Melinda Dennis, MS, RD, LDN, is the Nutrition Coordinator and a celiac researcher at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA. She has co-authored the book, Real Life with Celiac Disease and offers gluten-free classes and counseling through DeletetheWheat.com. Melinda is the Founder and current Nutrition Advisor to the Healthy Villi Greater Boston Celiac Support Group. She is an expert for NFCA’s Answers from a Dietitian.
When I was little, I planned on being a dolphin trainer, but I think I was cut out for something else. Fast forward to one day when I woke up with a blistering, itchy rash on my elbows and knees and started down the path of dermatititis herpetiformis (DH) and celiac disease.
My career changed from working with international students to starting nutrition classes and a master’s program in Nutrition and Health Promotion at Simmons College in Boston, MA to become a registered dietitian. I did this, in part, because I love teaching and realized I was simply trading an international classroom for a nutrition education one. I also immediately “got” the gluten-free diet and wanted to share it with others who needed it, too. Back then, food labels were such a pain – no clear information; restaurants were annoying – no understanding (“No, we don’t serve any food with glucose in it.”), and there just didn’t seem to be much to eat. All that has changed.
When my schooling and year-long dietetic internship ended, I joined Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Outpatient Nutrition Department and focused quickly on gastrointestinal diseases, including my favorite one. In 2005, Dr. Ciaran Kelly, Dr. Daniel Leffler and I founded the Celiac Center here at BIDMC, and it has been forward movement ever since.
I love my job because it allows me to counsel patients, write, lecture, plan educational outreach programs, coach and learn from other clinicians, consult to gluten-free companies, and play my part in advancing the awareness of celiac disease. My big, current project is a BIDMC-hosted website for the nutritional management of celiac disease (late Spring 2012).
My soapbox is the slowly growing attention paid to making our gluten-free alternatives as healthy as some of the products we used to eat. Where are the high fiber, low/no sugar, nutrient rich breakfast cereals, breads, crackers, etc. that use the Super Six grains/flours (amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, teff and sorghum)? Why aren’t there more of them? I look forward to this very obvious, overdue and much needed healthy gluten-free revolution.
In life, a couple of important things help to keep me grounded: getting outside to move around, sharing meals with friends, reading everything I can about celiac disease, visiting my family, and remembering to focus whenever I can on stress reduction and mind-body awareness. It’s probably why I have really, really enjoyed leading my gluten-free wellness retreats (and going on yoga/reiki and spiritually-minded ones whenever I can). We make new, special friends and remind each other to slow down, make some delicious meals, and chew our food well.