By: Adriene Essex
As I begin to write this, I look at the calendar and realize that it’s getting close to that forbidding date….Three years ago, I got the call from my doctor’s office telling me that the test for Celiac disease was positive. I can very vividly remember the tears that instantly came to my eyes when I heard the nurse tell me the news, and the thoughts that came into my mind soon after. “What will I eat? Will I ever be able to bake again? Will I be able to eat out?” I felt overwhelmed, and quite honestly, sad. It seems strange that I would miss eating certain foods, but in our society, we live our lives around food. Family get togethers, holidays, birthday parties, dinners out with friends…all of these things would be different now.
Just for a little information, Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder (not a food allergy, as is typically believed) that causes the body to mount an immune response attacking the small intestine. It’s triggered by eating foods that contain gluten (which is a protein found in some grains like wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and oats [in some cases]) There are many different symptoms of the disease, which is partly why Celiac is so hard to diagnose. In my case, I was dealing with debilitating stomach pain which lead me to see a gastroenterologist, leading to my Celiac diagnosis. The disease was not new to me though, as my dad was diagnosed many years before I was (Celiac disease is hereditary, and according to the Celiac Foundation, those with a first degree relative with the disease have a 1 in 10 risk of developing it themselves).
After my diagnosis, I knew I had to cut out all gluten. What is it that G.I. Joe says? Oh yes, “knowing is half the battle.” I guess that means that sticking with it and following through is the other half of the battle…and it definitely proved to be a battle. I soon learned that a trip to the grocery store was no easy task. I had to read the ingredient list of every item and get to know what strange names were lurking in seemingly safe foods. Eating out was an even more difficult battle. I would have to ask so many questions and be so persistent with servers just to make sure that I didn’t get sick that it would wear me out! Relearning to cook and bake with completely different ingredients was challenging, not just for me, but for my husband (who had to hear me rant when things just didn’t turn out and ended up in the garbage).
After reading many books on gluten, the gluten free diet, and how to cook gluten free, and navigating my way through the grocery store, as well as eating at the neighborhood potluck, I thought I had it down. But I still didn’t feel great. I kept reading other people’s stories of how they cut out gluten and almost right away, felt like new. At that point, I decided to get tested for food allergies, and found I had some degree of allergic reaction to nine of ten of the most common allergens. While some were more severe than others, it definitely made things more difficult. Cutting out eggs and limiting dairy, in addition to eating gluten free became my new diet. And cheating was not an option!
About a year ago, my husband and I moved to Jackson for his job. I was excited about moving, but was sad to leave my favorite local health food store and all the restaurants with servers who knew all my dietary restrictions. So when we went to take a tour of the LiFT Center and I saw the sign for Grubb’s Grocery, I was more than excited. Having grown up shopping with my mom at Wild Oats before it became Whole Foods, and living in Denver for most of my life, natural food stores were familiar to me, and a sight for sore eyes in small town Tennessee! I was even more excited when our owner, Chris Felder, offered me a job at the store. Every day I get to come to work, and think about all the possibilities of what I am able to eat and enjoy without worry. Better yet, I am able to come to work and help people navigate the sometime difficult, but wildly rewarding path of eating well. I’m honored that I get to talk with people about their complicated and challenging dietary and health issues, and work with them to figure out how to make their lives better. I’m so proud to be a part of such a wonderful thing happening in Jackson, Tennessee.
Some resources I find helpful:
The first book I read was Gluten Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back...And How You Can Too by Shauna James Ahern. This book is about the author's life and journey through Celiac and her encouragement through the challenges. Her website glutenfreegirl.com has a wealth of knowledge and numerous recipes. She and her husband also have a cookbook.
The book The Idiot's Guide to Gluten Free Eating was helpful to read as it explained a lot of the basics of gluten free eating and had great resources such as website of relevant organizations, as well as some basic recipes.
Celiac.com has a great, reliable, and very extensive safe food list. I check this often if I'm unsure of a strange ingredient listed on a packaged food product.
Celiac.org is the Celiac Disease Foundation website, and also has good information about the disease.
Find Me Gluten Free is a great App available on smartphones. It has information on gluten free options at many chain restaurants and some local restaurants. It's really helpful if you're away from home and don't know as much about restaurant choices, or if you’re new to town and need to find out where is safe to eat.