how I came to be a gluten-free vegan (my diagnosis with celiac disease)

Hey lovely readers! Who’s ready for a verbose post?

I rarely put personal things on my blog, because I’m kind of (okay, definitely) an introvert, and prefer to keep to myself with many things–but it seems apropos to let you all know a little bit about how I became a gluten-free vegan, right? Lately I’ve been receiving many questions asking me everything from why I only post gluten-free recipes to whether or not I think giving up gluten for those who don’t have celiac disease (or a wheat intolerance or allergy) is a good idea. Since I have never really addressed much on this topic, I figure it may be best to do an entire post about how I came to be a gluten-free vegan.

We can skip past most of my childhood, go over a few details, and jump to when my doc thought that my celiac disease was “triggered”. The funny thing about this condition is that you can have it sitting dormant in your genes for a while, and then something traumatic can bring it on, such an accident or sudden illness.

me as a babe surrounded by my older siblings. the handsome chap in the background is my wonderful late father, Larney.

I had a good childhood: my energy levels were high, my mind in good spirits, my family very loving. I was surrounded by my older siblings and very ambitious parents, guiding me toward the path of a happy, healthy life. My father was my world; when we were together, we just clicked. I always felt as though, no matter how young or naive, my dad treated me as an equal. He’d even humor me in debating whether or not cats were smarter than dogs (a subject that often was exhausted by both of us) and he taught me the importance of compassion–both to other humans and animals. He aided me in fostering strong and happy friendships that I still carry on today–wonderful, solid friendships that may have never formed without his constant willingness to make it happen. My mother, although not around much when I was a kid since she was going to school full-time, was ambitious as hell, and once I was born she was determined to resign her hairdresser nametag and become a doctor. And she certainly did. She inspired me to go after whatever the heck I wanted, and that it was never too late to get started.

Even though most of my childhood was pretty carefree and healthy, I did have a few bouts of sickness, and my medical record was less than perfect (actually it was pretty thick). I had constant strep throat during the winter months, pink eye almost every change of the season, and frequent bumps, cuts, bruises, and broken limbs due to my incurable curiosity and adventurous attitude.

The summer before my Freshman year of high school, I contracted mononucleosis, making me bed-ridden for 3 months straight. Worst summer vacation ever. At this exact time, my own father had just had his leg amputated from his diabetes that caused an infection in his foot. From that moment on, my dad became terminally ill and didn’t really have the drive that he used to. The man who was once my energetic, fun, and inspirational dad, became depressed and his energy plummeted. I was too unsure of myself then to do anything sensible that may have helped him, and I began to mourn the loss of my dad right then. I became more of a recluse and a little rebellious. I kept my grades high in school, but I didn’t want to be there. In a way, I was a typical teen, but I wanted to grow up fast. During my high school stint, I was determined to become “health conscious”, more environmentally aware–more alive. I went vegan, poured myself into making art, and tried to forget that my dad was dying.

You could say that my favorite person in the world–my dear dad–set an example for me at a young age of how not to eat. I would watch him drive an insulin needle into his stomach each morning and each night, following the shot with a cocktail of pills, all the while not changing a single thing about his highly processed, vegetablely scarce diet. He could no longer walk and slowly every organ in his body was failing. This is a controversial topic in my family (whether bad food and sickness go hand in hand), but I’m not ashamed to speak my mind on the matter: I believe food and health are directly related.

At just 15 years old, I alleviated some of my despair of my dad’s rapidly declining health by focusing on my own health, and that of the animals and the planet. I had loved to cook since I was just a little kid, and decided that making vegan versions of all my favorite foods might help both me and my dad–although he was reluctant to eat most anything that wasn’t a steak, burger, tomatoes or potatoes… or certain types of candy. I was so excited about my new discovery of animal free cooking and tried hard to share it with him, but he simply wasn’t interested. He never caught on to my veganism, proclaiming that my diet was too restrictive and unhealthy. I felt defeated by his dismissal of my soy based Alfredo recipe and egg free spice cookies that I had created. At the time, I was eating well, researching nutrition, exercising, and was probably one of the healthiest people in my nuclear family–but, my parents and siblings thought otherwise. A few times during high school, I gave up veganism, but never for long. I always went back, and re-aligned myself with what made me want to become vegan in the first place–mostly because of what my father had taught me about compassion. I guess you could say I was having a bit of an identity crisis in my early to late teens, and I fully accept that it sometimes takes a while to figure out what sits best with one’s own values. I had the facts about veganism, but I also had many loved ones telling me that it was simply not okay to only eat plants. I grew up in the Midwest and veganism was not something that made any sense to most people there—including my family. I pressed on though, dabbling in and out of veganism throughout my teens and into my twenties.

The same month I graduated highschool, I got into a very abusive relationship. Even though I graduated with a 4.0 GPA, and had my sights set on college and grad school, my outlook was not good. The moment I left highschool, my life was full of things no girl should ever have to deal with. By my sophomore year in college, at 20 years old, I had been afflicted with the daily physical and mental abuse by my “boyfriend”, an eating disorder, an unplanned child and the death of my beloved dad. It was a tough ass time in my life. I plugged away though, continuing to go to college, and eventually became a single mom, enrolling my baby in daycare as I worked full-time and finished up my BFA.

After a year or so of dealing with being on my own, both from the loss of my dad, and as a single parent, things started to look up. I started to earn a lot of praise for my hard work from my college professors, I scored an internship with the local art museum, and I was on a path to earning my MFA in studio art, where my most supportive professors believed I could get into any program I wished.  My personal situation was getting better, good even, but my health was getting worse.

When I was in my early twenties, in my last year of college, I contracted meningitis. It was the scariest experience of my life and I am not exaggerating in the least when I say it completely changed me.

As I said, I was single at the time, but I was still looking for the love of my life—I knew he was somewhere out there. I met a very nice guy (a handsome drummer in a metal band with a very long beard and countless tattoos) and we dated for some time. On one of our very last dates we ate our regular noodle house. I ordered Pad Thai (my favorite) and drizzled it heavily with Sriracha (also my favorite… I have many favorites). I will never forget the feeling I had when I left the restaurant. My neck felt heavy and and achy; I thought I maybe had begun to catch the flu. It was February after all, and I hadn’t suffered yet with my usual winter sickness. I drove home where I was greeted by my roommate and a pile of dishes (typical, but hey, no grudges). My roommate wished me goodnight as she had to rise super early for work, and I went off to wash the dishes. It was at this time that I began to feel a headache unlike anything I have ever experienced before. Looking down to do the dishes caused the most excruciating pain in my neck and I began to think something was wrong. I quickly finished up and went straight to bed.

