Be sure to check out the Celiac Advocates page for other Person Behind the Passion feature stories.
*SPECIAL NOTE: The stories I share here are NOT sponsored posts. I invited each advocate to share their stories. There was no fee. This is my personal effort to increase awareness and to increase a collaboration of efforts.
A Blogger Is A Person With A Passion To Share
One of my biggest celiac passions is to increase awareness through others’ stories. As part of my 2020 celiac vision, I thought it would be fun to share other bloggers’ personal stories and what led to their passion for celiac awareness and gluten-free support. Since I’m not a recipe blog, I wanted to start with one of my favorite recipe and celiac awareness bloggers and advocates, Shirley Braden of Gluten Free Easily.
Gluten Free Easily's Shirley Braden
I’ve always said that one of the biggest blessings this diagnosis has brought me is the people I’ve met along the way. Some I have met face-to-face. Many, however, have been through the internet. One of these friends (who I hope to meet face-to-face one day) is Shirley. Thank you Shirley, for allowing me to share your story.
Experiencing relief from ill health impacts a person. Experiencing this relief after decades of symptoms can drive a person. This is behind Shirley’s passion, years of ill health followed by relief from the discovery that all she had to do was take something out of her diet. Gluten. It makes a person want to sing it from the roof tops. I understand this all too well.
How many years was Shirley sick? —for 38 of her first 46 years!
Life changed for the better in June 2003 when her doctor told her to remove gluten.
Before Gluten Free
According to Shirley, her symptoms were “too numerous to list.” It makes me sad to know that the list below is only a sample of what she had to experience before discovering the cause. It makes me sad that this is the case for many.
- Major GI issues (mostly diarrhea with occasional constipation)
- Gall Bladder (stones and dysfunction followed by removal)
- Terrible cramping after eating gluten
- Joint pain
- Endometriosis (with hysterectomy)
- Depression (postpartum)
- Mood swings
- Frequent tonsillitis (that led to needing a tonsillectomy)
No More Gluten, No More Osteopenia
Removing gluten brought relief from all her GI issues. This told Shirley that this is what she needed all along, to be gluten free. Not all symptoms, however, are ones we can actually feel.
The lack of proper absorption can lead to some health issues we can’t necessarily feel. Bone loss. Osteoporosis. By the time she discovered that gluten was behind her health struggles, Shirley had developed osteopenia, the stage of bone loss prior to osteoporosis. Removing gluten allowed her body to start absorbing nutrients properly again. She added a high quality bone-building supplement and a solid daily walk to her regime. Her bone density was back to normal just three years later.
Having to go gluten free requires some deep kitchen cleaning. We go through the pantry and get rid of all the items we can no longer eat. We clean out cabinets, and we clean out silverware and utensil drawers, (which happen to be great crumb collectors). And we replace cutting boards and cookie sheets.
In the process, one thing Shirley almost got rid of, is one she was ever-so-glad she decided to keep. Her cherished recipes. “I realized that so many of those beloved recipes were already naturally gluten free and others could be easily converted to be gluten free. It was one very happy day when I had that realization!”
Gratitude Over Grief
A lifetime of undiagnosed celiac can leave some sadness, sadness over having the diagnosis missed for so many years. Shirley, like so many of us, experienced doctor after doctor dismissing her symptoms. One physician even suggested that she had mental health issues and needed to seek counseling.
She persevered, however. Shirley knew there was something physical behind her symptoms. She didn’t stop at the doctor who dismissed her symptoms as in her head. She kept going until she finally found the one who gave her the answer: gluten free.
This was over 16 years ago. Her doctor didn’t want her to waste any more time, the time testing would take. Her suggestion was to go gluten free immediately. And the proof was in the pudding (and cakes, and casseroles and muffins, and all the gluten-free yummies she now prepares and shares).
Shirley is grateful for her diagnosis and for her improved health. She is grateful for discovering how to eat the gfe way–focusing on whole foods that are naturally gluten free. “I eat very well and don’t have to worry if my pantry is stocked with gluten-free products.” She is taking what she has learned to help many, many others.
