Celiac? To heck with that! Living gluten-free and well-fed
January 17th, 2011
07:15 PM ET
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Jennie Bragg is an Editorial Producer in CNN’s Money Unit

My very first word was cookie - raisin cookie to be exact. Family legend goes, it came out something like, "raymee cook cook." The details are trivial. The moral of this story is that shortly after I left the womb, I discovered my first true love: carbs.

As I grew older, my meal of choice became quite obvious: the basket of bread. Who needs to order at all when the best part of a meal comes at the very beginning, for free?

And so it was, for 24 years, that I lived the life of a glutinous gluten monster - until that fateful day. After about two years of terrible stomach issues and running from doctor to doctor, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. That's the no-carbs-for-the-rest-of-your-life disease (or at least not the good carbs).

What is this "gluten" of which you speak?

You can imagine my disappointment, but I wasn’t exactly shocked. In fact, I spent a long time thinking maybe this was something I had done to myself. The medical community has a boatload of different theories about how a person can develop a gluten allergy. But no matter what the cause, my childhood love had become my stomach’s demise by adulthood.

I went cold turkey. I cut out bread, pasta, pizza, and even my favorite, weekend NY bagels with lox. The hardest thing of all was the beer. I wasn’t exactly a big drinker, but I had only graduated from college two years earlier and my social life still pretty much revolved around going out and having a beer. And what now? I became the prissy girl who orders wine when everyone else has a pitcher. I hate that girl. Don’t you?

I "snuck" a few beers, only hurting my tummy in the end. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that I would much rather be the prissy girl drinking wine at the bar than the sick girl who has to go home early.

It took some time, but as my stomach began to get better, so did my attitude. I also learned how to eat. Rice is a REALLY good substitute carb. Suddenly, rice pasta, rice cakes and all things rice filled the gluten void. And it turns out, gluten-free beer exists! It is carried in about 3 bars in New York City, so you have to choose your locale wisely - but hey, there’s nothing like a good rice beer.

Jennifer BraggA good friend told me at the beginning of my Celiac ordeal that eating a sandwich in front of me felt like drinking in front of a recovering alcoholic - but not today. Honestly, I haven’t had bread in so long, I can’t really remember what it tastes like. It isn’t something I crave anymore.

And when that bread basket comes to the table at a restaurant now, I don’t want it. I don’t need it. I know eating it will just make me sick later. Really, I’m just jealous that everyone else gets to eat before I do.

Stay tuned as Jennie spills the secret ways gluten slips into everyday foods.

Previously - Gluten defined

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Filed under: Dietary Restrictions • Gluten-free

soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Mercedes

    You don't have to give up bread when diagnosed with Celiac decease. One of the great pleasures of life is a freshly baked loaf of bread. At Breads From Anna we produce delicious and superhelathy gluten free bread mixes that turn out perfect prepared in a good bread maker everyday. Nothing like a turkey sandwich in our herb bread!

    March 2, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  2. Rudy

    Me and my daughter have lived the the gluten free life for about 5 yrs. now.And we love it,cuz all it comes down to is good eatin and healthy

    February 1, 2011 at 3:36 am |
  3. Allie

    Celebrate gluten-free living. Go to http://glutenfreegirl.com/

    January 31, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  4. Andrea Harrison

    Look beyond rice as a substitute. There are so many more choices out there. I also recommend you join a local support group and a national support group to broaden your gluten free knowledge. Check meetup.com for a local group, GIG is a popular national support group.

    January 30, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  5. Shannon

    Love this! I was diagnosed about a year ago – and everything you wrote rang true. You know those sugar cookies at the grocery store with the wonderful fluorescent colored frosting? I could eat an entire box full, that's how much I loved carbs – and especially cookies. So, thanks again for writing about celiac disease – it's become more and more prevalent, it's wonderful to have a community to rely on.


    January 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  6. Steve

    Great exposure for Celiac. I have two daughters with Celiac (ages 7 & 9) and though I know it's been difficult on them, they have been remarkably resilient. I think the two hardest things for them (and my family as well) is going out to eat & when they have class parties at school. They are troopers, though, and I'm proud of how they've handled changing their eating habits.

    January 27, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  7. Patty

    Great article!!! Have you tried Bumblebars? They are the original Gluten Free, Vegan, organic sesame snack bar. I invite you to take a look at our website at http://www.bumblebar.com and like our FB page.

    January 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  8. Kristin

    Hi Jennie,

    Your post is so refreshing! I also have celiac disease and was diagnosed shortly after my college graduation. We actually have very similar stories..it took me four years of running from doctor to doctor to discover the cause behind my various tummy troubles. The concern over being a prissy wine drinker was high on my list too! I also have good friends who made similar comments in the beginning, and some still do.