The next morning before class, I had to man my post as a barísta at Barnes and Noble’s cafe. Upon waking up, I noticed my headache had gotten much worse… it was becoming hard to see and very very painful to look down. I got dressed using every ounce of effort I had left in me and drove to work (awesome decision, right?). Luckily my son had stayed the night with my mother, so I didn’t put him in any danger by driving around. By the time I had gotten to work, I must have looked like hell because my boss immediately sent me home. I thought I was experiencing my very first migraine. Not soon after I arrived back home, I noticed that I was losing feeling in my legs, so I lay on my bed and called my mother, unable to support the phone with my own hand. I was terrified. By the time she had arrived my vision was going. Fast.

It only took a couple of hours of waiting in the ER before I went completely blind and my legs felt like they had been set on fire, or at least the parts of my legs I could still feel. I was screaming out loud for help; I couldn’t see anyone, but I could hear people talking in murmurs. After a spinal tap they had determined I had meningitis. I was moved to the Intensive Care Unit and remained there for almost two weeks, unable to see a thing and drugged up beyond belief. By the time I regained my vision, I was not the same person anymore–physically or mentally. Immediately, I had noticed that I had a giant rash on my forehead and my headache was still there, albeit a teensy bit less prominent. As soon as I recovered, or at least, enough to be released with a giant shot of morphine in my butt (which I continued to receive for several weeks), I felt like a switch had been turned on me. I’m not sure what happened, but I called my then boyfriend, invited him to get coffee and broke up with him that day. I chopped off all my long (painstakingly grown out) hair during an art performance piece at school. I fell madly in love with a boy (now my husband), gained and lost friends, and decided that becoming an art teacher and getting an MFA wasn’t what I wanted to pursue, all the while dealing with some very irritating side affects of recovering from meningitis. I graduated from college, kept making art, and set my sights on feeling better. Weekly doctor visits and referrals to specialists became my normal routine. MRIs, CAT scans and multiple blood tests were done over the course of years to try and figure out what was wrong with me.

After five years I was still suffering from the same symptoms I had days after recovering from meningitis. I had trained myself to deal with it day in and day out, constantly searching for answers from my neurologist, my primary care physician, my dermatologist and a few others who came and went over the years. My doctors and those specialists had determined I either had a case of Chronic Meningitis, or was slowly developing Rheumatoid Arthritis. At the time, I didn’t care what diagnosis I was given, I just wanted to feel better. For five years I had suffered daily with excruciating joint pain in my wrists and knees, a terrible rash that took over one third of my face, Dysesthesia of the skin (a randomly located, very painful fiery sensation on the skin caused by a neurological disorder), horrible daily migraines that made me very sensitive to light and noise, sores on the insides of my mouth that never seemed to heal and made it difficult to eat and drink, and pits and grooves all over my fingernails. By the end of my rope, right after I had just started this blog and had my second child, I was at my worst. I had chronic fatigue causing me to nod off at inappropriate times, and my body felt like it was made of lead. My migraines were so bad, I could barely stand to be awake even when I had some energy, and my joints and dysesthesia had gotten so painful that lifting up a pencil and paper was problematic. I honestly believed I was dying. I may have been.

The fortunate thing about that whole mess was that I had plenty of time to peruse blogs, what with my constant lying about on the couch. One of my favorites that I had just discovered was Gena’s blog, Choosing Raw. I’m not sure what made me forget that I truly believed food was thy medicine—perhaps I felt like veganism for me should have been “good enough”—but Gena’s crisp and encouraging writing and sensible advice brought it all back for me. And, a lot of desperation to regain my health gave me the drive I needed to do something different. Days within discovering Gena’s blog, I decided to give “high raw” a try. I honestly couldn’t fathom feeling any worse than I was at the time—and cutting out the baked goods, beer, and buttery spreads seemed like a sensible thing to do. My husband, also troubled by my rapidly declining health, joined me in my effort, to offer support and encouragement.

You guys, I shit you not when I say I was 90% better within a week. After 5 years straight of oftentimes debilitating symptoms, I finally felt fine. Great, in fact! I thought to myself, “this raw food diet is A. MAZE. ING. “  Concurrently, I was seeing a new doctor in the same clinic I had been going to for years, who I was hoping would be the one to finally give me answers. My other doctors just ordered blood tests, found nothing conclusive of what they were looking for, and prescribed me antidepressants and pain pills. After the first few doses, I simply stopped taking them. Once I had been switched to this new doctor, I let her know my concerns, and she immediately agreed to rigorously find some answers.  I had just had a ton of blood tests ordered before I started my self-initiated raw adventure, so when I went in for my follow-up appointment, I had some things to share with my doc, and she had some things to share with me. Serendipitously, my doctor had enlisted the help of a Med Student who was specializing in auto-immune disorders. After seeing my bloodwork, he stated that I either had Rheumatoid Arthritis, or Celiac Disease—as my tests came back indicating so.

He looked me sternly in the eye and said, “If you give up gluten for a few weeks, and your symptoms disappear, then we know what our answer is. If they don’t subside, then we’ll further investigate the possibility of RA. Also, we may want to do a biopsy, although those seem to be only partially effective in diagnosing celiac, and we may need to do it twice.” He mentioned that my bout with meningitis was probably what triggered it.

Although, hearing this was a shock to my system, I quickly rebutted with, “You know, I’ve just realized I’ve been gluten-free unknowingly—I think—for the past 20 days or so. I’ve been eating a mostly raw diet of only fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts, and the only slip ups I’ve had were red wine, hummus and chocolate. Funny thing is, most of my symptoms have completely disappeared. It’s really incredible. ” The Med Student smiled. He knew he had cracked the case.

My doctor looked dismayed, “Well, I have good news and bad news”, she said. “It looks like gluten might be the culprit here, and the bloodwork also supports this, but in order verify, you would have to have a biopsy… which would require you to ingest gluten again for at least 30 days straight–which I’m guessing you don’t want to do. And, there’s still a small chance that the results could be a false negative even if we go through with this.”

