The Tale of an ATL Gluten-Freer

To explain just why I’ve taken upon myself the task of creating a gluten-free lifestyle guide for my fellow Atlantans, I’ll need to explain how two separate paths in my life—living in Atlanta and my gluten-free diet—have become inextricably interconnected.  My first journey, in its 23 year entirety, has taken me from the Southwest all the way to North Africa and Spain; then from one of the biggest urban playgrounds in the Middle East back to the Big Peach. And at the end of my latest sojourn in Amman, Jordan for half a year on business, I bought a one-way ticket to Atlanta in hopes of finally settling permanently.

Why Atlanta?

Of all the places I’ve lived in the world, Atlanta is, quite simply, the best. But don’t buy such reasoning, dull and cliché as it is, just because you read it in a blog; Atlantans know this to be a fact and are proud of it, rightfully so. We—meaning both purebred and non-natives–inhabit a colorful, complex, and very, very humid city that offers a billion different things to do, see, eat, touch, try, cheer on, muse at, and gaze upon while simultaneously retaining its distinctly Atlanta-y character throughout. Whether you are choosing one beer among hundreds on the menu at Brick Store Pub in Decatur or making the difficult final decision under the big umbrella at the King of Pops cart, we are faced with a whole lot of excitingly different artistic, culinary, musical, and porch-sippin’ options everywhere we go. (And I’m DELIGHTED to cite these examples, among many others, due to their abundance of gluten-free options!)

But enough about Atlanta; let me catch you all up to a concurrent story in my life, and consequently, personal motivation for doing this blog, that began several years ago.

My kitchen usually looks like the outcome of a tornado in the produce aisle

I have always been an active and healthy person, and I take enormous pride in healthy eating habits. Some of my friends snicker when they point out the residual wheat grass juice on my lip or will even question my general state of well-being in sincere perplexity when I pull out bags of bell peppers and grapefruits to eat when everyone else is having McDonalds. So when I came down with what I at first thought was a very prolonged and especially painful case of the flu during the summer of 2009, my world began to fall apart. Healthy eating, an experience I thoroughly enjoy and savor, was losing its appeal and eventually became impossible. Over the course of several months, I lost 40 pounds, lost my appetite completely and experienced many other bad symptoms that I won’t publish on a blog that concerns itself with the kitchen and the dinner table. Suffice it to say, I was really, really sick.

Long story short, I was eventually diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. It is an autoimmune disorder without a proven cause or cure that occurs when your body’s immune system essentially goes haywire and continuously assaults healthy tissue in the intestines and colon. Crohn’s along with Colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome were all things I knew little about prior to my diagnosis, yet recent estimates have suggested somewhere around 15% of all Americans have one of them. And unfortunately, Crohn’s Disease, specifically, tends to be diagnosed at a very high rate in adolescents and young adults. It is still unbelievable when I consider how many friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances have come to me in just the last three years asking for guidance after a recent diagnosis for themselves or someone close to them.

And yet after these past three years, many different medicines, a variety of diets, some sick days but many great days, 35 pounds gained back, and several half marathons under my belt, here I am! My experience has been one wrought with anxiety, fear and hopelessness in the beginning only to be overshadowed by the positivity and self-empowerment of knowledge, great healthcare and many great friends and resources. Although I still occasionally have mild flares every once in awhile, and the cure is yet elusive, I wake up most mornings and feel like I have control over my disease (and medicinal advancements in the past several years alone are very promising).

So now, the final connection: living and loving gluten-free life in my mid-twenties in Atlanta.

To most, gluten-free is a term associated with Celiac disease. It is really, really important to mention at this point that I do not have Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten, that causes sufferers to have a range of reactive symptoms when gluten is introduced to the gut. But before all of you Celiacs out there roll your eyes, let me at least try to explain why a non-Celiac is doing adhering strictly to a GF diet!

The emergence of the gluten-free diet trend has gained serious momentum in very recent years, as most of you Celiacs are very happily aware of. And while recent research and opinions have promoted the gluten-free diet as a viable management plan for an array of disorders and ailments including Autism, chronic fatigue syndrome and even weight loss, a gluten-free diet is the only medically acceptable treatment for Celiac. As for everything else, we will have to wait and see. While gluten-free options are becoming more widespread and interesting by the day, much more research is needed to determine whether these claims are bogus or actually worthwhile leads on veritable medical benefits. This blog in no way endorses any unproven medical claims, and you should ALWAYS consult your medical provider (and not the Internet, no matter how convincing it may seem…) before you make any drastic nutritional changes. After years of trying out many things with the supervision of a doctor and nutritionist to ease some of the pain and relieve symptoms, eating gluten-free (and very strictly wheat-free) for me has made me feel better overall. In short, I will testify that it has given me a better quality of life, and for me, and ME ONLY, this blog endorses a gluten-free diet. Others with Crohn’s, Colitis, IBD or any other digestive or even some skin issues, the best thing you can do is to talk to a doctor. Or even better, talk to several. And be brutally honest. Our culture worships food only until it is swallowed, then the rest is really just, well, bathroom talk. My favorite doctor, and subsequently one with whom I was most comfortable talking, always starts off doctor visits with bathroom-related jokes. Get what I’m saying?

So for all of you Celiacs and everyone else that has found gluten-freedom to be a healthy and empowering lifestyle choice, I’m on board with you. I’m attempting to create a go-to resource for navigating gluten-free Atlanta, whether out on the town dining, pushing a cart down the aisle at Kroger, or in your kitchen trying to prepare something that everyone, including non gluten-freers, will love. In doing so, I am discovering new foods and combinations of ingredients, new restaurants, new people and, yes, new drinks too! As much joy as I take out of this, I hope I can spread the love and help all gluten-freers in Atlanta see what I’m seeing. There’s no better time to be gluten-free in Atlanta than now!

Lastly, I am MORE than happy to help out anyone seeking doctors, nutritionists, or more information on Celiac, Crohn’s and Colitis, IBD and gluten-free specifics. Email me: jackfrogers1444@gmail.com

And below are a couple resources to start out with:

CELIAC http://www.celiac.org/

CROHN’S, COLITIS AND IBD http://www.ccfa.org/

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