Question: I really enjoy the Ask Shelley Case column on BeFreeForMe every month. Can you tell me a little bit more about Shelley?
When this question was asked by a BeFreeForMe member I decided it would be great to put on my best “Barbara Walters-esque reporting cap” and interview Shelley to find out more about her life outside of work; her education and background; and any future plans to help the celiac community. During my conversations with Shelley I was astounded by her enthusiasm, commitment, devotion, but most of all, the passion that she has for the celiac community.
Shelley’s book, Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide, (which I affectionately call “My Gluten-Free Map”) is now in it’s recently released and wildly successful fourth edition, so I was thrilled to find out what Shelley has in store for us with her future endeavors.
Thanks to Shelley for sharing so much with me and I hope you all enjoy the compilation of my conversations with her. Shelley ended our interview by commenting that she “looks forward to continuing on this gluten-free journey” with each and every one of us.
And with this I replied back, “I and the rest of the gluten-free community are looking forward to the rest of the ride, especially with you leading the way.”
Founder / BeFreeForMe.com
Where do you live? Can you tell us something about it?
I live in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Our province is north of Montana and North Dakota. Regina’s population is about 250,000 people. We are the home of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Our provincial motto is “Land of the Living Skies”. You can see forever because the southern half of the province is flat and we have the most gorgeous sunsets. Because I love to take pictures, I am always getting great sunset shots right off of our deck. (BeFreeForMe Note: Check out the photograph below that Shelley took of one of these beautiful sunsets!)
Where did you go to school to train to become a dietitian and what degrees did you obtain?
I attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, a city 150 miles north of Regina, and received my Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics in 1980. One year before I graduated I received my “Mrs.” degree! (I met my husband the very first day at U of S and 3 years later – between midterms and Christmas exams- got married in Regina. Two days after the wedding it was back to the books). In the fall of 1980 my husband and I moved to Winnipeg where I did my 1 year dietetic internship at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba- the province east of Saskatchewan.
When did you decide / discover you wanted to help the gluten-free community and why?
As a new graduate dietitian in 1981, I was excited to finally enter the workforce after five challenging years of university and internship. My passion, which continues to this day, was to be able to help people eat nutritiously and improve their overall health and well-being. In my first job at a large outpatient diabetes and diet education center I was responsible for counseling children and adults with various conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cystic fibrosis, food allergies and gastrointestinal disorders, including celiac disease. I was well prepared to counsel individuals with many different problems, however celiac disease was definitely not one of them! Never having seen anyone with celiac disease during internship, and receiving only minimal information in one nutrition class at university, left me ill-prepared. The day I was to counsel my first patient with celiac disease, I remember scrambling to find any relevant information about the disease itself and especially about the gluten-free diet. The little information I did find was out of date and of little use. Realizing I needed help, I contacted the local celiac support group in Regina, Saskatchewan, which welcomed me and taught me so much about the disease and diet, and provided me with some basic materials for counseling future patients. After attending several meetings, I was asked to be their dietitian adviser. I accepted the position and, over time, my knowledge of the disease and diet grew. Ten years later I was invited to become a member of the Canadian Celiac Association Professional Advisory Board, a position I have held ever since. I find working in the gluten-free world so exciting and rewarding.
How did you come up with the idea of writing a book on the gluten-free diet?
Every patient that I saw with celiac disease always wanted very specific and practical information on food labeling and ingredients; names of gluten-free companies/products and where to find them; recipes; meal planning suggestions; tips for eating out; how to prevent cross-contamination and other gluten-free diet resources. However, such information was usually only available from many different pamphlets, books, manuals and other sources, which meant that the patient had a pile of loose papers to take home after the counseling sessions! In addition to educating patients, I often got calls from other dietitians around the province, seeking information, as they too felt their knowledge of the disease and diet was inadequate. It soon became apparent that there was a real need for a more comprehensive resource, for both health professionals and patients, on celiac disease. This was the birth of the idea for the Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide.
Tell us more about the book saga?
In 1997 I left a very rewarding career at the hospital to pursue a dream of starting nutrition consulting business. In 1999 I decided to get serious about turning this gluten-free resource idea into a reality and dedicated the next two years to researching and writing my first book – Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide. It was self-published in May 2001. The next big hurdle was letting health professionals and individuals with celiac disease know about the resource. Without the backing of a large publishing house, it required creative promotional strategies on a shoestring budget. As the book became better known, positive feedback from individuals with celiac disease and from dietitians was very encouraging. News about the book continued to spread and more of my consulting time was being devoted to celiac disease. Being the marketing representative, shipper and accountant, as well as author and speaker has given me a new appreciation for the role of authors and publishers, and even more for the importance of accurate up-to-date resources for those with celiac disease.
The gluten-free world continues to grow in both the number of individuals being diagnosed and the products and resources available in the marketplace. These changes have necessitated many revisions to the Gluten-Free Diet to include more information to meet this huge demand. I have now done 4 editions and 9 printings of the book.
On a completely different note, with the recent Royal visit by Will and Kate to Canada and the USA, I understand you have also have had a connection to the British Royalty. Tell us more.
I received the Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award in 1976 from Prince Philip (Queen Elizabeth’s husband) at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. In addition to talking to Prince Philip, his son Andrew was also on the stage to see each of us get our award. The 1976 Olympics in Montreal also had the yachting competition in Kingston so security was very tight. Prior to getting to go to Kingston, my dad and I had to go to the RCMP in Regina and get our fingerprints taken and pass the security check! One interesting side note- the award ceremony was originally supposed to be on the Royal Yacht but was changed at the last minute to the College because the politicians ending up having a dinner on the Yacht with the Royal couple.
I was also very honored to receive the Queen Elizabeth Golden Jubilee Medal from the Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor at Government House in Regina. It was given in recognition for my contributions to the celiac community and dedication to educating health professionals and individuals with celiac disease in Canada and the USA.
When you are not busy speaking, writing, consulting, counseling clients and doing media interviews, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I love playing piano and keyboard. When I am not traveling, I play in our worship band at church. Taking photos is another hobby I enjoy, along with scrapbooking when I get a chance.
What final thoughts about your work in the gluten-free community would you like to leave our readers?
Thirty years ago I never would have dreamed that I would be a dietitian specializing in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, let alone be the author of a national best-seller or being interviewed by Matt Lauer on the NBC Today Show. Rather ironic for a dietitian from Saskatchewan, the province known as the “bread basket of the world.” So, for everyone out there with an idea or dream – pursue it, work hard and never give up. Who knows where you may end up!
I’m amazed and truly blessed to have the opportunity to be involved in such an incredible field, meeting so many wonderful individuals with the disease, along with health professionals and those in government and food industry from the USA, Canada and around the world, who are working so hard to improve the lives of people with gluten sensitivity. The Canadian Celiac Association’s motto “Together We’re Better” is a worthy ideal. I look forward to working together with you and continuing on this challenging gluten-free journey!
BeFreeForMe Note: Many thanks to Shelley for sharing these thoughts, views and inspiration to all of us in the gluten-free community! ~KR
Ask Shelley Case is a feature of BeFreeForMe.com. It is published the second Tuesday of each month. Shelley Case, RD is a Consulting Dietitian, Speaker and Author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide. Visit Shelley and get more gluten-free tips & info at: GlutenFreeDiet.ca