Continued Self Advocacy
We have to stay on our game, understand our own health, and speak up when we know we need something. Yearly physicals still find Shirley having to request tests to check on thyroid and vitamin levels. She knows the impact undiagnosed celiac had on her health and the impact deficiencies have on her well-being.
She doesn’t hesitate to give her doctor those reminders to order those tests.
Cooking and Dining Out (and Gluten-Free Blogging)
Shirley might have an arsenal of amazing recipes, but she still likes to dine out. She just chooses carefully. She relies on places that serve naturally gluten-free food and that are familiar with safe food preparation. “I rarely trust restaurants that serve gluten-free pasta, pizza, etc,” she shared.
You’ll find her favorite foods (seafood, pizza, muffins, chocolate, pie, and cookies) included in the hundreds of recipes she shares on her blog.
Discovering simple recipes and her gfe approach had her wanting to share with others. This is not just a hobby, this is a passion.
“When you take the gfe approach, the food you prepare and eat that’s naturally gluten free works for everyone in your family. No weird tastes or textures or high costs. No need to hoard your gluten-free food, etc.”
When she’s not blogging, Shirley enjoys traveling, camping, and walking.
2020 Vision For Celiac Awareness
I asked Shirley what her 2020 vision is. Her vision and hope is that gluten-free resource organizations will place the safety of the gluten-free community above money (by not promoting unsafe products).
Unfortunately, with the good can come the ugly, and this is one of the ugly things that happens.
New Year's Eve 2008
“I started gfe on New Year’s Eve in 2008. I had promised myself that I would launch my blog that year and even though I wasn’t fully ready to launch that day, it was a “do or die” moment to reach my goal. My kickoff post, which told my personal gluten-free story and shared one of my favorite recipes, didn’t even have photos. And I didn’t even have a photo of myself on gfe at the time but I knew that I had to hit “publish” and launch my blog then or I never would.”
Shirley's Approach to Gluten Free
“At that point, I’d been gluten free for over 5 years and had been leading my gluten-free support group for over a year. It didn’t take me long after going gluten free to realize that the typical approach to gluten-free living was not going to work for me. I really wasn’t one who wanted to buy a bunch of products—mostly unhealthy, undesirable, and expensive products at that—and I didn’t want to ditch all my favorite foods and recipes.
“In a moment of despair, I almost threw away all my recipes and cookbooks but then I realized that there were so many foods and recipes that I loved that were already naturally gluten free and lots of others that could easily be adapted to be GF by substituting a two-ingredient gluten-free flour mix, gluten-free noodles, etc.
“I learned how to make flourless cookies and other desserts and crustless pies. In my cooking and baking, I used very little of what I call gluten-free specialty ingredients. I called my approach gluten free easily—gfe—because it truly was a way to live gluten free easily.”
A Passion Worth Sharing
“Living gfe resonated with my support group members. They loved sharing their success stories with gfe recipes and gfe living as well as sharing just how much their non-gluten-free family members also appreciated the approach. Their family members told them that the food on the table tasted as good as it ever had—or better—although it was in fact, gluten free.
“Some folks would join my support group, quickly get the hang of living the gfe way, and move on. ‘Teach a man to fish,’ right?
“I launched gfe because I’d been reading other gluten-free blogs and I felt like I had something to add to what was being shared in the gluten-free community. I figured that I could reach—and help—many more gluten-free individuals with my blog than I ever could with my support group. Plus, my gfe site would also be a way for my support group members to both access my recipes and track our meetings.
“I retired my support group several years back but gfe keeps going! And my site is used by not only gluten-free individuals but non-gluten-free friends and family members, and lots of other folks who are simply looking for easy, delicious recipes and/or information on celiac/non-celiac gluten sensitivity and gluten-free living.”
Be sure to visit gfe and check out the plethora of recipes Shirley has to offer.
Also be sure to find her on Twitter and Facebook!