Food for Thought: Tessa's gluten-free story

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Tessa's journey to a gluten-free life wasn't easy. She encountered numerous hurdles along the way: she grew up with severe migraines and later on was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis - but after cutting gluten from her diet, she became happier, healthier and stronger than ever! Here is her amazing story...

- A few words about who you are, what you do, where you live and what you are passionate about. 

Hi, I'm Tessa and I currently live in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. I spent my college years in New Orleans, Louisiana where I studied music (I'm a violinist) and then lived in New York City while I got my masters in counseling psychology. I lived and worked in NYC for several years before my husband and I decided to move back to the Midwest. I now work as a school counselor with high school students and, as a former swimmer, have been fortunate to coach swimming as well. My background as a counselor has caused me to be passionate about self-care. How we eat, sleep, work, and interact with others can make such a difference to our quality of life.

- When, why and how did you start your gluten-free journey? Was there a medical reason behind it? 

It sounds a little funny, but my gluten-free journey started almost on a whim. Since I was 14 years old, I had been suffering from severe migraines. Many times, my migraine episodes would result in 12+ hours of nausea and vomiting, landing me in the emergency room for the pain and dehydration. I spent high school, college, and my 20's trying everything from acupuncture, chiropractic visits, to massage and a slew of pain medications. In 2012, a friend of mine that also suffered from migraines mentioned he had read that gluten can be the cause of migraines in some people and had eliminated it from his diet and found success. Besides the frequency of my migraines, the fear that they could strike at any time was sometimes paralyzing for me. I decided to give it a go and the migraines eventually disappeared. In the summer of 2014 I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease, and at the time my doctor was shocked that I hadn't been hospitalized yet. In researching for more information on Hashimoto's, I found that many people eliminated gluten and other foods to combat the symptoms and attain optimal health. I believe that I didn't notice my symptoms as quickly as I would have due to my existing gluten-free diet.

- What are the foods you must avoid? How do you substitute them? 

On a gluten-free diet, the foods I must avoid are anything with wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. The beauty of having to substitute for wheat or white flour is that there are so many different types of gluten-free flours, such as rice, sorghum, millet, amaranth, coconut, corn or nut flours. Each of these flours lends a different texture and flavor, and combining one or more adds a depth to your food or baked goods that you wouldn't normally get with regular flour. As much as I love sweets, I frequently crave salty. Finding a substitute for crackers was the biggest change for me, but there are some great simple rice crackers out there that satisfy my need for something crunchy and salty.

- Did the dietary swap change any aspects of your life: your energy level, your well-being, shopping for food, going out for dinners, cooking at home...

Eliminating gluten certainly changed the way I planned meals and forced me to be more assertive in asking questions about the menu when ordering out at restaurants. Where before I could go to the grocery store and basically wing it, after the switch I had to pre-plan my shopping trips. In the beginning, that certainly helped grocery shopping not feel so overwhelming. In addition to being migraine free for over two years now, I observed pretty quickly that my energy was up, and overall, I get through the day more easily, with a noticeably clearer head.

- How does your life differ nowadays from before?

I have always been a healthy eater. Growing up I swam competitively and that got me interested in how food fuels you. I kind of geek out about reading up on what specific foods do for you and why. I could read about that stuff for hours. Going gluten-free has certainly forced me, though, to make even healthier choices. Processed food is a thing of the past and I am much more attune to eating seasonally.

- What‘s your daily/weekly go-to meal plan: breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinner. Food basics that you swear by? 

As a creature of habit, my breakfast and lunches stay pretty much the same from day to day. My go-to breakfast is usually coconut yogurt and fruit and lunch consists mainly of roasted veggies and organic chicken sausage or leftover homemade soup. Dinner is usually a mix of meat and veggies, occasionally with rice or other gluten-free cooked grains. Usually about once a week, on the evenings when we're short on energy or time, my husband and I make loaded veggie nachos with fresh guacamole. It's cheap, easy, and so good. Being prepared with the right snacks is a biggie I learned the hard way, so you can almost always find some kind of nuts and/or fruit in my purse at anytime.

- Your blog is full of scrumptious treats. Do you have a go-to dessert that you could eat over and over again?

There is a recipe on the blog for grain-free chocolate chip cookies that I make all the time. I found the original recipe thanks to the blog, Gluten-Free Fix, and it was the very first homemade gluten-free sweet I had tried. It was so good it caused me to dive into baking other gluten-free treats. Most recently though, my German chocolate cookie bars are ones I could have every week!

- And any other aspects of your journey you’d like to share with us...

The one thing I think that makes a huge difference in making a dietary shift like this is the support of your family and friends. Once my family and friends (and even co-workers!) had a better understanding of what I could eat and what I needed to avoid, plus the positive impact it was making in my life, it became that much easier to partake in gatherings and dinners out.

Thank you so much Tessa for sharing your story! xo

P.S: Also, Drea's vegan storyAshley's holistic lifestyle story and Deniz's fructose free story.
P.P.S: Plus, my thoughts on food.

(All photos by/via Tessa)


Anonymous said...

I didn't know migraines have gluten connection. I will look into this for myself as I suffer from them too. Thx

Jana said...

A good friend of mine was able to get rid of her migraines by cutting out wheat too! Off to check out her blog.

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