In honor of Celiac Awareness Month, we interviewed Erica Dermer, celiac advocate, author, and blogger behind Celiac and the Beast, one of our favorite resources for no-nonsense gluten-free chat, reviews, and more. Check out her story below, get some helpful tips for safely eating gluten-free at restaurants, and learn about her exciting new endeavors!
Tell us a little about yourself and Celiac and the Beast.
I'm Erica, better known to some as Celiac and the Beast. I'm a gluten-free blogger that has celiac disease. I come from a marketing/PR and market research background, so I love the business of food and new products and naturally I gravitated to writing about that. But celiac disease is so much more than food, so I really dug into the nitty gritty of the science behind the diagnosis and now have the opportunity to share about all the great research that's going into celiac disease.
When were you diagnosed with celiac disease? What led to your diagnosis?
It's a long, convoluted diagnosis - sadly the way that most people are diagnosed. I got sick one day and never got better. They thought it was a range of things from delayed stomach emptying (gastroparesis), h. pylori, an ulcer, to a broken gallbladder. You name it, they tested me for it. It turns out, it was just celiac that was leading to many of these symptoms that didn't seem to be related. It just took one GI to really pull all the symptoms together and test me the proper way.
What resources did you turn to when first learning to navigate and adhere to a gluten-free diet?
I know none of you will be shocked, but once you're diagnosed, doctors didn't really explain the intricacies of the gluten-free diet to me. They said to say away from wheat and to google it. They gave me a few booklets and sent me on my way. But completely changing your diet requires years of patience, expert knowledge, and real life experience to get it all right. I turned to bloggers - and yeah, it helped, but I feel like I wanted to find a voice like mine - and I couldn't find it. That is why I wrote a book about celiac disease, so when someone else like me was diagnosed, they'd be able to have my book in their hands.
What are some of your best tips for eating out at restaurants, or eating on the go?
Always carry a purse or pocket snack, just in case. Better to be over prepared than under prepared. For dining out, it's all about doing your homework. First, check FindMeGlutenFree.com and narrow down your search. Then use local bloggers for real gluten-free reviews of the places. Then, on your first trip to the new restaurant, really dig into it with the staff. How is the beef patty prepared? Can it be made on a separate and clean pan? Make sure the GF pasta is cooked in new, fresh water. Make sure vegetables are prepared in a new pan with new utensils, etc. If a server can't answer their policies and procedures to you, ask for a manager or a chef - that's your right as a diner! Always ask questions. Always explain to your server that celiac is serious and it needs to be as safe as possible.
What are some of your favorite gluten-free products?
Do we have 100,000 words for this? I love food, and while some still assume that gluten-free food tastes like cardboard or wet dog, I know that we've come a long way, baby. From Bread SRSLY, real sourdough available to those with celiac and food allergies, to gluten-free puff pastry, croissants, vegan pies, and more, literally name something in the outside world and we can find a substitute for it here in the gluten-free world. And if you don't like carbs, then we can't be friends.
What advice do you have for others recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease?
While I want to write a shameless plug for my book, I will say one thing - give yourself patience. You will screw up. You will have to mourn the loss of gluten. You will be sad, and angry, and cry in a lot of grocery stories - but it will get easier.
What’s next for Celiac and the Beast?
I just launched a co-branded site, PunchGlutenInTheFace.com for gluten-free gear that we're stocking daily. People have been begging for me to bring back my Celiac and the Beast merch that we launched in 2012, long before many other bloggers started selling merchandise, but we've been out of the game for a long time. I had a job that I worked at and traveled endlessly for, but now I have more time to focus on the Celiac and the Beast readers and what they want. There's always new stuff on the website and we're having a huge promotion for Celiac Disease Awareness Month full of awesome giveaways. I just always want to stay relevant towards readers, because that's why I do what I do!