Can you share a little bit about what led you to launch your websites and a career in nutrition?
I actually started my journey differently than most practitioners — I was a sick patient at first. I realized after living for more than 10 years with chronic diarrhea, gas, bloating, and debilitating exhaustion that I couldn’t eat gluten anymore and needed to really change things up. This was really surprising because I’m Italian and I’d never heard of gluten before (and boy, was I eating a ton of it at the time!!). After addressing my own health, I decided to help others who were struggling to figure out how to make sustainable diet and lifestyle changes. At first I became a health coach, but my clients generally proved to be sicker than the average person and so I eventually went back to school for my master’s degree.
I’ve seen too many sick people to count while I was working with my dad who is a doctor and surgeon. It’s my mission to help people rediscover their health so that they can get back to a more normal, rich life focused on the things they love (rather than on their debilitating symptoms).
Tell us about your own diet and why you are gluten-free.
My diet is always 100% gluten-free… and probably 75% whole foods-based. I start my morning off with a nutrient-dense protein shake and then eat two smaller meals during the day — one of which is always a salad with protein. I also practice intermittent fasting which means that I eat breakfast around 10am and typically finish eating by 3 or 4pm in the afternoon. Though I couldn’t do this years ago when my body was really run down, I find that I thrive practicing this now and find that when I don’t eat late, I sleep much better.
I’m gluten-free because I develop explosive diarrhea, skin rashes, brain fog, horrid gas, headaches, and intense fatigue when I’m exposed to gluten. I value my health… so I eat in a way that honors what my body requires to work hard and be present to my clients and family.
What was the most unexpected challenge you had to overcome when you were first diagnosed? What are some unexpected challenges folks face when they are first diagnosed with Celiac or an autoimmune disorder?
The most unexpected challenge was learning how to speak up for myself and to stop feeling like I was being a bother to everyone around me. I find that that’s also a very common problem in those who are newly diagnosed. They don’t want to impose or be seen as difficult.
My advice is to learn how to ask for help directly, but gracefully. AND that to have others embrace your dietary change means you’ve got to fully embrace it first. You can’t expect others to bend over backward for you if they see you cheat.
For those who have just received a gluten intolerance, Celiac Disease or other autoimmune disorder diagnosis, it can be overwhelming. What are some tips to help make the initial diagnosis a bit easier to navigate?
My top five suggestions would be:
Swap out the gluten-based foods you’re eating right now with the gluten-free versions. Let go of the idea that you’ve got to have this pristine gluten-free diet right away. It’s typically not sustainable. Focus on learning to ride the bike first and then tweak as you gain confidence!
Look for products at different grocery stores and even online at websites like Amazon or Thrive Market. Plus, most companies have shops set up directly on their sites. I buy a lot of my gluten-free products online!
Find positive influences you can follow and learn from online. It can be easy to see yourself as a victim, get accustomed to complaining about everything, and just hating food. By connecting with others who can help you keep an open mind and provide you with proof that living this way doesn’t have to stink is worth its weight in gold!
Make sure to get all new lip products like lipstick unless you know for sure they’re gluten-free! Us ladies eat A LOT of lipstick and gluten is a common ingredient used in these beauty products.
Go hang out at your local grocery store and just browse around looking at products and labels without necessarily buying anything. This will help you when you return to the store so that you can more easily identify what products and brands are safe for you. Otherwise, you’ll end up taking HOURS to shop.
What other tips can you provide to people who have Celiac or are managing a gluten-free household due to chronic illnesses such as Leaky Gut Syndrome or hidden infections?
In my clinical practice, it’s highly common that people with Celiac who don’t see a huge improvement with symptoms by removing gluten actually have hidden infections (or dysbiosis) in their gut microbiome. Though people commonly think that food sensitivities are a root cause for their ongoing gut problems, that’s actually not true!
Food sensitivities are symptoms of “leaky gut” (more formally described in the literature as gut permeability). This is especially true when you find that you’re becoming increasingly sensitive to more foods. That’s why it’s critical to work with a practitioner to identify what could be throwing the gut off-balance.
Also, make sure to eat slowly. Chew your food fully (since you don’t have teeth anywhere else in your GI tract). And check that you have enough stomach acid to break protein down (so it doesn’t end up further down in the gut feeding gut bacteria rather than YOU). I go in-depth on all of this in this blog.
You wrote a book about how to eat gluten-free can be a financial burden for many celiac and gluten sensitive families. Can you share some advice for making changes to support a gluten-free lifestyle without breaking the bank?
One of the easiest ways to waste money is to buy pre-made food all of the time, and then allow food in your fridge to go bad. You’re literally throwing money in the trash every time you throw away veggies that you never got around to cooking.
Make a meal plan and then set aside one or two times a week to cook a bunch of different dishes in bulk. Portion things out to avoid burning through your food too quickly and overeating. Having a plan can drastically cut down on wasteful spending on groceries!
I’d also suggest learning to use a slow cooker, making casseroles, using an Instant Pot, and freezing portions of meals as backups for later. You never know what could come up and those frozen meals could save you in an emergency.