About and Q&A

Welcome to Gluten Freedom Atlanta!  Here’s a little about me and why I’m here:

porch swing

Growing up I was an adventurous eater, always eager to know when my next meal would be.  I loved food and appreciated that meals and cuisine bring people together.  I enjoyed going out for meals and cooking in my home, with family and friends.

The summer after I graduated from college, I got married to my wonderful husband, David, moved states, and started my teaching career.  That’s a lot of change in two months for a 22-year old!  Together, David and I developed a love of cooking and inviting people into our home.  Some of our early meals included, quiche, jambalaya, and burgers made on our tiny bucket grill.

As much as I loved meals, I gradually began feeling more and more uncomfortable when I ate.  Even simple meals could sometimes brought discomfort, bloating, and all kinds of fun stomach issues.  I also started having night sweats frequently, constant fatigue, as well as arthritis symptoms.  In general, I felt like I was in a fog.  I began to fear food and meals, as I could not find an explanation as to why I felt sick constantly.

Teaching high school history, coaching and living on a 9th grade girls dorm did not allow me much time to think about feeling sick.  For about two years I tried ignoring these symptoms, but they persisted.  More noticeably to others, I began losing a significant amount of weight and my parents and David insisted that I seek a medical help.

In the summer of 2007, I was diagnosed with celiac disease after spending most of my adult years feeling sick, uncomfortable, and exhausted.  It took nearly a year of going to different doctors and specialists in order to receive my diagnosis.  Doctors were confused by my symptoms and I sat through many scary and frustrating doctors’ appointments over the course of a year before a doctor finally connected my health problems to gluten.

When diagnosed, I experienced many different emotions.  I felt relief that I didn’t have a life threatening disease, nor would I need to take medication the rest of my life.  (In my mind, of all of the diseases to have, celiac is the best one!)  I was thrilled to finally know what was wrong with me, after being passed from one doctor to the next, and being tested for all kinds of illnesses and conditions.  David and I even threw a party to celebrate my diagnosis (lots of rice crackers, cheese and fruit were served).

After the immediate sense of relief, I quickly became terrified, overwhelmed and anxious.  David, and I were about to embark on a two-week trip through New England, followed by a week vacation with my in-laws in Maine.  Questions flooded my mind as I began to think about the challenges this new diet would present: Where would I eat?  What questions should I ask at restaurants?  Will people think I’m rude?  What can I eat on the road?  Would our family be able to make meals that I could eat?  Would I annoy my in-laws with all of these new ‘food regulations?’

This trip was great for me as it forced me to step into the world with my new diet, instead of hiding in my home.  Traveling is definitely different now, but it’s totally doable.  There are moments when I get frustrated by having celiac, especially when I’m eating a protein bar during a wedding reception, but the lows are minimal in comparison to how much my diagnosis and eating gluten free has changed my life for the better.

Over the past two years, I’ve learned many things about eating gluten free, and I’ve discovered all kinds of delicious foods that are gluten free.  I’ve developed even more my love for cooking and being in the kitchen.  I’ve continued to travel and explore new dining experiences, both in and out of my home.  I feel blessed to finally know what’s wrong with me and empowered that I can make meals that make me feel my best and I can seek out restaurants that will cater to my gluten-free needs.

A year ago we moved from the Washington, D.C. area to Atlanta.  While in DC, I created a blog, Gluten-Free in D.C., that provided a venue to post gluten-free recipes that I’ve made and love.  I also wrote reviews of Washington DC restaurants (and places I travel) that are willing to accommodate a gluten free customer.  When you search online for gluten free restaurants, you typically find chain restaurants, like Outback (which does have great GF options, especially in Roswell, GA).  I’ve found that many restaurants are knowledgeable of celiac and willing to make GF meals, even if they don’t state it on their website.  Some even have gluten free menus!

Now that Atlanta is home, I have created Gluten Freedom Atlanta, as a place to continue writing about the gluten-free food world.  A year into Gluten Freedom, I continue to develop my voice and ‘culinary perspective.’  I gravitate towards whole, local foods for many of my recipes.  I work on a local farm in order to have access to some of the freshest, seasonal ingredients.  (Don’t get me wrong, I love a yummy baked good too!)  Of course not everything I do is about food.  Some non-food related things you can find me doing are reading (I’m a huge nerd at heart), unashamedly watching reality TV, running and traveling.