I opted out of the biopsy and we agreed to just monitor my health for the next few months. I went home armed only with a pamphlet about celiac disease and a very confused outlook on my new life—my doctor admitted she personally knew very little about the disease and suggest I Google it. Consider it done, doc.

I called my husband; I was crying. I thought my dreams of becoming a vegan cookbook author had died that day. He was thrilled, though. After 5 years of watching me suffer, and over time get worse, the potential to have an answer to my health riddles was a blessing for everyone involved. I personally was devastated, as I had just begun manifest:vegan and gluten was my life. I loved seitan, I loved bread, I loved beer. And I adored, beyond all those things, baking. I wrote a post about having to transition back in 2009, here. But, I don’t think it quite touches on my actual experience with discovering my gluten issue. I’m happy to report that since that one doctor visit, I have only returned a couple more times just to reassure her that everything was back to normal. And I am still okay, aside from some random bouts of dysesthesia when I get stressed, and the darned rash that still marks my forehead.

Today, my diet is admittedly quite different than it was several years ago. Obviously, I’ve cut out all gluten, and my body is so pleased with the change that even minute amounts of the stuff (cross contamination especially) will make my stomach bloat out and a migraine flair up. It’s puts me out for days. I’ve also retained that love for raw foods that I was introduced to a few years back. I’d say I eat a daily intake of 80% raw fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, and 20% cooked foods, usually in the form of baked goods, cooked onions pasta and some form of chickpeas. And I feel fantastic.

I have been blessed with not so great health, but I work with what I’ve got. And, I feel as good today as I did when I was a kid. I’m full of energy again, my mind is clear, and best of all, I don’t dread waking up each day, unable to spend time with the ones I love due to pain or sleepiness.

Now, to the question that may be on everyone’s mind… Do I think that everyone should give up gluten?

No, I don’t. In fact, I envy those of you who can enjoy your vegan pizza delivery, seitan cheesetakes, fresh vegan donuts, and craft beer. But, do think that some of us have an intolerance to the stuff and we may not know it? Definitely. Especially if your experience is at all like mine. There is a significant number of people out there who are suffering from either celiac disease or another type of gluten intolerance and aren’t aware of it. For those of us who have been plagued with pain or other ailments with no real reason as to why, I think giving up gluten (totally, completely, 100% gluten-free) for a while is worth a a shot. And if it doesn’t help, then you’ll know that gluten isn’t a culprit. I’m certainly no nutrition or medical expert, so heed my advice with caution and please consult your physician when considering a dietary change. But, over the years I’ve met many who do have stories like mine. And, maybe some of you can relate as well. That’s why still I blog my [now gluten-free] recipes and write gluten-free vegan cookbooks–so that others, who also need to or choose to give up gluten and don’t know where to start, can find some solace in my “normal looking” recipes.  Although I started blogging to help bring awareness to veganism, I continue to blog to help others who may be in the same boat as me. Since veganism is very much a part of my beliefs, and I’m forced to be gluten-free, I know that it’s often hard to find good recipes that tackle both. So, I’m trying to help as best I can.

Thanks so much to all of you, bloggers, readers, and anyone else who has come into my life during this interesting journey. I hope that you find my story insightful, and for those of you who ask “why vegan and gluten-free?”, I hope this helps explain it.

For those of you who are gluten-free… did you experience anything similar to what I did, or is there another reason altogether you avoid gluten?

What do you non-gluten-free folks think of the rise in “gluten-free” labeling and products now available? I’d love to hear your thoughts. With all the talk about gluten-free in the mainstream these days, I find it fascinating to see how we all got here.











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85 Responses to how I came to be a gluten-free vegan (my diagnosis with celiac disease)

  1. Mélanie Gagnon says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, Allyson. Very moving. I’ve never experienced the intensity of symptoms and health issues you have, but I did struggle with headaches, anemia, a weakened immune system and extra belly fat for many years. For most of my adult life, I flip-flopped between a gluten-free diet (but heavy on meat, dairy and eggs), a vegetarian diet (including gluten and some dairy), and a vegan diet (still including gluten). A year and half ago, after reading The China Study, I became completely vegan for good. I too felt like being vegan should have been “enough”, but it wasn’t. I was still having some health issues. When my naturopath suggested I give up gluten completely for a few month to see what would happen, I agreed. Within a week I felt and looked much better. So I am now a gluten-free vegan! I find the social aspect is quite challenging… but I feel so great, it’s worh it :) One of the first thing I did when I gave up gluten was to google “gluten-free vegan blogs”, and that’s how I found you! I love you blog and a particularly love reading your story. I just ordered your cookbook and I can’t wait to try it out.

  2. Gena says:

    Oh my god, Allyson. I am so behind because of school that I just read this but you almost made me cry. I know you’ve said before that CR was helpful in your diagnosis and healing, but hearing it in your own words touches me more than I can say. I’m speechless. Thank you.

    Food IS medicine. And I am so glad that you have found a diet that loves and heals you.


  3. veganlinda says:

    Love this post! Thanks for sharing your story! We are not gluten-free and my family has never experienced any issues when eating gluten, but we have many friends with a variety of sensitivities/allergies/and celiac disease. I’m happy there are cookbooks and blogs that help me cook for them and things are labeled better than they were years ago. I’m so happy you found your health and it is heartbreaking to hear about your father’s death. I watched my mom die of cancer ten years ago and we had long talks in the hospital about diet and what she would have done differently and how happy she was that I was vegan and raising my child vegan. I appreciate your blog and your openness.

  4. Vanessa says:

    Allyson – first off, thank you for sharing and being so open. I know it is hard to be so honest with your feelings in such a public way. I found your story so encouraging and inspiring. You should be tremendously proud of all that you’ve accomplished and overcome. Certainly not easy. You’ve re-energized my wish to try to be gluten free. I’m not sure if I have an intolerance, but I’ve never been a “spring out of bed” type of person. I’ve always been kind of tired, always. And I wonder if gluten could be the cuprit. But, already being vegan, I tried to be a gluten free vegan and I lasted – 2 days! hah, so I need to try again.

