Nicole Cogan Interview

1. Why did you start suspecting you had a gluten allergy?

Growing up I was chronically sick.I had the flu twice a year, strep throat once a season, and unexplained illnesses that appeared out of nowhere and lasted for different lengths of time. My sophomore year of college my illnesses were out of control… to the point that I developed chronic hives. My traditional doctors had no clue what was wrong with me and continued to prescribe me OTC drugs and antibiotics to mask all of my symptoms. At this point, I knew something more serious was up, and I was determined to figure out what was going on.

2. What was the process of finding out you were allergic to gluten?

My parents are my heroes. Ten years ago, integrative and holistic healing/medicine was barely existent and anything but socially acceptable. After spending endless nights researching my symptoms, my parents found a holistic doctor in Northport, Long Island, and brought me in to see him. It was he who went over my charts and medical history, and first diagnosed me with my gluten allergy. 

3. What was your emotional reaction to the results and finding out you had to go gluten free?

“Starting today, you are gluten, dairy, and soy-free, as well as free of sugar, fruit, nuts, and anything containing artificial ingredients.” I will never forget these words from my new doctor. I cried. Scratch that. I sobbed. I started going over everything I ate in a day, and gluten was a staple component in each meal. I ate a toasted bagel for breakfast, whole-wheat wrap for lunch, and pasta for dinner. I was horrified!  

4. What was the learning curve like and self-education process of what you could and could not eat? What resources did you use?  

Given that I had to go more than just gluten-free to start, the process of learning what I could and couldn’t eat was SUPER hard! (To this day, I am still gluten, dairy, and soy-free). My rule of thumb was “everything plain.” I quickly learned that gluten was in a ton of dressings and marinades, so I figured ordering or cooking everything plain or “simply grilled with olive oil” was the way to go.For grocery shopping, I bought this little book that listed all the major food brands by category and which of their products were gluten free. Rice, eggs, meat, and sweet potatoes became my new best friends. 

5. Did you struggle with the transition, what were the surprises along the way (i.e. things you couldn’t eat, difficult from family/friends/waiters etc)?

When it came to eating, I was damned if I did, and damned if I didn’t. Anything with my newly diagnosed allergens made me sick, and my lack of interest in the food I could eat left me starving. I lost A LOT of weight, and given I was already petite, my weight loss showed.
It wasn’t too difficult to learn what major foods were and weren’t gluten free, but it was really hard when it came to cross contamination or foods that sometimes are GF and sometimes aren’t, like sushi! Given gluten-free wasn’t “a thing” ten years ago, friends of mine thought my new diet was an excuse for me to be skinny, and I often had to explain to waiters what gluten was!

6. What was the biggest overall impact/learning to your life? What about your family and friends?

As a 19-year-old woman, I took pride in my independence. I’d say the biggest life change that I had to make, outside of my diet, was learning how to ask for help. I needed my parents to help me through the difficult time I was having, and I had to learn to balance being independent and dependent.
Since going gluten-free almost ten years ago, I haven’t had the flu again, and I’ve only had strep throat once! I also NEVER get sick! It’s crazy to see how 19 years of eating gluten was completely destroying my health.

7. What was it like when you first went out to eat?

SO hard! Gluten-free wasn’t really ‘a thing’ at the time, so waiters looked at me like I had ten heads. Also, because a gluten allergy/intolerance isn’t necessarily deadly, it was hard for me to get restaurants to take my allergy seriously!I avoided going out to eat at all costs, and when I did go out, I went to restaurants where I had a go-to order that I knew I could eat. (Shout out to Stella’s in Ithaca, New York, for the best omelette and home fries!)

8. At what point did you feel confident about your handle on this diet?

That’s an interesting question because I don’t know if I’ll ever feel totally ‘confident.’I’d say after the first year I felt like I knew I’d be okay and this new diagnosis wasn’t the end of the world. 

9. How has the gluten free world changed since your transition and how do you see it continuing to change in the next 5-10 years?

Now that gluten-free is incredibly widespread and a common diagnosis for people with a plethora of issues, the amount of gluten-free products on the market is unbelievable.NEVER would I have thought ten years ago that this would be the case. At the time, the only snacks I could have were bland rice cakes, and now there are new products emerging every day, each one more interesting than the next! For example, who would have thought I’d ever be able to enjoy sour candy straws and gummies ever again!?
The question I was most commonly asked when I first started NOBREAD five years ago was, “is gluten-free a fad or here to stay?” Not only is gluten-free here to stay, but I foresee if becoming the new normal over the next decade!

10. What’s one thing you would go back and tell yourself looking back now?

You are going to be okay. And not only are you going to be okay, you are going to thrive in your new way of life.

11. What’s your favorite gluten free recipe?

Ah it’s so hard to pick just one favorite! I have to say it’s a toss up between my two ingredient banana pancakes, classic Banana Bread, and Avocado Basil Pesto Sauce! These were the first recipes I made/experimented with, and I still make them to this day!