Wesley Graba is an engineer who lives near Boulder, Colo. He’s sharing with us his process for eating gluten-free while on the road.
You’re an electrical engineer. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I’m a firmware engineer, which is like software engineering. For example, in the Nima, there’s some sort of processor and a person has written code for it. That’s firmware.
What’s your food identity?
I was diagnosed with celiac disease in May 2009. I’m also lactose intolerant and soy intolerant.
How did you find out about your lactose and soy intolerances?
Before my celiac diagnosis, I didn’t have any indications that I had intolerances. After being diagnosed with celiac, while I was recovering my diet, I noticed these other intolerances.
After my diagnosis, I felt terrible eating almost anything. As my GI system recovered, I was able to pick out what made me feel worse, like bloating or constipation. I don’t have an allergic reaction that affects my breathing. It was trial and error.
I was under guidance of a gastroenterologist and also a nutritionist. In the beginning it was frustrating, because even the experts don’t know enough. They guided me to trial and error, which was frustrating because there are so many factors.
How do you maintain your food identity?
Most of the meals I eat I make or eat packaged foods from the grocery store. I carefully read the ingredients label to make sure that the meals don’t have things that affect me. I also look at manufacturing websites and check product web sites. I also have the Nima if I’m eating out. I’m very cognizant about gluten.
My soy and lactose intolerances aren’t as sensitive as celiac. Lactase (an enzyme that helps digest dairy) can help mitigate any issues. If I have a little bit of soy, it’s okay.
When I eat out, I specify that I have celiac and will ask about a dish. If it has a lot of lactose and soy then I will avoid it or take lactase.
I use the Find Me Gluten Free app on my phone to find gluten-free restaurants near wherever I am. I also call a restaurant or ask when I get there if they can accommodate me. Depending on how the manager or wait staff answers, I can gauge how it will be. I also rely on word of mouth from friends about good places to eat.
I also use Nima at restaurants. I verify all new restaurants to make sure they are gluten-free.
I have an Android phone and Google will post different gluten-free restaurants in the area of wherever I am.
My tools are wide and varied, but tried and true.
You travel a lot for work. How easy/hard is that for you food wise?
It’s a lot easier now. There was a time period around when I was diagnosed, which was a few years before I had Nima, when eating was a big event.
It was anxiety-inducing to go to a restaurant. Not all restaurants knew about gluten, and I felt anxious about it. Restaurants say they can do gluten-free, but if they don’t seem confident, as in, ‘We’ll try it but…” or, “We don’t have gluten-free menu, but we can make it gluten free…” I wouldn’t have enough confidence in them to eat there. At high-end restaurants, you think they can do it and they can’t always.
After eating at a restaurant, I’d get more confidence about those restaurants. I’d also learn about places from word of mouth from around the area.
Now, people are more gluten aware and with Nima, I feel a lot more confident. I don’t have to plan or always go to grocery stores to find something.
Tell us more about traveling now that you have Nima.
I have reduced anxiety. I usually eat out with business people or with friends and it would be hard if I couldn’t eat anything. I’d have to share the same story about celiac and cross contamination.
Now, I can always give it a shot and I can share the results with friends and colleagues. If it tests good, then I know I can eat there. If not, it’s clear to everyone that I can’t eat.
Nima also gives me immediate feedback for me to talk to the restaurant. On a recent business trip, I used Nima and my dish came up positive for gluten. I talked to the staff, and they were able to identify the ingredient. They were able to make a good dish for me. It ended up being pleasurable for me and my colleagues.
My anxiety has been reduced, and I’ve been able to expand to restaurants I wouldn’t have tried before because I didn’t feel confident the food would be gluten-free.
Nima is a game changer for me and the culture has changed, too. It’s a lot easier to find gluten-free food than it was a few years ago.
Tell us more about what you’ve experienced.
I’ve noticed a trend in talking to wait staff at restaurants. I’ll say I’m gluten intolerant and they ask if I have celiac and about what kind of cross contamination they need to look out for. In Boulder, wait staff are educated more, enough to ask about the level of intolerance. It’s a lot different than a few years ago.
Is there anything you’ve tested and been surprised at the results?
My wife and I made this dish using pasta that’s labeled gluten-free. It was using flour made from a bean or lentils. Since the manufacturing plant was gluten-free and it didn’t use traditional flour, I thought it was okay. I ate it for a few days and didn’t feel good. I tested it with Nima and it had gluten in it. No wonder I wasn’t feeling great. There’s a probability there can be some gluten, so I was surprised but I reasoned out why it occurred.
I’ve had a couple of good surprises, too. Just this past Sunday, my neighbors had a barbecue. They know I have celiac, but they’re not reading the ingredients list as closely as I do. You can tell this disappoints them – all gracious hosts want to provide for their guests. Luckily, I let the Nima decide – everything turned out gluten-free and my hosts were extremely pleased that I could eat with them.
I also recently went to a wedding at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. We were having dinner at the Officer’s Club. The couple requested gluten-free for me, but I didn’t speak to the staff and I wasn’t sure of it was going to be okay. I waited for the plate and tested it with my Nima. I thought there could be a strong chance of gluten and it was gluten-free. Those are nice surprises.
What are some of your favorite places to visit?
One of the biggest parts of travel can be about eating. It’s so important because of celiac and it’s also fun to try new restaurants and local ingredients you don’t get anywhere else.
Portland was really nice. There was a lot available for me to eat. I stayed in downtown Chicago and I could walk to three dedicated gluten-free restaurants. Minneapolis is great for gluten-free food and any coastal city is great because of seafood. Any major metropolitan city is great because it has a lot of choices and restaurants.
Some cities that had less options were New Orleans and Washington, D.C., which had maybe a 70% success rate, which is less than I normally experience in Boulder or Chicago (90% success rate.) I went on a business trip to Pennsylvania, western New York state, Connecticut and New Jersey, where I had a 50% success rate.
If you can only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I like all food so this is hard. Korean ribs. Different kinds of apples. When I was redoing my diet, even the skin of the apple made me sick. For six months, I couldn’t eat them. When I was finally able to eat an apple, it was the best thing ever. Hard cheeses–I shifted from soft cheeses to hard cheeses because of my lactose intolerance. Gruyere and parmesan are good. I really like seafood–I’ll always order oysters. At a sushi restaurant I’ll have mackerel and octopus.
Thanks, Wesley for sharing your story!