You can also find me in Atlanta’s Finest Dining Magazine as part of their ‘Culinary Commentary,’ and as an ‘Expert and Advocate’ on G-Free Foodie.  I recently wrote a travel article for Living Without Magazine. Thanks for reading and happy dining!

Questions

Please email me at betsymetcalf@gmail.com any gluten-related questions you might have.  I’ll post your questions and my responses here.

Question: I enjoy reading your blog, but sometimes I forget to check it.  Are there ways I can ‘follow you’ online so I know when you update your website?

Answer: Isn’t ‘social networking incredible?’  Absolutely, you can follow me.  I have a twitter account, betsyglutenfree, and I have a Gluten Freedom Facebook Fan Page.  Always welcoming more fans!

Question: I’m going to college next year and I’m terrified about maintaining my gluten-free diet?  Is it even possible to live gluten free on a college campus and stay healthy?

Answer: YES!  You can be gluten free in college but I can’t pretend that it’s easy.  Check out the post I wrote, entitled “Dorms, Tailgating and Cafeterias that gives advice for how to be gluten-free in your teens and college years.

Question: It’s that time of year…How do I deal with holiday parties?

Answer: Honestly, you probably need to stay away from most of the food that’s being served at buffet-style, appetizer tray, holiday parties.  There are just too many variables involved at the office Christmas party or that friend of a friend’s holiday shin dig.

You’ve got to go with your instinct in these situations and there are certainly unique situations.  For example, if a good friend is throwing the party and she really knows/understands your celiac and gluten-free needs, he or she might ask if there’s something they can make for you.  You might want to ask them if they can make a separate tray in the kitchen with some of the cheeses, nuts, etc. and other party items that are gluten-free.  Maybe even volunteer to bring your own rice crackers if there will be cheese.  But, you have to make sure that you don’t dip your rice crackers into the gluten-free dip if gluten crackers have already been dipped in it. (You want to keep your food away from buffet tables because of the potential for contamination.  It’s just not worth it to risk getting sick during the holidays!)  This accommodation is a lot to ask a hostess but a good friend might really want to do this.  I’ve been amazed at how above and beyond some friends have gone o accommodate my celiac, but you’ve got to be willing to communicate with those friends and let them know how to truly make it ‘safe’ for you.

I always offer to bring something to the party, usually something sweet.  I tend to ask if we can put the cookies I’ve brought on a coffee table, away from the rest of the food.

The Boy Scout Motto, “Be Prepared, works with us celiacs too.  make sure that you have food with you or you ate before you came.  Lara Bars are a great thing to keep in your purse or jacket because they have healthy, natural ingredients that will keep you energized throughout the night of festivities.  I also carry nuts with me too.  There’s nothing worse than being hungry at an event where everyone else is eating and you can’t.  Again, it’s not worth eating something and getting sick just because you’re starving.

I know that this is not the joyful holiday news you were looking to find, but it’s the safe truth and this is coming from someone who goes out to dinner at restaurants and friends’ homes all the time.  The bigger the get together, the trickier for you to be gluten free.  When you’re at a large event, I’ve found through experience, that it’s better to sip on your glass of wine (hooray that wine is gluten-free!) and save your holiday eating for those family meals that you know will be safe.  It’s just not worth getting sick from eating a mediocre cheese ball when there’s plenty of delicious, healthy, gluten-free food to be consumed.

Question: I have recently been diagnosed with celiac disease.  I loved eating at restaurants before my diagnosis, but I’m nervous about dining out.  What do you suggest I ask the waiter when going out to dinner.  Is it worth trying to go out?

Answer: Yes, it’s absolutely worth going out to dinner!  Don’t spend the rest of your life afraid in your home.  We all have a little bit of ‘gluten-phobia’ but going out to eat, particularly when traveling, is inevitable so you might as well become comfortable with it in your own town.  While you do take a risk when you go to a restaurant, if you talk through your dietary needs with the manager, you’ll be on your way towards a safe meal.

Click here for my post entitled, “What Do I Say?” which takes you through the steps of talking of going out to eat and communicating.

Side note: Some times I do decide not to eat out.  If David and I are traveling, I usually pack my own snacks and lunch instead of risking contamination on a fast food meal that’s not very good food.  I’m of the mindset that it’s worth taking the risk when you’re at a friend’s house or a nice restaurant, but not when it’s mediocre food.  You’ll have to make that judgement for yourself.