    I went vegan because I lost my best friend to breast cancer last October. Watching her die was the most painful thing. She was only 34 and the most vivacious woman. A few months prior, I saw “Crazy, Sexy, Diet” at her house and started reading it. I started with a 30-day challenge and succeeded, so I stuck with it just out of indecision. Once she died and I did more research, my veganism was affirmed. Fast forward to almost a year later of being vegan, I’m still committed but had been struggling the past few months. My dad just died May 4 out of nowhere – was at a dinner and died of a massive heart attack. He was the healthiest person I knew, and was starting to adopt my vegan diet. Seeing this has yet again reaffirmed my desire to stay vegan.

    Again, thank you for sharing and for inspring so many!

  5. MJ says:

    I enjoyed reading your post on how you became a gluten free vegan. You are a wonderful writer! Thank you so much for sharing not only your experience but for sharing these wonderful recipes! I was so happy to find your blog last night. I have had unexplained tummy issues and headaches for quite a number of years and have decided to go gluten free, and am currently in process of transitioning to a completely vegan diet! Anyway, LOVE your blog!!!!

  6. Geanna says:

    Thanks for posting this. I had years of stomach/intestinal issues growing up and it wasn’t until I had MRSA, was put in the hospital, and found out I would have died within a month had I not gone in that I discovered my Celiac. Ugh. I’m so glad I finally realized it, but it has not come without complications. I obviously can’t eat gluten, and my sensitivity to cross-contamination is out of this world, but there are quite a few other groups of foods that I’m intolerant of as well (legumes, tapioca, and raw garlic and onions, just to name a few), so eating has been – well, let’s just say – fun. There are many times that I curse this disease, but it’s nice to see someone else deal with it in a creative manner and live a happy life.

  7. Lexie says:

    Bravo Allyson, I am so glad you shared this and I feel like I know you even better having read it. You have come a long way babe!! xoLexie

  8. Kelly O'Leary says:

    That was an amazing story thank you for sharing! I too am Gluten Free and Vegan, well pretty much. Four years ago I discovered I have an intolerance for Gluten, wheat, rye, spelt, cows milk, goats milk, eggs, and yest. So pretty much the yummy things in life ; ). My realization came from my boss who told me his story with his allergies which mirrored what I went through. I was chronically ill as a kid, not seriously, but I was constantly congested, it was like I always had a cold. I had terrible acne and I was always bloated. I went to a Naturopathic doctor and had the blood work down to see if I had an allergy. This is when I discovered my sensitivity, it is important to note that my issue is not an allergy, my immune system does not react to this food so it is not dangerous to eat, my body just can’t process it so I don’t feel well. When I stopped eating the foods I was sensitive to I had a huge improvement, my acne was drastically reduced, my hay fever and congestion improved, and my bloating was much better.
    I was a Senior in High School at this point in Montana so Veganism and a focus on healthy eating was not the norm in my community, I became the “hippy” of my small town and started shopping more at the local Co-op because they had the food I could eat. I discovered how fun this food could be because playing with spices and different ingredients can make food more interesting. This became a new issue for me because I learned that feeling bloated and uncomfortable after a meal was what full feels like so I started eating huge portions combined with starting my first year of collage I gained about 10 pounds. I eventually started controlling what I ate so I could understand what being full normally feels like.
    Now I eat very healthy, exercise every day, and lost 15 lbs. I have an amazing partner who is committed to veganism and a low sugar diet and also has a sensitivity to dairy and gluten. Together we have discovered new ways to cook food and, admittedly, cheat a little (I’m a sucker for sushi and he loves pizza). But we both feel amazing since we determined these aspects of our diets and love to eat veggie based meals and feel amazing for it.
    However I agree with you that if you do not need to go gluten free don’t! Bread is delicious! Just try to cut out processed foods and you will feel great!
    I am so excited to read your recipes thank you for your blog!

  9. Allie says:

    Wow, you have been through a lot of tough stuff! I’m glad you are better now! :) Well, I’m a vegan whose been having some stomach issues for a while. So I got the blood test for celiac, and it came back negative. Do you know if the tests are pretty accurate or not?

  10. Drea says:

    I’ve been meaning to comment and thank you for your blog so now seems as good a time as any.
    I switched over to a gluten-free vegan diet earlier this year on advice of my doctor in an attempt to help with the inflammatory response from my mastocytosis. So now I eat gluten, soy, nut-free low-histamine vegan. Or as I so lovingly shorten it, ridiculously restricted. I’ve been able to use or adapt several of your recipes and now have more that I can eat than just plain rice or rice noodles and veggies. Which is a miracle to me. So thank you =D

  11. Leanne says:

    I think it is great that you tell “your story” A great inspiration to everyone! I love reading/hearing peoples stories, everyone has one and I believe they should be shared to help those that need help. I have been nagging my sister for years…literally to be tested for Celiac, and FINALLY she did. She will find out the results in another week, however, even if it comes back negative, I truely believe she has it. She is reluctant to change her diet. I am hoping to get her to read “your story” and hopefully she will start to change her diet.

    I am rather new to following your blog, but what I have seen is GREAT!!! Keep up the awesome work!!

  12. Linda says:

    Thank you for sharing. Been off gluten and sugar for more than a year when I lapsed back to my old ways after a stressful period. Gained weight, belly bloating, foggyness, constant red nose, etc. etc. So much harder to then start again. My new motto as of now, no more gluten.

  13. What a beautiful, raw and honest post. Thank you so much for sharing all of the struggles you’ve endured. I’m so very glad that you are such a survivor– truly, you are inspirational! Keep up the great work.

  14. Vegan says:

    You should be very proud of yourself because you are very tough woman. You are a very good inspiration to all who are going through rough times. Keep those recipes coming and keep inspiring!

  15. Wow, I had no idea Celiac’s disease could have such extreme effects on the body, definitely opened my eyes. You are an incredibly strong and determined woman, when most people may have given up on accomplishing things in life, you always found away to thrive. I really appreciate you sharing all this even though you’re not normally comfortable in doing so, it’s very inspirational and it may help someone who is going through something similar to what you were.
    I personally have no aversions to gluten, but I stumbled across your blog and was drawn to your beautiful photography and delicious looking recipes. I have to say that I’m so glad I found you as I’ve been blown away by your creations, being a tester for you has taught me so much about gluten-free cooking. Plus, you are a talented writer and an all around beautiful person. Don’t ever stop what you do best :)

  16. Rebecca Stahr says:

    Wow… We have some similarities to our stories. Thank you for sharing my fellow introverted, gluten-free, vegan, artist :)

  17. Kathy Patalsky says:

    Such a wonderful post Allyson. Thank you so much for sharing that. Very beautifully written too. I linked to this post in today’s pancake post on my blog. xoxoxo love your blog as always :) ~kathy

  18. Janae Wise says:

    Allyson, thanks for sharing your story.

