By Chrissa Hardy for HelloGiggles.com
Dana Vollmer spent her summer training for London Olympic Games, competing in London and celebrating her gold-medal-winning, record-breaking time in London. Would any of these things have happened, had she not discovered her gluten allergy in the spring of 2011? She’s not so sure. After years of daily stomach aches brought on by her food choices, Dana feels better than ever before and could not imagine returning to a life with gluten.
Gluten-free has become a trend, a buzz word that has taken up prime real estate on food labels everywhere. What does it mean exactly? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Those who are intolerant of it, allergic or sensitive to it, need to adopt a lifestyle of paying close attention to food labels. I sat down with Dana at the Gluten-Free Pizza Event, put on by The Venice Bakery in Los Angeles, CA, to discuss her new life and how going gluten-free changed everything.
Dana Vollmer: It’s still pretty hectic. I’m enjoying it a lot. Initially, I was planning to go back to my hometown in Texas to visit with my family and sort of relax, but I’ve just been traveling non stop and I love it. It’s been really great. It’s one thing to have the excitement of the Olympics but, now it’s so great to see the kids and how their faces light up when they get to wear the gold medal. I remember when I was 12 and I saw my first gold medal, that’s when I decided that I wanted to become an Olympian.
CH: What does your fitness routine consist of these days?
DV: I’m trying to stay in shape right now, but I had to take off some of the intensity. Not so much that my physical body couldn’t handle it, but mentally, it’s hard to push yourself everyday for four years, harder than you thought you could. And then to have gotten a world record and the gold medal, knowing that I’m really going to have to focus and push myself harder to top that, mentally, I just couldn’t go straight into that. I’ve been working on my technique and different strength exercises and I’ve always believed that it’s not just about yardage in the pool, it’s about body awareness, technique and a feel for the water and that’s what I’m getting better at. I’ve started doing ballet classes and just focusing on different ways to get stronger.
CH: Do you have a favorite fitness activity?
DV: Our team at Cal does Hip Hop Dance and I love that. I had been away from the team for a long time so when I came back last week, I got to do a hip hop class with them and it was humbling, because I’m not very good. But they just move so fast and the music is really fun and before you know it, an hour has gone by and you’re just a sweaty mess. I laughed the whole time. It’s just a really fun way to get in shape.
CH: How has your diet changed since the Olympics ended? Do you get to take a break a little in that area as well?
DV: With the gluten and egg allergy that I have, I just felt so much better after I figured out my diet that it’s not the area that I want to relax in. No part of me wants to eat gluten while I’m on a break, you know? I don’t want to feel as bad as I did before. The diet doesn’t feel super strict, it’s just how I know my body feels better. I can have anything in moderation. It’s kind of stayed the same because it’s a lifestyle change.
DV: It was spring of 2011. I had stomach aches as long as I can remember and I never knew why. I don’t really remember a day when I didn’t have a stomach ache. I just lived with it. Some days were worse than others. I had gone to the emergency room multiple times and they never told me what it was. To finally have it figured out, and to win my first gold medal at the world championships in the fall, it just feels like I keep getting better since then. To have a gold medal and a world record, I feel like if I hadn’t figured out the diet, I’m not sure I’d be here. I was exhausted all the time and not recovering from workout to workout. Now I feel like my body actually uses all of the food I put into it.
CH: What is your go to gluten free meal to make at home?
DV: I like mixing it up, but I really do love the gluten-free pizza crust from Venice Bakery. It’s just so easy to do different things with it; like some days I’ll put ham and cheese on it and fold it up. Then some days I’ll put pesto on it with different veggies. And I think it tastes so much better than its gluten-filled competitors. I’ve tried a lot of breads that are gluten-free and I just haven’t found any that I like. And this crust is just so good!
CH: Is it difficult to go out to eat?
Sometimes it is. I feel like at most places I can create something and they are willing to help me. I’ll ask for safe items like veggies and potatoes or just a few sides. At the beginning it was harder because I would try to go to only gluten-free restaurants. Places are getting better though. PF Chang’s has a gluten-free menu and I know Subway is offering gluten-free options as well.
CH: Have you noticed other changes with your body since going gluten free?
Huge changes! Now, if I accidentally eat gluten, I feel like I’ve gained five pounds instantly. I just feel puffy. My brother and I always joked about how neither of us could get muscle definition and we just figured that we didn’t have that body type. Now taking gluten out, that puffy layer is just gone and I feel so much leaner. I also feel like I’ve been sleeping better, I no longer get headaches, and I can recover more easily after workouts.
After speaking with Dana, I was able to meet Jimmy DeSisto, President of Venice Bakery, and I asked him about his famous recipe and the inspiration behind it. Jimmy told me that eight years ago a doctor friend of his asked if he could make a gluten-free product because she had seen behavioral and growth improvements in autistic children who switched to a gluten-free diet. That got his attention. A family man himself, he wanted to help out in any way that he could. Jimmy has dedicated the last eight years to creating the recipe (that is gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free and vegan) perfecting the taste to its current extreme deliciousness, and staying on top of the research behind it. He is honored to serve his community by providing gluten-free pizza crusts, flatbreads, and foccacia that are available online! In fact, order a bunch! These items are air-tight and easily stored for later use.
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Event image by Chad Savage; Main Image by VH1.com