Mrs. United States Shannon Ford
Imagine for a moment you are standing on a Las Vegas stage. The lights are bright, the crowd is cheering. You are wearing a stunning ball gown. A jewel-encrusted crown is placed upon your head.
Shannon Ford did better than just imagine it. She lived it. On August 4, 2011, the 25th anniversary of the Mrs. Untied States National Pageant, Shannon Ford became Mrs. Unites States 2011. Diagnosed with celiac disease over three years ago, Shannon’s crowning glory was not just a personal achievement. It also marked a triumph for the gluten-free community. While many celebrities have embraced a gluten-free diet, Shannon is committed to raising awareness about celiac disease and advocating for better labeling laws in the nation’s food industry.
Ten months before her diagnosis, Shannon experienced a trigger point. “My health started to deteriorate and I started feeling bad. I was so tired I was falling asleep at my desk,” Shannon recalls. After months of doctor’s appointments, medical tests, and agony, Shannon credits her husband with helping her to get tested for celiac disease. “We were watching Elizabeth Hasselbeck on TV and she was talking about her book and symptoms: feeling bloated, looking pregnant, gas, and fatigue. My husband said ‘that sounds like you’ and that’s what triggered me to get tested.”
As with many people diagnosed with celiac disease, Shannon found that she needed more than a gluten-free diet to regain her health. While eating gluten-free did help her feel better, it wasn’t until she weeded out grains completely and transitioned to a Paleo diet that she experienced the greatest improvement.
When asked about adapting to her new diet and lifestyle, Shannon states that she faced a challenge as she learned about hidden gluten, ordering food in restaurants, and cooking at home. “I never really cooked before going gluten-free and now I do. And I love it! I don’t really follow recipes, I just figure it out. I have learned to like real food. If you start with good quality food, it doesn’t need much in the way of preparation to taste good.
Dining put also presented challenges at first. “I had to learn to be a diva in a restaurant, making sure I was given food that was not only gluten-free but prepared properly. At first I tried to be charming and nice. Now I use a much more direct approach.”
Travel is inevitable in pageant life and Shannon credits planning as a big part of her success while on the road. “Before going on a trip I do a little research on the internet. I try to pick a hotel close to Whole Foods where I can purchase gluten-free prepared foods, fish, and vegetables. I also pack my portable grill and steamer with me. I then have everything I need to prepare my own food. It is a little more work but the peace of mind is worth it. The most important thing I have learned is to rely on myself. I no longer rely on others to ensure there are gluten-free choices for me. I take matters into my own hands.”
Shannon says, “Becoming Mrs. United States has been an honor for me. I want to be a role model for married women and an inspiration for young girls, to show them that anything is possible no matter what obstacles they face. I also want to do what I can to help get gluten identified as a major allergen on all packaging. This would make it easier on everyone, especially the newly diagnosed.”
Shannon Ford may no longer rein as Mrs. United States, but she has certainly earned the gratitude of the gluten-free community and continues to be an inspiration.