Monday, October 31, 2011

Are you a GF Foodie or a Wonderbread Celiac?

Our little home bakery, Gluten-Free Epiphany, has built a small but very loyal customer base that I've decided to call Gluten-Free Foodies or GF foodies for short.  I do this because our biggest fans seem to fit a certain profile and defining this customer profile helps me create a target market for marketing & advertising purposes. But also, by paying attention to who our customers are, we can better meet their needs which helps us grow our business one small baby step at a time. It is not an attempt to pigeon-hole people, we certainly want all GF people to enjoy our products, but when you focus your efforts to the majority of your customer base, your efforts become purposeful and you're not scattering your energy all over the place. And believe me, when you are a small business without employees you don't want to waste an iota of energy.

So what is a Gluten-Free Foodie; what are their unique characteristics, and what are their needs? Here is a combined list of my observations & instincts, along with feedback from current customers:

- GF foodies are NOT satisfied with commercial GF baked goods. We may have found one kind of frozen bread we can tolerate for toast in the morning, but sandwiches? No way!

- GF foodies take an interest in health. We read labels and are not satisfied to fill up on tapioca starch. Why would anyone who has trouble absorbing nutrients to begin with feed their body food that has next to no nutritional value?

- GF Foodies have tastes that are well......a bit more sophisticated or maybe well-developed. We crave flavors that have a punch. Plain things just don't really excite us that much. Why have a plain bagel when you can have an everything bagel loaded with seeds, onion, & garlic? We probably ate more at ethnic restaurants than McDonald's before our diagnosis. We probably chose wheat or rye bread often.

- GF Foodies usually like to cook or eat home cooking. We would bake for ourselves if we had the time, energy, or perseverance. Some of us have tried GF baking but it was so hard to achieve palatable results we gave up in frustration.

- GF Foodies have a little sense of adventure in regards to food. We like to try new things.

I use WE and include myself in this list because I definitely am a GF Foodie. I hear my own thoughts expressed by customers all the time. Essentially, we bake for ourselves. Our reasons for opening the bakery are the same reasons why our customers buy our goods.

However, there is a category of GF customer I've identified that doesn't usually like our goods. We call them Wonder Bread Celiacs! I say this with the utmost affection and respect for their tastes. They just aren't interested in anything but white bread. White bread, white bagels, white pasta, white crackers, vanilla cake with sugary white icing. These are the customers who Scharr, Glutino, and Udi's products are marketed towards. I suppose before their diagnosis they probably liked Mueller's pasta while the GF Foodies went for the al dente Barilla. If they do like our products, they like the plain flavors, no seeds and no raisins! And that is perfectly OK! People should eat what they enjoy!

I find these customers entertaining ( I have friends who would probably be wonder bread celiac's if they were GF) and we will always have plain flavors of our goods for them and the kiddies. Yet, our plain products aren't really white bread. Our plain items are still wholegrain, which is more of a honey "wheat" flavor profile. So, they aren't our target market because there are fewer of them that gravitate to our bakery. Consequently, we are more concerned with coming up with a rye bread or a new wild bagel flavor than the perfect white bread.

This is probably a matter of genetics. I've read that there are 3 kinds of tasters: super-tasters, normal folks, & non-tasters. Non-tasters don't have as many taste buds so they like stronger flavors and bitter things like dark chocolate, coffee, & grapefruit. Super-tasters have so many taste buds many things, like vegetables, are unpalatable for them. This makes sense to me. I'm definitely a non-taster. I LOVE dark chocolate(the darker the better), black coffee(since I've had to go dairy free), and I like to eat a grapefruit every day as my evening snack. So, it makes sense that the wonder bread celiacs are probably much closer to the super-taster end of the spectrum. It also makes sense that the customers that gravitate to our products, our GF foodies, are probably more non-tasters like us.

