lifestyle because you have to verses those that call it a fad or latest trend?
On one hand, I can understand the mistake that the media and people have made in thinking that it’s a fad. Partly because most diets that are ‘mainstreamed’ are more of a fad than something medically necessary to prevent serious physical damage. If it were named the “Celiac diet”, I doubt that we’d get so many ridiculous articles and mentions (let’s not forget the celebrity non-sense that further validates the ‘fad’ mentality).
Here’s the flip side… the media is watching the food industry raking in money hand over fist as profits within the GF sector skyrocket. It’s one of the fastest growing food trends out there and, as someone that hits up food trade shows around the country, it’s been a shocking to see how many company’s now boasting about a GF line.
So why wouldn’t it be viewed as a fad from outsiders? Oh yeah… because it’s medically necessary for some of us. However I think for the “Regular Joe”, the skepticism comes from a place of feeling like the regular diet and something so common as wheat is now being threatened which further threatens his/her delicious meal with wheat all over the plate (I’m being dramatic here). This underlying fear that someone’s meal is under attack has probably been skewed by certain parties who stand to financially benefit from keeping people, in general, eating wheat.
6. What symptoms were you having that triggered you to get tested?
I was getting head colds about every other month along with headaches since I was a teenager. I had put on nearly 20 pounds even though I was very physically active (At the time, I was an avid road cyclist riding between 20 and 45 miles per ride.). I was getting really sick in the middle of meals, running to the bathroom like it was a matter of life and death. And the biggest concern for me at that time was that I was constantly exhausted – I couldn’t even wake up after sleeping 9 hours at night. I felt like I was drugged.
7. How do you feel today and do you ever get the urge to cheat?
I feel much better than all those years ago, but I also have additional food sensitivities aside from gluten and some tend to give me much more trouble. Thus, eating GF isn’t the only thing I have to watch since I’m highly intolerant to eggs (which make me feel like I’m having a heart attack), casein, the cruciferous family and cashew family. When you break those last two things down, it’s quite a lot of food. I’ve learned in what amounts I can eat certain things such as a few brussel sprouts, but no kale (both members of the cruciferous family). And sometimes I have to be looser with the dairy since eggs are my priority and then gluten when eating out.
The reality is that we all get the urge to cheat. My husband eats eggs and they smell so darn good (I miss them the most, to be honest), but I don’t eat them because I remember how violently ill I was the very last time I ate them. That put the fear of God in me, for sure. And when you’re around incredible Italian cooks, it’s hard not to miss the wonderful handmade pastas. But I remember where I was and where I am now in order to stay on the straight and narrow.
I’ve also spent the last year working with various practitioners to help my body’s immune reactions calm down so that I’m not as sensitive as I would have been should I end up with contaminated food some place. When I follow their directions, I tend to be fine. When I don’t do what they suggest is when problems can creep in and my body will react strongly. As a tip, black pepper is an excellent way to increase digestive ‘fires’ and I’ve found that by adding quite a bit of it to meals (especially when eating out), I digest the food much better. This was a suggestion from my Ayurvedic practitioner.
I am deeply passionate about eating well and because I really taught myself the in’s and out’s of going gluten free, I have a lot of real life experience that helps me help clients to make the GF transition successful. But here’s the thing, the general Gluten Free Diet pretty much stinks. I sometimes get flack for saying that, but it does. Most of the recipes posted on GF sites are gluten-less versions of the same unhealthy meals they ate pre-gluten-free.
And then there are GF food products, which people seem to think is all they need to buy in order to eat. I have plenty of friends in the food industry and honestly do love some products, but people are too caught up in the “I’m busy” rat race to realize sometimes that a GF label doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. That’s why I started Gluten Free School – to clarify to all the GF folks out there what a healthy diet looks like that happens to be gluten-free. If you only focus your attention on avoiding things like wheat, barley, rye, spelt, etc. and ignore all the incredibly delicious and not to mention nutritious, naturally gluten-free foods out there, then chances are you’ll stay sick with ailments that keep popping up.
Products (which are the pinnacle of convenience in this busy life), be it GF or not, will be the death of one’s good health. You can’t eat everything from a box, bag or plastic wrap and think that you’re doing the best job you can. You’re not. You’ve got to get in the kitchen! You’ve got to see cooking as the first-line of defense for your own good health. It doesn’t mean you become a chef, just that you figure out how to ride the ‘cooking’ bike and then do it!
I always tell clients to “Keep it simple” when it comes to making food and that’s the basis for every recipe that I post on my site or how I might explain a scenario to a client. Simplicity is what’s lost in the constant media deluge of information and that’s why I’ve had so many clients that find my approach to gluten-free living both practical and sustainable.
Thanks so much Jen for providing some incredible information.
CONNECT WITH JEN
Twitter – @JenFugo
Website - www.glutenfreeschool.com