Like so many people with celiac disease, Elisabeth Hasselbeck of ABC’s The View has a story to tell.
Like so many people with celiac disease, that story involves a long, slow, painful journey from suffering to understanding, to self-empowerment and recovery. In between were periods of confusion, doubt, isolation and malaise. Hasselbeck describes that journey in her new book: The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide.
Hasselbeck’s odyssey began during her sophomore year of college, when she fell ill after returning from a three-week-long trip to Belize. She was diagnosed with a severe bacterial intestinal infection which, her doctor said, was a result of her travels in Central America. The illness put in the school infirmary for nearly a week, with an immensely distended belly and a 103+ fever. Once the initial infection subsided, she was naturally relieved, and thought the worst was over. Little did she know that a long road lay ahead.
As an athlete, Hasselbeck was eager to get back into shape after she was discharged. Her body had other ideas. During this period, she says she felt absolutely ravenous, yet the only dining hall foods that seemed appealing were soft-serve vanilla frozen yogurt and Rice Krispies. Food had lost its appeal.
Hasselbeck grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood in Providence, RI, in a family that prized all things bread and pasta, so she wasn’t about to give up the appetite and food battle without a fight.
However, no matter what she ate nothing satisfied her hunger—and everything seemed to upset her stomach. After nearly every meal, she had the classic bloating, and sharp, gassy pains in her gut that are all too familiar to most celiacs. Cramps, indigestion and diarrhea were familiar companions; sometimes all at once. Often, she would become too tired to move.
It was about this time that she became a contestant on Survivor: The Australian Outback. While enduring the trials of surviving in the outback, Hasselbeck was deprived of her normal, gluten-rich American diet, and forced to subsist on things she would never willingly eat at home. Yet, her symptoms were gone, and she had never felt better. Once she returned to the U.S., she narrowed the scope of her quest. She eliminated nearly everything from her diet and introduced items one at a time.
After nearly forty days basically starving herself, she sought solace in her pre-Australia diet, with dire consequences. After the joy of knowing a healthy, happy gut for the first time in years, she suddenly found herself feeling worse than ever, and spending days in her room, bedridden, save for urgent trips to the bathroom.
She saw a doctor and received a diagnosis of “Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).” Suspicious of what she saw as an acknowledgement of symptoms masquerading as a diagnosis, she began to look for connections on her own.
Fortunately for Hasselbeck, she began to make a connection between the illness she had suffered for so long and the food she was eating. She noticed that when ate starchy foods, her symptoms returned with a vengeance.
An Internet search told her that she might be suffering an adverse reaction to wheat. She quickly moved to eliminate wheat from her diet. Her experience, as so many with celiac disease know all too well, was an educational one, filled with occasional episodes that left her feeling inexplicably ill.
Unable to figure out exactly what was making her sick, she undertook more research and stumbled upon some information about gluten intolerance and celiac disease.
In 2002, after five years of suffering, Hasselbeck diagnosed herself with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition triggered by gluten – the protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
Celiac disease can cause acute damage to the small intestine and the digestive system, and, left untreated, it can leave sufferers at risk for certain types of cancer and other associated conditions. The only known treatment is a lifelong diet free from wheat rye and barley gluten. Once she realized what had been tormenting her for so many long, she set about eliminating all wheat, barley, oats, and rye from her diet.
Still, even after she made her diagnosis, she faced a long line of skeptical doctors. In fact, it was eight years after her symptoms first began until she found a doctor who was willing to listen, and who had answers.
Her move to New York City put her into contact with Dr. Peter Green, the director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, who confirmed what she’d suspected for years: Elisabeth Hasselbeck has celiac disease. After waiting for years for a sensible explanation to her symptoms, Dr. Green was the first doctor to look for the cause, not simply to treat the symptoms. Despite the same mistakes and accidents that most of us celiacs have also experienced, her perseverance paid off in the end and she remains gluten-free to this day.
Reprinted with permission by www.Celiac.com