Remove Gluten, Add Passion: A Positive Outlook

Stories and Advice from Gluten-Free Students

By Janelle Pugh 

When I was just a few years old, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. To put that into perspective, AOL had just been created and few people actually used the Internet when I was diagnosed. Can you imagine trying to navigate the gluten-free diet without websites like My parents had only the information provided by my doctors, which happened to be very limited. They were told that celiac disease was something I’d “grow out of.”

Gluten-free falafel and hummus

Up until I was in 5th grade, I was gluten-free. But somewhere along the way, I started eating gluten. It didn’t appear to make me sick, and my parents assumed this meant I had grown out of it, like my doctors said I would. I ate everything and felt fine. Or so I thought. Long story short, the damage I did to my body was absolutely not worth it .

As time went on, I became 100% gluten-free and started to own my disease. I did lots of research and tried to learn everything I could about celiac disease. At that time, I was studying education at Miami University of Ohio. After just a few classes, I found that this wasn’t the right career for me. So, for many reasons, I decided to come home and attend a community college while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life.

I spent a lot of time thinking about where my passion lied and what greater purpose I could serve. I knew I loved talking to people about my journey with celiac disease and all things gluten-free. I also knew that no one should put their body through repeated gluten exposure because they are misinformed. This is how I decided to start attending The Ohio State University for Medical Dietetics. OSU’s dietetics program is amazing and highly selective, as they not only give you the necessary education requirements, but also match you with an internship as an undergraduate for supervised practice. Upon graduation of the program, I will be able to take the test to become a registered dietitian!

Gluten-free dessert

I couldn’t be happier with my decision to follow my passion of helping others and spreading awareness of celiac disease and all types of gluten-related disorders. Being in nutrition courses every quarter means gaining a deeper understanding of gluten and celiac disease. I get so excited when I see a mention of gluten or celiac disease in class notes and textbooks.

In a food science class I took winter quarter, there was a lab where we cooked and tried all different kinds of recipes. While I couldn’t try all the foods, the professor was very understanding and worked with me to find out whether certain ingredients were gluten-free. I was also able to teach the girls in my lab group all about what celiac disease is and how to prevent cross-contamination! Everyone called me the “gluten expert.” Another interesting thing I learned that I don’t think many people know is that gluten is actually a combination of two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. When those two proteins mix with water, they form gluten! This class was a wonderful experience and probably the best class I’ve ever taken. I can’t wait to dive deeper into my coursework and learn even more!

Janelle smile close up

Honestly, I never thought that being diagnosed with a disease would have such a positive impact on my life. Taking control of my health has been the greatest thing I’ve ever done, and I can’t wait to help others do the same. By becoming a dietitian I not only want to help those newly diagnosed with gluten-related disorders, but also spread awareness of this disease. Though I’m not a dietitian yet, I have already been able to help people transition to the gluten-free diet by blogging and providing them with resources like NFCA. It is so rewarding to show people how delicious and easy gluten-free can be.

My advice? Remove gluten, add passion. Own your disease and your health. Oh, and eat something delicious for me!