    I’m not Celiac (never been tested), but through a series of trial & error, discovered I feel much better without wheat in my diet. This includes many vegan foods like seitan, which I’ve had on a few times since I went mostly gluten-free 6 months ago.

    My daughter has a sensitivity to wheat & so do I, so a wheat-free (nearly gluten-free) diet is what’s in the cards for she & I. I feel better & don’t have to deal w/ sluggishness or gastrointestinal issues. I have many food intolerances, so being vegan as well as eating a gluten-free diet is one that makes most sense to me.

    Thank you for sharing your story, you’re an amazing woman!

    • allyson says:

      Thanks so much, Janae. I’m glad you are finding relief through a dietary change. Here’s to both and happiness for you and your daughter. :)

  19. Thank you for sharing your story. I know it’s weird to be so self-disclosing on a blog, but these posts really speak to people, so I thank you for taking the risk. You’re an inspiring and strong lady and we’re all so happy your path led you to the healthy food blog world. : )

  20. tiffany says:

    I just wanted to let you know how inspirational you are!! I have been veg for a long time but, recently, my partner discovered that he (and his daughter) have a serious gluten intolerance (and dairy, as well)….I really didn’t know what to do…I’ve never personally had an issue with gluten and had no familiarity with cooking gluten free….I love to cook…I always have…It’s one of the ways that I show people that I love them….And I became increasingly discouraged and depressed at my lack of ability with this new lifestyle….my partner has been amazing about adopting a more veg lifestyle since I have come into his life, but, how I have made that transition easier for him is to be able to make vegan versions of his favorite foods….To try to incorporate gluten free into that seemed, well, insurmountable…most gluten free sights I visited were heavy on chicken, fish and eggs….things that I am simply not willing to incorporate back into my life….Then I found your blog….and it changed our lives….I have made I can’t tell you how many recipes from your sight…all to the delight of my family…they love the food and so do I….reading your blogs and recipes have given me back my love and inspiration of cooking…I recently purchased your cookbook and upon it’s arrival, my partner looked through it and picked out all the recipes he wanted to try first….he is a die hard baked goods fan and seeing all of the amazing recipes for cookies, donuts, muffins and even bagels made him swoon….I am thrilled about the g/f pasta recipe….I can’t wait to try it….thank you for your blog, your cookbook and for sharing your story with us….Without it, who knows where I’d be….

  21. Josiane says:

    Oh, Allyson! Thank you so much for sharing your story! I do believe that it will help a lot of people. As you know, I was reading your blog simply because I was enjoying it, and not because I had to eat gluten-free… until about a month ago, when I realized that all those new symptoms that had started cropping up miraculously disappeared as soon as I decided to try going gluten-free. I’m sure there are other people like me out there, and if this post is the thing that tips them off as to what might be happening to them, well, that’s extremely valuable.

    Big hugs for all the hard you had to go through. I have no trouble believing you when you say that the meningitis episode was terribly scary. And then, the decline in health that followed… Hard. I’m so glad to know that this is all behind you, and that you’re back to feeling good.

    You know, I’m really happy that you didn’t abandon your dream of writing cookbooks after you’ve learned you had to give up gluten. There are tons of terrific vegan cookbooks out there already. For those of us who have this additional restriction to deal with, yours are (plural! there’ll be more than one! yay!) a true blessing.

    (My answer to your email is coming soon – things have been busy, but I’ll get to it as soon as possible, I promise!)

    • allyson says:

      I’m sending big hugs right back atcha, Josiane. <3 No worries on the email either! I tell you, I am quite behind on those myself right now! :) Thank you so much for your kind words… always!

  22. Liz s. says:

    What a fabulous post, very moving. I am so happy that you were able to find the answer to your sickness. I am new to your blog and understanding were you came from adds a lot as a reader.

  23. Vegyogini says:

    Holy wow, Allyson! I always knew you were a phenomenal human being, but I had no idea the extent of what you have been through in your life. Thank you for being transparent about your journey. You are SO courageous! I’m in awe.

    As you know, my mom has Celiac, so I’m very pleased that there is extensive labeling available for her (and for you and for all others who are gluten sensitive). I do find myself hearing many non-gluten-sensitive people talking about eating GF because they think it’s healthier. To those people in particular, I tell them that the reality is if they’re not gluten sensitive, there’s no reason for them to eat GF bread instead of whole grain bread (for example). I feel that, as with almost every new food issue that comes up, there is so much misinterpretation of information. If Dr. Oz talks about GF food, next thing I know, I have someone on my floor at the office eating GF bread for no reason other than because Dr. Oz said so. I do a lot of educating around here and, honestly, I’m quite happy to do it. I have to say, though, I wish veganism would take off the way that these other new food issues take off, but people still seem to associate it with being “too hard.” That’s where we all come in to lead by example and show how easy and delicious vegamism is…GF or not!


    • allyson says:

      Yes yes yes on the food trends and misinformation! Ugh. Your coworkers are all so lucky to have you to help put things in perspective! Thank you also for your kind words… you are WAY too sweet! Big hugs your way, missy. :)

  24. Allyson, Thank you so much for opening up and sharing. You are one strong woman. It’s stories like yours that will help others pursue nutrition in order to get healthy or heal themselves. My son is sensitive to gluten and gets stomach pain when he eats it.

  25. Ali says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Allyson, and I also have been nodding my head a lot reading all the comments! My celiac “awakened” after a bad fall combined with an emotionally traumatic experience, but it took 2 years of doctors thinking I had rheumatoid arthritis, lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia before it finally got figured out. I have two questions:
    1. is there somewhere on the internet I can see more of your art? I love the image included in this post and want to see more of what you do!
    2. I am visiting Philadelphia later this month and will be staying downtown. We already have a reservation at Vedge, but do you have any other recommendations for safe places to eat for more casual meals?

