Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Gluten Free Health Challenge: Meet Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, Team Strawberry

Yesterday, you met Drew Parisi, certified nutrition consultant and nutrition educator.
Today, meet Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, Health Coach for Team Strawberry.

Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, known online for her gluten free blog, Celtic Celiac, is a licensed social worker (LMSW) who tackled her own diagnosis of Celiac Disease with the same strength she gives to her clients. Georgianna has a passion for addressing medically restrictive diets from a psychosocial perspective. She is determined to assist individuals living with restrictive diets in understanding and taking hold of their conditions. Georgianna strives to help her clients understand that a restrictive diet doesn't have to limit them. She provides education, empowerment, coaching, and advocacy services, helping clients to live their lives to the fullest.

Georgianna recently decided to combine her social work background with her first hand knowledge of the gluten free diet. As a gluten free lifestyle coach, she brings a unique perspective to her role as a coach with her extensive background in medical and behavioral research, as well as her strong interest in policy, community and group work, and public health. She is currently chief editor, board member, and a staff writer for Social Justice Solutions Incorporated.

Want to know more about Georgianna? Here's how she answered my questions:

What prompted you to shift to a gluten free diet? After seven years of multiple physical, emotional/psychological, and gastrointestinal symptoms, I took the advice of a friend and pressed my doctor to test me for Celiac Disease. The results came back positive and I have been gluten free ever since.  

Can you explain your food philosophy? I believe that food, in its natural state, is a primal means of fulfillment, connection and balance. Physically, it fills our hunger and provides us with the nutrients we need to live. It has a means of nurturing and healing our body if used correctly. Emotionally, it has a hold on us. It is the binder that connects our "two brains," our brain and our gut. Too much or too little of a good thing not only influences how our body feels but also our mind. Socially, it sustains many of our cultural identities, and is the focus of almost all social gatherings. In addition, it connects us to the world around us. It was the thread that held together communities, brought strangers out of their houses to the market, and the reminder that the world we live in is our source of nutrients. 

Ultimately, food sustains us as individuals and as a culture, yet this is only true if our relationship with food is balanced. We have a habit now of focusing on overabundance, over processing, and mass marketing food in a way we never have before. We've lost sight of food's true purpose and have made it into a commodity accessible by some and out of reach by others. As a result, our relationship with food is skewed, often negatively. Sticking with fresher ingredients, cooking food ourselves, and minimizing processed and non-local foods is a great way to regain a positive relationship with food. I feel that having to follow a gluten free diet has actually helped me to develop a healthier relationship with food and get back the fulfillment, connection, and balance that was lacking before. My goal is always to help my clients do the same.  

What one recipe would you recommend to someone who doesn't like vegetables? I would recommend kale or radicchio chips, baked greenery with oil and spices. Simple to make, flavorful, and complete with a good crunch akin to potato chips, these are a great way to start incorporating vegetables. Kale chips are likely the best choice for someone who absolutely hates vegetables, as radicchio has a bolder taste. 

What's your go-to snack when you're out of the house? At any time you can find about 2-4 bars in my bag for a go-to snack. I especially enjoy the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Larabars.  

Favorite go-to meal when you're tired: If I have energy to prep, I like vegetable dishes. I enjoy a good simple salad or baked potato. If I am not in the mood at all to cook, I stick with an Amy's Organic canned soup or something similar. 

Biggest challenge for you in being gluten free: Managing social situations. The food was simple. It is something I personally could manage, especially once I got the hang of it. Yet I cannot manage other people's responses or their willingness to accommodate me. I have encountered many experiences in which I have felt "less than" others, especially at the start, because I was unique in my dietary needs. I found myself limiting what I would do socially for fear of being the center of attention when ordering food, because I was concerned where my next meal would come from on a day out, or because I just didn't want to hear another, "Oh come on, just a bit won't hurt you". This feeling of lack of control in those situations, frustration with people's responses, and being the center of attention was often overwhelming in the beginning. To this day, I find it hard to put my trust in others when it comes to food preparation and responding positively to my needs. However, I no longer let it make me feel less than because it has helped me develop confidence in myself and my needs. Of course there are still off days where social situations are difficult, but learning that you can't control others is an ongoing process for almost everyone. 

What advice would you give to someone who has been recently diagnosed and is feeling overwhelmed? I would tell them to start where they feel comfortable. As a social worker, I find the key to managing feeling overwhelmed is to work on partializing, or breaking down the issue into manageable parts. I would tell the individual that they are not alone in their restrictive diet and work on breaking down the challenge of being gluten free into area and steps that are manageable and make sense to them particularly. By remind them they are not along, you minimize the feelings of isolation, yet by helping them break it down in their own way, you not only make it more manageable but you also help them to be the one in control. Understanding that they have control is paramount to taking anything on without feeling too overwhelmed. 

Favorite fruit: Strawberries have always been my favorite!

Favorite gluten free recipe to bake: Pignoli or almond nut cookies. Similar to peanut butter cookies, this recipe is simple, and doesn't include any flour in most cases. But at the same they, they are a bit more interesting in flavor than peanut butter cookies. It is a great go-to recipe for a sweet treat. 

What do you know now about being gluten free that you wish you knew when you first started? When I first went gluten free, I started trying to replace gluten products with store bought gluten free alternatives. I wish I would have known the value of home cooking and baking. A little persistence, experimenting, and love goes a long way in helping take hold of your diet by creating the foods that you eat. Yes, it takes time, but all good things do!

Learn more about working with Georgianna at her blog, Celtic Celiac.
Follow Georgianna on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.

Tomorrow, meet the coach behind Team Gratitude.

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