I hope the wonder bread celiac's have a sense of humor! It is not my intention to put them down. It is my intention to identify our customer base in a way that makes sense and helps us better serve our unique GFE community. After all, being so small, we can't take care of everyone. There are other bakers who probably are more wonder bread celiac's themselves and can meet the needs of that customer base better than we ever could. But GFE will focus on satisfying the tastes and filling the needs of the GF Foodies of CNY!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you identify more as a super-taster or non-taster? GF Foodie or Wonder Bread Celiac?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Gluten Free Journey- Part 1: The "Diagnosis"

"No eggs, no milk, no oats, no sugar, no soy, no corn, and oh btw, no gluten."

"What? You can tell all this by putting that little bag of vials on my stomach and pressing on my arm? Seriously? This is a joke right? "

"No, let me show you. See this big vial of tan powder? This is gluten. See how strong your arm is when its not on your stomach? Now see how you can't hold your arm up when i put it on your stomach? You either have gluten intolerance or Celiac's disease. You have to eliminate gluten from your diet."

Every GF person has a story; this is how my story started.

I didn't really even know what gluten was at that time. I just new my hormones were way off, my MD was no help what-so-ever and I felt like crap. When I saw Lori Vashaw, of Riverview Wellness Center in Oswego, NY, do a demo of Nutritional Response Testing I knew she could help me. I'm a massage therapist so I'm open to alternative healing techniques, but I have to say, if I hadn't seen her demo with my own two eyes I would have simply scoffed. But actually, as with most chronic health issues, the story starts a bit earlier...

It was near the tail end of a year-long program in aesthetics at a school in Syracuse (that has since closed down so I won't mention their sorry name). The program was brutal. Not hard, just an exercise in perseverance. anyone else would have left within the first month, but I really wanted that license so I could expand my practice and do facials. There were no other options. I love skincare, the whole thing should have been fun, and it's not exactly brain surgery, so I wasn't worried about passing the state boards. But it turned into absolute frustration. The students' pettiness & shallow behavior rivaled the movie Mean Girls and the teachers were so incompetent and  unorganized I had to turn them into the state(that's a story for another day). But I guess that's what one should expect in the beauty industry, so I gritted my teeth and went to class all day, Mon & Tues., and shoved all my appointments into the rest of my abbreviated week. After close to a year of dealing with it all I was exhausted and totally wired with tension trying to get the hell out of there without going postal.

During the last few days, Lori, who was a friend of the manager Ellen (the only truly professional person in the joint), came in to do a demo of NRT, nutrition response testing. I guess they had time to fill before graduation. I was like a zombie just trying to get to the end of the program; so any distraction was welcome. She proceeded to call up volunteers to lie on a massage table. She had them hold one arm up at a 90 degree angle and tryed to push their  arms down after putting little vials of different items on their bellies. she also touched different spots on their heads and chest. She seemed to be very intent on discovering something but I couldn't tell what.

With each volunteer she asked questions about their health, and made statements about the symptoms they were experienceing that were always greeted with looks of amazement and cries of  "Yeah that's right!"

She hit the nail on the head so many times describing the volunteers symptoms and lifestyles, that I was literally on the edge of my seat. I KNEW she was the one to help me. This was in July of 2007. When i called for an appointment, I found out she was so booked I couldn't get in until October! I was so impressed with Lori I didn't even mind that I'd have to drive the  full hour all the way out to Oswego.

So, when the little vials were placed on MY stomach and Lori told me I had to eliminate all those things and gluten too, I was shocked. I mean, this was a stressful time in my life but I was active and I ate a healthy diet. I decided to trust her because she hit the nail on the head for me too and again I'm open to alternative things that my regular MD just won't embrace. She detected not just hormone imbalances but adrenal fatigue(hmmm....wonder how that happened?) and the gluten issue. She described my symptoms to a tee and gave me a special eating plan to follow for the first month with supplements to help correct things. I was overgrown with yeast in my gut as well , so there was an additional list of things to eliminate.