  26. Lucy says:

    Wow, amazing and moving story. I have a question about your pitted nails. I suffer from a few of the symptoms you are talking about (although nowhere near as extreme as what you’ve described), but pitted nails is one of them. I’m curious if these went away/improved when you became gluten-free?

  27. Polly says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have been vegan for some time now and have started to notice (in my 20s) a slight gluten intolerance that has ramped up full force with migraines and endless tummy woes. I appreciate you and all that you do to assist myself and others in our vegan/GF journey! peace.

  28. Ashley says:

    What a beautiful post and thank you for taking the time to write this post to explain the answer to the question that was given. I feel for you on how your health was bad and no one could give you an answer, I have been in the same shoes with something different. I don’t talk about nor write about it on my blog because I still suffer from it. I’m shy and scared to talk about what has happen to me because no one would understand ; from my illness I became allergic to eggs and diary right away. So I went vegan automatically even though I was making that change already. Two years later I started to get migraines all the time and I was always bloated , my doctor told me to take medicine for my migraines. I did and it didn’t help , she had no answer another 6 months later I decided to cut down my gluten. Long be hold my migraines stop and the bloating has gone down.

    So this post was helpful and touching to hear that your doing some much better than in the early 2000′s. It always gives me hope that one day I can explain why I have my food allergies.

  29. Ricki says:

    Allyson, what an amazing story! And kudos to you for persevering. It always amazes me that doctors can miss such a diagnosis in the 21st century–I mean, they’re the DOCTORS, right? Maybe it’s because I know so many people with celiac and gluten issues, but I always thought it was a much more well-known condition, I guess. I’m so glad that things worked out for you and that you’re now able to put your energies into your blog, cookbooks, art, and all the other creative expressions that your readers get to enjoy! :)

  30. Christine says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! Your blog was truly a lifesaver for me when I realized that I could no longer eat gluten. As a vegan, adding on another limitation was incredibly scary and I didn’t see how it would ever be possible. But your recipes and your stories truly gave me hope and inspiration and brought bagels back into my life! :-) Much like you, I had a long list of health issues that quickly resolved when I eliminated gluten. It was like waking up for the first time and feeling light on my feet.

    Friends often ask if I’m ever tempted to eat something with gluten, but it’s a no-brainer for me: never ever! And with your recipes it’s easy for me to show them that vegan + gluten free = deliciousness! In fact, your new cookbook just arrived in the mail on Tuesday and I can’t decide what to try first! So thank you again!

  31. Michele says:

    I am truly inspired by your story. I can relate to what you wrote about your dad. I was a true daddy’s girl too, until I lost him at the start of my senior year of high school. He died of lung cancer 2 years after open heart surgery. His diet and stress levels were awful, which I see now that I look back older and wiser.

    Because of losing him so early on, I’ve been hyper focused on all things health related over the years, though I never could stick with it for long periods. I’ve had chronic migraines since I was a teenager, and being now in my 40s, that’s a long time…

    It wasn’t until last year I had formal testing done and confirmed I had a gluten intolerance (not celiac) as well as several food allergies. I was making myself sick every time the fork went to my mouth! Just over one year now, I have been a gluten-free, high-raw vegan, and I am so much better I intend to never go back! I struggled at first because being gluten free AND vegan eliminates a lot of old favorite foods and you almost have to learn from a blank slate. That’s how I found your blog, from desperately trying to figure out how to do this.

    So, thank you so much for your contribution to others in this situation! We need all the ideas, inspiration and encouragement we can get. And, I’m so glad that you have found wellness in your difficult journey.

    Blessings on the rest of your healthy life :)

  32. Laura says:

    Thank you for opening your heart and sharing your story. You will save lives by doing so. My journey to GF vegan isn’t as dramatic, but I feel SOOO much better. AND, I just received your cookbook from Powel Books and eager to get started with it. Learning to cook all over again has been fun and touches a creative part of my soul. Learning to travel GF vean is going to be another matter and something I’ll be doing several times this fall — to family, to conferences. Please post any suggestions you have (especially the family part!). Thank you for what you do.

  33. Cheryl Anne says:

    Allyson, from one introvert to another, thank you for sharing how you came to be a GF V. Long story short, an optic nerve infection as a child and the related consequences set my Mom and Gram on a course to understand what else could be affecting me. Enter allergies – lots of them including wheat, soy, dairy. Fast forward to the end of 2011, when my husband & Mom agreed to a gluten free kitchen (with my husband’s occasional Sapporo or Guinness making an appearance in the fridge, but there’s no chance of it contaminating anything). Life is uber-better for me being GF.

  34. valerie s. says:

    Yes, thanks so much for your story. What a load off, eh? I was not the healthiest kid either, allergies, earaches, headaches, constipation. Mid twenties I developed a “belly”, could never lose it no matter how much I dieted. Enter eating disorder. And then a diagnosis of hypothyroidism. Severe migraines. Got my act together, started eating healthier, flirted with becoming a vegan, like you, always thought the right foods would make me feel better. I began paying attention to what foods made me feel good vs. bad. Always felt good eating fruit and veggies, bad after eating pasta, pizza, eggs, chocolate. Thank goodness for blogs like yours! I’ve been reading all I can about gluten intolerance (no health insurance, so no tests for me). I eliminated gluten and I feel SO much better. It all makes so much sense to me, all the health problems I’ve had and to finally feel healthy, I want to cry! I’m in my mid fifties, hope it’s not to late for me, to repair the damage that’s been done in my life time. Got to stay positive. Oh, and after reading your post, I’ve decided to go vegan once and for all. Thank you, Allyson. Oh and I almost forgot, I finally lost the “belly” after losing gluten!

  35. Thank you for sharing your story, Allyson! And I apologize in advance for the novella-length reply I’m about to leave. I guess I, too, am in a sharing mood.

    Although my experience has not been nearly as harrowing as yours, I’ve had many of the classic Celiac symptoms in the past: mental fogginess, heightened environmental allergies, lethargy, fatigue, chronic GI distress, acute and severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies, headaches… Flare ups off and on since I was in my teens led to a generic and all-encompassing IBS diagnosis, and then ulcerative colitis. A severe flare up in April 2011 led to a tentative diagnosis of Celiac disease. My GI specialist made me aware that 1) a negative diagnosis was quite possible, 2) I should begin avoiding gluten immediately (and track all changes in my diet, symptoms, etc), and 3) if I tested negative but my symptoms were relieved by going gluten free, she would ultimately leave it up to me to decide whether or not to do a gluten challenge. My symptoms resolved themselves over the next few weeks (most of them within days), and she and I decided to do a grain-specific challenge with spelt, barley, rye, and wheat after I had been gluten free for 10 months.