    I share Cheryl's gratefulness for spreading the word about the disease behind the gluten-free diet. In fact, it was Cheryl who shared your blog post with me earlier today as I also work at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA). So both from my personal and professional sides I'm really looking forward to your continued blogging!

    It sounds like we have many similar experiences and I'd love to chat. Please feel free to contact me!


    January 18, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  9. Scott Gulbransen

    Jennie...thanks for sharing. My 3 yr old son was diagnosed a year ago. We've really learned what a great time it is to be a Celiac as the options increase. I hope you keep sharing with us about your journey.

    January 18, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  10. Marc

    Jennie this is really great that you are sharing your story. My girlfriend has celiacs and started to feel symptoms her senior year of college. She was diagnosed and was very upset about it. I met her after she had been diagnosed for 6 months. The worst part for her not being able to eat gluten was sweets.
    Once we started goIng out I began researching a ton to learn about celiacs. I
    found my girlfriend stores to go to that has
    tons of gluten free items and dairy free (shes
    allergic to dairy). I also created a list that we
    can both choose from when we go out to eat.
    For those that live in Atlanta Return to Eden and Whole Foods is the best place to food gluten free foods. If you have a sweet tooth like my girlfriend you'll find every dessert under the sun at Rreturn to Eden.

    January 18, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  11. B

    You can find GF beer in many more than 3 bars in NYC, and most places carry hard cider, which is a good alternative

    January 18, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  12. Laurie

    I don't have Celiacs but I've recently had to go gluten-free, peanut-free, dairy-free, and yeast-free due to horrible IBS issues for 3 years. It sucks. Eliminating just one of those categories I could probably handle, but all of them together leaves me with pretty much nothing to eat. I can't eat any of the gluten-free bread or cracker products because they all contain yeast and I miss bread soooo much! This "diet" is supposed to make me feel better but I still don't feel good. I've pretty much given up eating all together now, maybe just a piece of chicken or can of plain tuna each day. I've decided I'd rather deal with the horrible hunger pains instead of the IBS pains, so there you go.

    January 18, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • Zeldahj

      Hi Laurie
      Check out the breads by French Meadow. They make some that should fit your requirements.

      January 18, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
      • Laurie

        Thank you much for the suggestion. It looks like the closest store is about 100 miles away from me, maybe I will be able to check that out someday. This is such an expensive lifestyle!

        January 18, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Elissa

      I hope you are seeking the advice of a doctor and nutritionist for treatment and not self diagnosing. I also have IBS and one of my main culprits – raw carrots. Not gluten (was tested for that allergy and most of the time, breads are the only thing that DOES agree with me), not peanuts, but CARROTS...and not all carrots, RAW carrots. And protein by itself tends to make my issues flare up. If you are seeing a doc, talk to them about how the diet change is going. If cutting out foods isn't making your situation better, maybe its not a food allergy at all and you are depriving yourself for no good reason.

      January 19, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Lisa

      I believe that psychological reasons for various GI disorders abound. Same with headaches, backaches. There ARE physical causes of various symptoms, but cutting out all potential food offenders, and still having stomach problems...there MIGHT be a psychological foundation to the symptoms. As a child in an emotionallly violent family, I always had 'stomachaches', it got the parents to stop fighting, and I got some attention. This is also about social class- you don't see lots of uneducated, low wage working-class folks focusing on their GI symptoms to the point that they completely change their diets. They spend most of their time just struggling to survive. When they come inot the ER w a stomache ache- it's a perforated ulcer.

      January 27, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  13. Erin

    Your story sounds strangely similar... 2 years out of college, years of pain, doctor to doctor... I am now gluten free (as is my daughter) and we are very well fed. I have replaced my beer at the bar with hard cider. :-) Thanks for the post!

    January 17, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  14. Gluten Free Dee

    It's such a good time to celebrate eating Gluten Free! There are hundreds if not thousands of choices at the regular grocery store. There are great breads like that from http://www.CanyonBakehouse.com, dozens of great cookies available everywhere and even tortillas or wraps from http://www.SandwichPetals.com. I dare say there is nothing you could possibly want that you used to eat, that can't be made as well as gluten free. Maybe croissants are the exception! Let me know if I can help you find some yummy gluten free food or cook books to make amazing dishes your self!

    January 17, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  15. Cheryl

    Thank you for your honesty! Celiac disease is a serious condition, and it isn't talked about nearly as much as it should be. Fortunately, like you said, gluten-free isn't the "end" to all taste. In fact, we celebrate gluten-free food at our annual fundraiser, Appetite for Awareness (www.CeliacCentral.org/A4A). Attendees are always amazed by how delicious the food is, and the event has even helped some celiacs get diagnosed. We'd love to see you there this year. In the meantime, keep the posts coming!

    Cheryl McEvoy
    National Foundation for Celiac Awareness

    January 17, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
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