Admittedly, the first month was hard, but after that we started adding things back in. I got eggs back, and the yeast problem was corrected. I never got gluten back and I never got dairy back. In fact, the dairy issue got worse until I had to eliminate even butter, ghee, and lactose free products. I started losing weight, researching gluten and celiacs disease, and I convinced my parents to see Lori too. It's hereditary so lets see who passed this little gem on to me. Ahhhh....thanks Dad! LOL

We worked as a team, the three of us. We are not what people think of as the stereotypical fat people in that we don't eat greasy take out every night. My mom is Sicilian so we always cooked all our meals, rarely going out to eat & not wasting money on lots of processed foods. I learned how to cook at a young age and would start supper after school since both Mom & Dad worked. We had a garden every summer of my life so I grew up appreciating fresh fruit & veg. We went to Lori once a month, stopping at the Regional Market before and after. Before our appointment we would run into the first barn to get free range eggs and fresh almond butter because they would run out fast. Then after our appointments we would go back and get veggies for the week and have Greek salads at the Mediterranean place across the parking lot. When we got home we would prep food for the week, washing veggies and lettuce so salads would be easy to throw together. Making a big pot of vegetable soup, boiling beets and sauteing the greens, or roasting a free range chicken  were all happy Saturday afternoon activities.

We weren't eating that differently, perhaps adjusting portion size a bit, but we were losing weight and feeling better. I learned that my major symptom of gluten intolerance/Celiac's was acid reflux. I no longer needed my prilosec everyday! As my Grandma Jessie would say, we were now"cooking with gas." I learned so much and felt I had more control over my physiological health than any other time in my life.

So you might be saying, "But Patty you didn't have the blood test or the biopsy so you don't really know if you have celiacs disease!" True, I don't. When people ask, I tell them I've had a "non-traditional diagnosis" To me it doesn't really matter because I feel better and that's whats most important. If there were some medical treatment or medicine that could cure Celiacs that I was missing out on because I don't have a standard allopathic diagnosis I might feel differently. But, there isn't anything regular medicine can do for those of us who can't process gluten. We have to take care of ourselves. If I wanted to confirm Lori's non-traditional findings I'd have to do what's called a gluten challenge. Since Celiac's is autoimmune they test for antibodiesies. Your body only produces antibodies in the presence of gluten. To do this you have to be eating gluten before the blood tests. So, I'd have to go back on gluten for several months before the antibodies would show up. Since I've been gluten-free for several years now my gut has probably healed so the biopsy may not show anything either.

Now, I won't even attempt to explain Nutritional Response Testing. Some of you are familiar, some are doubters, I'm sure. Even Lori states on her website that when she started she was skeptical. If you want to know more about NRT checkout the wonderful website for Riverview Wellness. It is not my intent to tout one way of testing for gluten intolerance over any other. Actually, I always recommend to customers and clients that if they suspect intolerance to get the blood tests BEFORE eliminating gluten from their diet. We all have a different GF journey and I simply wanted to share mine.

I've decided to embrace living gluten-free instead of resisting it.
 I already knew my body didn't like carbs, I just didn't know why. Years ago (before Lori) I learned I was one of those people who's body LOVED the Adkins diet. In fact, I attribute the Adkins diet to why I didn't have really bad Celiac's symptoms. I was Adkins for almost 10 yrs, before it was a fad and utterly destroyed by pop culture. I started having the most health issues after Adkins became popular and all the low carb substitutes starting hitting the market. Common dietary gurus say you must have a certain amount of grains each day and no matter how great I felt without them I was told by more enlightened people that I was destroying my health by eating just meat, fruit, & veg. Fast forward to aesthetic school, where I packed a salad and a low carb wrap for lunch each day not realising that the way they lower the carbs in grain based products is to up the gluten! Of course, gluten is the protein in the wheat! It's the TVP of textured vegetable protein in so many vegetarian products. For a celiac this was like giving yourself a little shot of poison each day. I was totally better off without the wraps, but what do I know?  Im just a fat person who  obviously doesn't know anything about diet & health or else I'd be skinny right? Right.......

So, like I said, everyone has had a different GF journey and a story of "diagnosis". What's yours? I'd love to hear how your GF journey started. Leave me a comment and/or cast your vote in the poll to the left.