Celiac Awareness Month: Interview with Jackie McEwan
1. You were diagnosed with Celiac around six years ago? Can you share a little bit about your journey to figure out you had Celiac Disease?
Six years ago, my sports doctor had all of his patients take a food intolerance test, and gluten came up in my test results. I was like, what’s gluten?! Looking back, my diagnosis made a lot of sense because I would get sick at least once a week in college. In college, I would eat stir fry on Sundays (using gluten-filled soy sauce) and always felt nauseated. I would get sick after eating my favorite sandwich at Cosi and thought it was food poisoning. I went to the Emergency Room at a nearby hospital a few times because I couldn’t keep any food or water down.
I had these reactions throughout college but no one ever brought up gluten as a reason for my sickness. I normalized these reactions because they had unfortunately become normal to me. Gluten sensitivity/intolerance and Celiac Disease were not as wide-spread as they are now. Looking back, it seems silly that I never pressed doctors on what was making me sick but gluten wasn’t in the forefront of my mind or their minds. I was incredibly overwhelmed when I finally found out that gluten was making me sick. I didn’t even realize I was sick! I went to a few gastroenterologists and found out I didn’t just have a gluten intolerance – I also had Celiac Disease.
2. What changes did you make to your diet and to your life after learning you had Celiac Disease?
I was incredibly overwhelmed when I found out that gluten was making me sick. My diagnosis forced me to rethink what I was eating because I had to immediately cut gluten out of my diet. My first thought was that I had just bought a Costco-size of Quaker Oat’s instant oatmeal packets which I kept in my desk at work (oats need to be certified gluten-free in order to be safe).
I did a ton of research on what foods had gluten in it, what foods were gluten-free, and all the grey areas in between. The gluten-free diet has become much more popular in the past couple of years, but it wasn’t as prevalent six years ago so it was challenging. I wished there was ONE guide that had everything I needed to know about following a gluten-free diet.
A few years ago, I started to post about some of the gluten-free foods I was eating on Instagram. Surprisingly to me, my posts were met with great reception. People I had never met were asking me for more tips on gluten-free friendly eateries, products, and recipes, and I was more than happy to continue to make these discoveries. I was getting so many questions that I knew I needed to put all this information in one place rather than just Instagram. I taught myself how to make a website and how to code, and I launched www.glutenfreefollowme.com in September 2014! I wish I had something like Gluten Free Follow Me to guide me through my new gluten-free diet six years ago, but I’m glad I can be a guide for others now!
3. You have done a terrific job assembling gluten-free eateries for your followers. How are you finding these options and what are a few of your favorite meals you have had dining out?
Thanks so much! I love good food and trying new restaurants. When I first moved to New York, I was so excited to eat out all the time. After discovering that I couldn’t eat gluten, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to go out to eat with friends and indulge in delicious food. But, I made it work and so can you! J
Reading menus and finding new places to eat is fun for me! I research restaurants online and on social media, stay in the loop with restaurant openings & closings, and keep my eyes peeled when I walk around cities and towns.
It’s hard to narrow it down but here are a few of my favorite meals!
- Tali Restaurant: 100% gluten-free in NYC. Two of my favorite dishes are the challah French toast with cinnamon roasted pears & maple syrup for brunch AND the warm chocolate chip cookie sundae with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate chips, chocolate sauce, and caramel sauce.
- Hu Kitchen: 100% gluten-free in NYC. This fast-casual eatery is all about getting back to human and eating real food. So many options, and almost everything is dairy-free & grain-free as well. I love their veggies and desserts.
- Peace Pies: 100% gluten-free in San Diego. This café is also completely vegan & raw. I love their rainbow garden salad, loving lasagna with zucchini noodles, and magical mango curry wrap .
- Powerplant Superfood Café: 100% gluten-free in Los Angeles. This superfood café serves breakfast all day – their vegan French toast and smoked salmon cream cheese bagel is delicious. And you don’t want to miss their desserts!
4. What do you wish you had known when you were first diagnosed with Celiac Disease?
It’s not as hard as you think! When you first find out that you can’t have gluten, it’s incredibly overwhelming. But when you realize how many amazing options there are (especially nowadays), you really don’t have to worry. You WILL be able to eat delicious AND safe food.
5. How have you seen the restaurant scene change since you started your blog? What advice do you have for gluten-free folks who are traveling?
The restaurant scene has become more sensitive to people who follow a gluten-free diet. Some restaurants even have menus that indicate which items are gluten-free, and this definitely wasn’t the case six years ago. Waiters are usually well-versed in how to accommodate dietary needs, unlike a few years ago when the majority of waiters didn’t even know what gluten was.
My advice for gluten-free folks who are traveling: Do your research beforehand! Go to www.glutenfreefollowme.com/restaurants and filter by the state/city/neighborhood you will be traveling to and see what comes up. You can also filter by cuisine, rating, and price, and even 100% gluten-free & vegan. If I haven’t been to that area yet, then google “gluten-free [insert city]” and see what comes up. That’s what I do before all my trips! I like to plan out most or all of my meals and make reservations at restaurants. I do all the planning before my trip so I can enjoy my trip and be in the moment then. You don’t want to be so hungry after sightseeing all day and not know where to go eat and then end up getting sick at a random restaurant you haven’t vetted out. A couple more tips: When you get to the restaurant, tell your server that you are gluten-free. Ask your server if they have a gluten-free menu or to go through the gluten-free options
6. What would you like to see restaurants doing that they aren’t doing currently?
I would love to see even more 100% gluten-free eateries. I’ve ate at 50+ completely gluten-free eateries (link to list here). It’s amazing that there are that many, but I will never turn down more 100% gluten-free places! It’s such an incredible feeling to be able to walk into a restaurant or bakery and eat ANYTHING you want.
7. How is your health these days?
My health is amazing! I’ve honestly never felt better. I fuel my body with good food. I love being active and work-out daily, whether it’s running, going to the gym, taking a barre class, hiking, yoga, etc. I’m so thankful that I found out that I couldn’t eat gluten when I did. I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t know. I would be eating gluten and unknowingly hurting myself. Life is GOOD!