Mrs. Alaska International 2012 Wants YOU to Attend NFCA’s Webinar
[Recently, I’ve been chatting with Brandy Wendler – a.k.a. Mrs. Alaska International 2012 – on Twitter. I knew she is a celiac advocate, but it wasn’t until she sent us a nice note that I learned she has a passion for heart health, too. I invited her to share her story and explain why she’s excited for next Tuesday’s FREE webinar on Gluten-Free and Heart Health.]
I was diagnosed with celiac disease when I was working as a nurse in Atlanta. I worked in a cardiovascular ICU where we did everything, including heart transplants. I love the sound of a heartbeat. It has always been soothing to me. I feel the heart symbolizes the core of who a person is and represents their life. I like to think it is the most important (and beautiful) organ in the body. So, when I found out I had an autoimmune disease, I found myself wondering: How does this affect my heart?
Before my diagnosis of celiac disease, I had been sick and having symptoms for almost 10 years – which is an average time from onset to diagnosis. Being a medical professional did not increase my chances of diagnosis. In some cases, it hampered it. I had a colleague tell me my symptoms were all in my head. After all, I had been treated for anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue and restless leg syndrome. I could sleep for days and not feel rested. However, my illness wasn’t imagined. It was real.
I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis shortly before my celiac diagnosis, I suffered from chronic anemia and frequently had low levels of B vitamins and Vitamin D on my blood tests. Many celiacs have similar stories. All of these issues, though, led to a huge lack of motivation for exercise that would be beneficial to my heart. I was also malnourished and ate anything high in calories – another choice that was not good for my heart.
After I was diagnosed with celiac disease, my depression and chronic fatigue went away. I have normal iron, Vitamin B, and Vitamin D levels now. My thyroid disorder is under control, and I have a lot more energy! I have also changed the way I eat. Not just removing gluten, but also focusing more on eating my servings of vegetables, fruits and lean meats. The carbohydrates that I choose to eat are typically complex carbs like sweet potato, brown rice, and certified gluten-free oats. All of these are high in fiber and good for your heart.
With the training of a master’s in nursing, these choices come pretty easily for me. Being in the medical field is definitely an advantage when you have two autoimmune diseases. What about my celiac friends with no medical background, though? I sometimes worry if they are making the most informed choices. Most of the pre-packed gluten-free foods are high in saturated fats, sugar, salt and calories, which is not good for your body, much less your heart.
At the end of the day, it can be overwhelming. Having celiac disease is a huge adjustment, but it is possible to live with celiac disease and be kind to your heart. The first step is starting and maintaining a gluten-free diet. Sneaking a piece of gluten here or there is simply not going to help you in any way – no matter how good it may taste. The diet is essential to keeping all associated disorders in check.
The next step would be to educate yourself and make the right choices. I was thrilled to see that NFCA is offering a webinar on Gluten-Free and Heart Health. It makes it easier for my extended celiac friends to be informed and take care of themselves. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the U.S.. Early action to prevent heart disease is the key. So please sign up for the webinar with me and take your heart health seriously. Your heart has been with you from day 1, and it truly beats only for you!
Brandy Wendler just completed her year as Mrs. Alaska United States 2011 and now holds the title of Mrs. Alaska International 2012. She is currently working on Alaska state legislation SCR 16, which aims to recognize May as National Celiac Awareness Month. Last month, the legislation was read on the floor and was referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee. Read more on Brandy’s blog.