Connecting the celiac disease and food allergy/intolerance community together by sharing our stories to food freedom. From our beginning struggles to striving after a diagnosis, we can all relate and help each other out by sharing what we’ve learned and our unique personal journeys.
Here is another fabulous Freedom Feature from a celiac advocate and blogger. Jessica Hanson of Tasty Meditation is one amazing woman making great strides in her advocacy (she is the current organizer of the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup!) I've met her last year at the GFAF Expo, but am so glad we'll be connecting again at this year's expo too! Now, let's jump right in!
give us some background on who you are:
My name is Jessica Hanson. I’m a NYC-based fitness/yoga teacher. I founded the blog “Tasty Meditation: Tales from a Gluten Free Kitchen”, and I’m the Lead Organizer of the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup Group, the largest gluten free Meetup Group in the world.
what was life like before diagnosis?
I was very thin (106 pounds at 5”4) and had frequent stomach aches that were seemingly random. I later learned that my reaction time is delayed – it may take me two days after eating gluten for me to experience symptoms. For this reason, food diaries to help pinpoint trigger foods never worked for me. It was very difficult – not knowing what was wrong.
how did you finally find the right doctor and get your diagnosis?
There was a span of several weeks where one of my really bad stomach aches didn’t go away. I saw several doctors, none of whom had a clue what was going on. Then my mother heard about Celiac Disease and recommended that I ask my doctor to test me. After a blood test and endoscopy I was diagnosed. I had been experiencing symptoms for about six years before diagnosis.
how did your life change after the diagnosis?
I’m lucky to live in NYC, which is full of amazing restaurants that are dedicated to the Celiac community – I had a great time exploring. I learned how to bake bread from scratch and started using my kitchen as a creative outlet. I also fortunately/unfortunately found that some people in my life didn’t truly care about my health and wellbeing – I’m very open about this on my blog. It was that negativity that inspired me to be a Celiac Disease advocate.
what has been the biggest struggle for you? have you been able to over come it?
I’m one of the many Celiacs who found that going gluten free wasn’t enough to feel better. My blood work is now perfect, and I am extremely careful when it comes to cross-contamination and dining out. However, I still experience stomach aches and exhaustion that are not related to gluten. I found out that I am sensitive to soy, have hypothyroidism, and I am now experimenting with the low FODMAP diet. I’m always trying to find ways to help myself feel better.
what compelled you to start writing about celiac disease online?
When I was diagnosed I was the only Celiac I knew. The online community was incredibly supportive and helpful. In searching for a way to give back to the community I started my blog and eventually took over as Lead Organizer of the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup Group, following in the footsteps of Erin Smith (Gluten Free Fun/Gluten Free Globetrotter). I simply want to help people. We are not alone.
what do you hope to add to the community with your advocacy?
I’m a Celiac Disease advocate who isn’t afraid to talk about tough topics. I strive to give very honest and open viewpoints. While I often discuss topics such as relationships, patient advocacy, and food safety, I also believe that it is important to highlight small gluten free businesses that are doing things right – support the small businesses that support us. We have the power to propel the gluten free market forward with our dollars. What do we want the market to look like in ten years?
do you have a great celiac/food allergy tip to share?
Be prepared. It’s too hard to “wing it” with Celiac Disease, and odds are you’ll end up hungry or sick. Do your research ahead of time – call restaurants, discuss cross contamination with a party host, have an extra snack in your bag, etc.
what's your celiac/food allergy pet peeve or myth you want to see gone for good?
Oh I have so many, I constantly want to pull my hair out! Here’s one – the idea that gluten free food tastes awful. That mentality is so old and out-dated. Come to my kitchen, let me make you my famous gluten free chocolate chip cookies from scratch, and I dare you to tell me that my cookies taste like cardboard.
what are some of your favorite allergy-friendly foods/brands?
There are a ton of amazing brands I love. Right now I’m obsessed with Bread SRSLY. It’s a dedicated bakery in San Francisco that bakes the most amazing gluten free sourdough bread – the softest and most flavorful I’ve ever eaten. My boyfriend and I just ordered a boat-load. Also Red Apple Lipstick – the colors and quality are wonderful. Not everyone realizes the importance of having lipstick that is gluten free.
do you have a favorite recipe to share?
I’m pretty famous among my friends and family for making the best gluten free cookies. My boyfriend and I are currently working on a cookbook, so you’ll find a few of those recipes in there when it is released. But for now I can share with you my recipe and technique for classic Amaretti Cookies.
what's one food you wish you could eat "one last time"?
It’s funny – my Celiac diagnosis really inspired me to develop my baking/cooking skills, so I can make an amazing gluten free counterpart of almost anything. The only thing I cannot make is seitan. That was my favorite thing to order at vegetarian restaurants pre-diagnosis, and guess what – seitan is literally pure gluten. Go figure.
what do you hope to see in the future; for yourself and the community relating to celiac/food allergies?
My personal opinion – I’d love to see universal screening for Celiac Disease. The journey to diagnosis is frequently long and hard. People are often misdiagnosed due to the wide variety of symptoms, and still the majority of individuals with Celiac remain undiagnosed. I think that a lot of people could be spared many years of pain and suffering and could be on the road to better health.
So tell me:
+ Is there a great celiac/food allergy Meetup group in your area? I want to start one...
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