Meet The Aussie Coeliac
Finding gluten free reviews that are reliable and thorough is really hard to do. The Aussie Coeliac is a great place to start if you live or are visiting the Melbourne area.
Ashlee Marie Adams is the force behind The Aussie Coeliac. She is a determined, energetic and an extremely motivated gluten free product and gluten free reviewer.
The thing you don’t see, behind the scenes, is the unwavering advocacy she extends to those needing direction, solutions or just comradeship from a fellow coeliac.
Ashlee’s journey will align with many of your own. The physical and social toll in particular will certainly provide you with an understanding of why she is fact driven and focused on providing science based support. Not support based on hearsay or emotion.
Born into a small family unit in Melbourne, Ashlee was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease at the age of six. Just a few months after her mother’s own diagnosis.
Medical diagnosis of Coeliac Disease has come a long way in Australia since 1998. Ashlee’s diagnosis was based on Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH) and Bloods alone. The rash was significant though. Her mother distinctly remembers Ashlee tearing at her skin as a result of the intensity of her reaction to gluten.
School life was difficult.
Prior to diagnosis, Ashlee was called ‘the pregnant six year old’ in school. She has videos of herself with skinny legs, skinny arms and a giant full term looking belly. It was the first time Coeliac Disease was to impact her socially.
Isolation and bullying were particularly unpleasant to deal with. Surprisingly, it wasn’t only from the children. Teachers at the time, were not equipped with knowledge about Coeliac Disease. They seemed to consider a gluten free diet as a choice Ashlee’s mother was making. At times, they would accuse her mother of causing problems for Ashlee at school. This was based simply on the face that she was not given sandwiches for lunch. (Remember, finding gluten free bread 20 years ago was pretty tricky). The result was social exclusion by the children that was enforced by the teachers.
The isolation continued when she was not invited out (because she was too hard to cater for) and at parties she would eat at the grown-ups table because they had carrot sticks and dip. Isolation through necessity is something many coeliacs experience.
High School meant dating and dating mean’t extreme social anxiety.
In the early days, Ashlee would try to fit in. To not be ‘that girl’ that couldn’t easily eat out was pretty important to Ashlee. Eventually, she experienced a lot of anxiety that slowly morphed into the delusional belief that gluten was not actually hurting her. Often, she would pretend that her reactions were a stomach bug or the flu.
It became normal life for her to be exhausted and have to run to the bathroom. This seemed to Ashlee to be the easiest path to follow. Having not had an official diagnosis via biopsy also made it easy for her to exist in this state of denial.
Of most impact to Ashlee at the time was that she was cheating on the gluten free diet and not being honest about it with her Mother. She was also feeling incredibly ashamed about needing to ‘fit in’.
The end result? Well, Ashlee became extremely ill. As a result, she got the full treatment, including an endoscopy. The results came in and at 21, the truth hit home. There was damage. No more denial and no more gluten!
In fact, this wake up call for Ashlee, was much more than that. It was a call to arms.
She knew exactly how to direct her energy. Children needed to know how to deal with social situations without anxiety. People dating a Coeliac needed a way to surprise them with a lunch or a dinner, and eating out with friends was not something to miss out on.
With these personal experiences as intense motivators, Ashlee decided it was time to start spreading awareness amongst the community. Not just for those unaware of Coeliac Disease, but also those like her, who became lost.
And so it began.
Ashlee created her first website called “Of Coeliacs’ and Chilli”. Mainly because she loved chilli and lived with Coeliac Disease.
It was a small scale venture that gave readers a peek into the life and issues of a coeliac. It also created a great training ground for Ashlee to refine the arts of blogging and writing gluten free reviews.
Being employed at a food manufacturer exposed Ashlee to the details behind allergen labelling, ‘may contain’ statements and associated risks. This complimented an already strong skill set of Marketing, web design and graphics and positioned her well for a strong start for The Aussie Coeliac.
Investing her own time and money into The Aussie Coeliac with no financial return results in her family often reminding her that she is crazy.
The Reviewer at work
When Ashlee is planning to eat out, she follows the advice provided in her Dining Steps series. As a first action, she contacts the restaurant. She finds that written contact is best because people treat the written word more seriously. Verbal responses are generally more like a throw away response.
She also contacts a food outlet through two different avenues to determine if information is consistent from the staff. It helps her to understand the actual trust she can establish for both staff knowledge and established processes.
Anonymity when reviewing a restaurant is Ashlee’s way of ensuring that her experience is no way different to that of other patrons.
In every instance, Ashlee checks the safety of food preparation stations, may contain statements on ingredients and cross contamination management.
The reviewing process she follows is very professional. She is also extremely thorough. In every instance, Ashlee enquires about possible sources of gluten right down to spices used. She also seeks recommendations on the safest meal that can be provided (and why it’s the safest). A great tip!
Exploring menu options, safety and choices is how she is able to collect enough information to make a confident decision. She bases to decision to eat there entirely on that information.
To date, she has not been glutened whilst undertaking a review. Her incredible thoroughness and confident communication style both contribute to this commendable result.
If there is a vulnerability identified as part of the review process, she is very happy to work with restaurants to manage it. This is a great indication of Ashlee’s goal to educate people about safe gluten free dining experiences. In her case she ensures that it applies to both the caterer and the consumer. She is not a reviewer that critiques and then walks away.
She has at times been approached by food outlets for assistance in improving the safety of their service. In these situations, she will always refer the restaurant to the educational resources made available by Coeliac Australia. She will also assist them by guiding them through processes that improve the safety of the meals provided.
One thing that Ashlee identifies as difficult to manage is the constant change that occurs in restaurants with regard to the meals they provide and the safety of a dining experience. It is something that cannot be predicted nor is it something that can be reasonably communicated when doing a review of a food outlet at one point in time.
The resources she does provide on her website do however go a long way to educating coeliacs. Developing their own set of skills to reduce their reliance on dining reviews by increasing knowledge is incredibly important. It allows them to collect facts and decide about the safety of the meal independently.
An exciting future
Ashlee and her fiance, Brody will be getting married in a couple of years. Something they both are excited about. Importantly, it will be an all gluten free wedding so that everyone can relax.
Focusing on this, her upcoming cookbook (she loves to cook) and her regular product and restaurant reviews, Ashlee will certainly be a very busy person.
To view any of Ashlee’s reviews, access her resources including maps product and restaurant reviews visit her website www.theaussiecoeliac.com.au.
You will also find guides to the diagnosis of Coeliac Disease and Surviving after a positive diagnosis.
Some of Ashlee’s restaurant reviews can be viewed in Maps for Coeliacs.