    Long story short, I am only allergic/intolerant to wheat. However, my husband has a severe autoimmune disease that has seen some relief since our entire family went GF over a year ago, so I only rarely use spelt, barley or rye.

    I also grew up in the Midwest, surrounded by naysayers and skeptics. Fortunately, my father was a dietician and helped me with long-term meal planning so that I had adequate/balanced nutrition. He’s not vegan, but he knew animal protein was not an option I would consider and did his best to be supportive. The rest of my family . . . not so much. Even when plagued by heart disease and reproductive cancers (THREE generations of my maternal relatives are BRCA positive) they refuse to concede that there is any relationship whatsoever between diet and illness. When I married a non-vegan who went 95% vegan of his own accord, there were a couple of near-strokes, let me tell you! Which is nothing compared to what happened when we chose to raise our daughter vegan . . . oh, but that is another story for another day.

    Going gluten free changed my and my husband’s quality of life, but I do want to add just one thing. While I do believe that many gluten allergic or gluten intolerant people are finding relief without being diagnosed, it is SO IMPORTANT that one does not assume that their symptoms were only related to gluten. So many diseases/conditions are exacerbated by gluten that going GF can result in a false sense of security if there is another underlying health issue. This was the case for my husband – and if we had not pursued diagnosis and additional treatment for his autoimmune disease, well – things would be pretty grim for him in the long term.

    Again, thank you for sharing your experiences, and for generating this discussion!


    P.S. Just received my tester copy of GGFGE and my husband is having trouble deciding how many things he wants my daughter and I to make him for Father’s Day . . . I think it will be a weekend-long celebration and cook-a-thon!

  36. wow, thank you so much for sharing this. what a beautiful and honest post. Meningitis oh my GOSH!! i’ve never actually heard a first hand account of what it was like. holy cow. Thanks again for the courage to share your health journey.

  37. Jason Sherrett says:

    That was a very inspiring story, thank you so much for sharing with all of us. I have recently just started my own journey, switching over to a vegan diet as a result of health issues that suddenly started cropping up. In fact, I am currently investigating whether or not I may have “gluten intolerance”, which is by no means as serious as your experience but still affects my quality of life. Glad to know that you got it all figured out and are feeling better now. Gives me inspiration! Keep up the blogging, I’m loving it.

  38. Laurel says:

    What a beautiful, amazing, dreadful yet awe inspiring story. You are so brave for telling it in such great detail. I too suffered from chronic infections while younger, had mono in high school, have always had food problems and neurological symptoms, been diagnosed with RA, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, been chemically poisoned, metal poisoning and that’s totally enough for me for now. Going gluten, dairy, corn,egg and soy free has helped although not become a miracle cure unfortunately. I think the earlier you go gluten free, the less chance you have of sustaining permanent damage.
    You are a beacon of light and a blessing for all who know you.

    • allyson says:

      Laurel, I think you are totally right about catching it early on. I can’t imagine what shape I’d be in today if I didn’t figure out my troubles a while back. It’s terrible that you’ve suffered so long… but, a small silver lining is that I am glad we connected over all this food intolerance stuff. Happy as heck to know you. <3 <3 <3

  39. Caitlin says:

    well, lady, you know how i feel about you. you were the very first blog i ever followed and you will always be my favorite. during a time when i was learning to feed myself and my husband, both gluten-free and vegan, you were my refuge, my go-to girl. i think if it weren’t for your baked goods, dayv would have had a much harder time making the transition. “i may not want to eat this quinoa bowl, but afterwards i get to eat 3 cookies!” score.

    you also made me understand all of my symptoms before i went gluten-free. i had never known what dysesthesia was, all i knew was i would suffer from a painful tingling of my left arm up to my face for days at a time(along with the digestive issues and massive headaches). i truly empathize with your statements “I had trained myself to deal with it day in and day out…I honestly believed I was dying. I may have been.” i remember saying to my mom “how can i live like this for the rest of my life? how can i have a full-time job when i feel like i’m dying..” but, doctors said i was fine. no..i’m not!

    i decided to go gluten-free on my own after i realized that doctors just weren’t helping and since then, i have never had dysethesia, even though towards the end i had it at least 50% of each week. and all my other symptoms have gone away as well.

    thank you for being who you are and being such a shining light to help me(and others) who are on this gluten-free vegan journey. to help us feel like we aren’t alone in our (previous) suffering. and that nothing is as bad as it seems. to making the best of the worst situations.


    • allyson says:

      Dayv is very lucky to have such a lady in his life. I’m glad we both found a solution to our problems… as hard as the journey to get there was! <3 <3

      cheers to good health!

  40. Wow, Allyson. I just want to say thank you for sharing all this. What an incredible story you have…makes me love and admire you even more.

  41. Taylor says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have been following your beautiful blog for a while now and I had no idea that you went through all of that. I frequently have digestive issues as does my mom and she just labels it as “IBS” which basically means “I don’t know”. I am a medical student and I asked one of my professors about the gluten free craze. He did agree that some people without Celiac might have a gluten intolerance and that everyone just has to do with what feels right for their body. I am interested in trying it for a few weeks to see if any of my symptoms go away. Thank you for this inspiring story! xo

  42. Amelia says:

    Hi Alyson

    Thank you so much for this and for your amazing recipes. I am over the moon that your book is finally available.

    Like you I also had continuous health problems that turned into a nightmare when I got sick when vacationing in China and had to be hospitalized in Hong Kong. The doctors were stumped as they had no idea what was wrong with me (no pathogens causing the endless diarrhea). After that I had another couple of episodes like this, again whilst travelling overseas. Then one day I finally had a light bulb moment while researching various possibilities on the internet. It was the gluten! I had been on a mostly gluten-free diet, which I abandoned whenever I traveled as it was difficult enough finding vegan food, let alone gluten-free vegan.

    I ordered myself a book on celiac disease, and sure enough I had so many of the symptoms that it seemed unlikely that it was merely a gluten intolerance issue. I went completely gluten-free and all the symptoms disappeared. My doctor agrees that it is probably celiac, although I haven’t been willing to go back on gluten to get the tests done – I cannot even bear the thought of getting that sick again!

