Elisabeth Hasselbeck: Surviving Gluten-free
From being a participant on Survivor to co-hosting The View to authoring two books and creating the NoGii food line, Elisabeth Hasselbeck – a well-known figure in the gluten-free community – is a force to be reckoned with. For many of us, her story is a familiar one of long awaited diagnosis and the empowerment that came with finally finding out the source of her pain and health issues.
Years before we watched her on Survivor, Elisabeth Hasselbeck was an ambitious college student in her early twenties, captaining the softball team at Boston College while studying fine art. It was during her time at Boston College where she first came face to face with symptoms of celiac disease.
During a trip to Belize in her sophomore year of college, she contracted a bacterial intestinal infection. After that, nothing seemed to be the same. Many foods were no longer appetizing. She began getting debilitating stomach aches and constantly felt hungry. Doctors tried to diagnose her with nearly every illness in the book, except the right one. She was told it was IBS, prescribed multiple medications, underwent a sigmoidoscopy, and was even given anti-anxiety medication because one of the side effects was numbing of the stomach lining.
“A lot of it was just covering up the issue and I just literally wanted to get to what was wrong,” Hasselbeck said. “Overall my health was just truly evaporating. I felt that I was the oxymoron of health.”
Despite her illness, she continued to participate in sports. “I felt as though my activities were almost counterproductive,” she said. “I didn’t feel like my body had the basis to really support training for anything significantly athletic.”
But even after college, Hasselbeck persevered in athletics and decided to apply for Survivor: The Australian Outback. She managed to pass the physical exam, though inside she was cringing with stomach pain during the process. It was in Australia where she began to feel better than she had in years. “I felt better there in a situation that was so strenuous and stressful and really just difficult,” she said. “My body felt truly cleansed of whatever was making it sick.”
Hasselbeck did not realize at the time which food was responsible for her pain, but she confirmed that it was diet related. Through trial and error of adding different foods back into her diet one by one, she learned that the problem was wheat. She later realized it was not just wheat, but all forms of gluten.
After she self-diagnosed herself with celiac disease, she found a doctor who confirmed it with a blood test. “When I found that out I thought, ‘Oh gosh, I just lost 10 years of my life not knowing,’” Hasselbeck said. “It took close to a decade in total and unfortunately that’s a long time for your body to be fighting itself.”
Hasselbeck’s story is not uncommon. The average time it takes from the onset of symptoms for a person to be diagnosed with celiac disease is 4 to 10 years. Like others who finally find out the source of their health issues, she felt compelled to share her story and raise awareness.
“I came back with a full revelation of what was at the root of my pain and discomfort and unhealthiness and [it was] really a revolution I wanted to start. That’s where The G-Free Diet came in and I started telling my story,” she said. Hasselbeck became very active in the gluten-free community, authoring The G-Free Diet, Deliciously G-Free, and launching NoGii bars, her own line of gluten-free bars.
Aside from her product line and books, Hasselbeck is busy being a wife and mother of three as well as the newest co-host of Fox and Friends. And of course, maintaining a gluten-free diet with a hectic life in the spotlight can sometimes be a challenge.
“I get glutened all the time,” Hasselbeck said. “I try to be so mindful but no one is 100% wheat proof. It’s going to happen but do whatever you can to make the friend and make the restaurant and make your family as aware as possible.”
The best way to help prevent getting glutened, Hasselbeck suggests, is to plan ahead. Though meal planning isn’t always easy or enjoyable, she feels it’s best to make sure you’re stocked on pantry items to use in a pinch when hunger strikes. One of Hasselbeck’s top items to have on hand are gluten-free bread crumbs to make chicken cutlets. This dish became one of her go-to favorites after learning how to recreate it gluten-free. Other favorites include her family’s Italian recipes for meatballs, lasagna, and baked ziti.
“I was sort of wounded from that food so it took me a while to actually want it again and to get the courage to tackle it in a gluten-free way,” she said. “It’s my personal favorite because of all the memories that are attached to it and I know the love that went into it. I hope one day to be that mom sitting at the head of the table watching all her grandkids eat it.”
Hasselbeck’s family enjoys both gluten-free and gluten-filled foods. “We have a hybrid pantry. I don’t force it on everybody unnecessarily but we’ve made the transition where it’s maybe 75% gluten-free,” she said.
If it was her last meal on earth, Hasselbeck said, she would have no desire to have gluten. “I would rather not have my last meal on earth and go out gluten-free,” she said. “I think truly my last meal would be more about the people who are with me than what I’d be eating.”