    Your blog has been a light in my life and I adore your recipes and beautiful photographs. The only problem is that I cannot get a hold of some of the ingredients that you use where I am, but I try to substitute as best I can.

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    • allyson says:

      it sounds like we have a LOT in common, there, Amelia! I’m so glad you find my blog to be a help–hopefully someday all these elusive ingredients will become better available worldwide… plus, subbing can be lots of fun. :)

  43. Kaitlyn says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’ve been suffering from several ailments since I was a kid including pretty bad scoliosis, anemia, and chronic strep throat. Even since adopting a healthy, then vegan, then more raw diet, I’ve still suffered some of these things, plus dry eyes, clinically low estrogen, and recently digestive trouble. The digestive trouble seems to come about when I eat gluten, but my diet is fairly low in gluten to begin with. My GI said they did a Celiac’s test, but I couldn’t find it on my bloodwork and I don’t think I would get a positive result anyway given the little gluten I eat. For now, I’ve decided to become a gluten-free vegan and I haven’t had a bout of GI trouble since.

  44. Sara (veggieecolife) says:

    You are wonderful!
    It was a touching story to read and I think you have to be a strong person to go through this all and still be so inspirational and friendly.
    The funny thing is that I was following your blog for about half a year till I realized everything was GF. Your recipes stay amazing.

  45. jessica says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your story with us, Allyson. What a miraculous, healing journey your life has been. What a gift it is to find a simple solution for a slew of dreadful health issues! I have had a similar experience myself- years of horrible stomach problems- cramps, trouble in the bathroom, and extreme bloating to the point I have been asked if I am pregnant more times than I can count and skin rashes! I went to so many doctors and specialists and had tons of blood work and GI tests done- and tried every (vegan) diet under the sun- to no avail. I guess I am not technically diagnosed with Celiac’s – It was not until I cut out the gluten and started eating a higher-raw diet that I found relief from literally ALL of my issues. And it has been an incredible journey!

    Not to mention, I am constantly amazed at your talent and skill with cooking, recipe development and photography, but have always wanted to learn a little more about YOU. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I wish you nothing but continued health and encourage you to continue sharing your message with others. You are such an inspiration and a beacon of positivity in the blogiverse (and probably in real life too!)

    • allyson says:

      Aw, Jessica!! We could be the non pregnant pregnant twins. haha. I swear if I had a quarter for all the times I’ve been asked “when are you due?!”, after being accidentally glutened, I’d be a rich lady. It’s so embarrassing!

      Sounds like you and I have a lot in common in this arena. I had no idea! I’m so glad you finally are feeling better! Thank you for sharing, and you are such a sweetie for your kind words. <3 <3 The best part about it is that I get to connect with others going through similar things… people and their situations that I never would have known about had I not started reading blogs. It truly is a comfort to know I’m not alone out there. Back before I started blogging, I definitely felt pretty isolated and “unique” so to speak. :) Not anymore.

      Cheers to good health, Jessica!

  46. Deanna says:

    Wow – you really went through a lot! I had declining health – days and days where I’d come home and curl in a ball due to the pain in my stomach & years and years of battling depression and allergies. And, I had no idea gluten was the culprit until I went off it. But, I wasn’t nearly as sick as you.

    I think that most people could probably benefit from less gluten in their lives, though I don’t think everyone should go gluten-free.

    • allyson says:

      ehhhh, so you were one who had to battle the stomach issues… I’m sorry! That’s awful. Mine was mostly neurological UNTIL i went gluten-free. Now my stomach is the one that revolts when gluten is accidentally ingested, but prior to that I never had any issues gastrointestinally–or at least I didn’t notice them. I’m so glad you figured it out, though! Are your allergies totally gone now as well?

      Fascinating, thank you for sharing.

  47. erinwyso says:

    What a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing your story. Very well written and I must admit it made me tear up at a few places. I love how you turn obstacles into opportunities and transform pain into art. You are one of my “blog idols”! Always love seeing your work.

    • allyson says:

      Aw, Erin…. Thank you! You are seriously one of my blog idols as well, so it’s very lovely to hear this from you. Thank you for reading :)

      hugs and love,
      <3 allyson

  48. K says:

    Omg that sounded really dreadful.

    I had a positive bood test and then a negative biopsy but my doctor told me to try going gf for 6 weeks and restest blood test and sure enough my levels went down so a new specialist had me go back on gluten for another biopsy which I thought was stupid but sure enough it was positive. It took about a year of tests to get to that point. I’m not sure what made the disease active one day, no major illness or accidents though and no issues really before then. In fact my first blood test was done on a day when I called in ‘sick’ but wasn’t actually sick.

    • allyson says:

      wow. now, your story is very interesting! come to think of it, I know a few others who never had anything traumatic bring it on for them either. What a mysterious disease, huh?
      I definitely got very tired of all the testing–not to mention I was starting to feel like I had a second home in that darned doctors office and lab– so I never went back for that biopsy… but what a great thing that yours finally came back positive. The tests are so confusing with all this stuff, and I know my own docs were getting fed up with all the answers they weren’t quite getting. :) I am thankful that the awareness for this is spreading, though. I think back when I was suffering through all of this, celiac, or gluten intolerance in general just wasn’t very common, so docs didn’t really investigate it much. I’m guessing (or hoping!) it’s different today…

  49. mia says:

    wow, I just read your post and you are such a strong inspiring woman!!!
    you are amazing!



    • allyson says:

      Hi Mia,

      Aw, thank you for such a nice comment and for reading this long post! :) You are a real sweetheart…

      <3 <3 Bisous <3 <3

  50. Renee says:

    I enjoyed your blog. I have been vegan about 2 years I think, maybe longer. GF almost two years. I find I get very anxious when it comes to eating out. Not many choices and always afraid I will get glutened and feel sick for days after.

    I hope to continue a conversation in an email. Thank you for being who you are and helping others like me.

    I follow you on Twitter.

    • allyson says:

      Hi Renee! Yes, please email me anytime.: allyson @ Thank you for reading and especially for commenting here. I completely feel you with being scared to go out to eat… it’s a toss up a lot of times, and I have had my fair share of being glutened, and it is never fun!