Hi. I’m Sue Shepherd. Some of you may have met me before, and for some this may be our first introduction. Whichever is the case, you’ve found your way to my website, and my brand new blog! It’s incredibly nice to see you here!
These days I’m the Director of Shepherd Works dietetic practice, a university academic, an author, event organiser, media spokesperson and advocate for food that makes you feel good ……however let me take you back to that monumental day – 24th April 1995, when I was officially given the word from my gastroenterologist that started me on this trajectory: my diagnosis of coeliac disease.
I was at university that day, ploughing my way through the fourth year in my studies to be a dietitian. And during my lunch break, I found a public telephone (yep, this was back in the days of public phones!) and called my gastroenterologist. He had the results of my recent small bowel biopsy, and I was not too surprised to hear the news.
‘Yes, Sue, you have coeliac disease’.
In a way, this was good news. I was relieved! Finally I had a confirmed reason for the significant ill health I’d been dealing with for at least 6 years. The debilitating abdominal pain, the constant state of feeling gassy and bloated, the weird bowel issues, and the depleted nutritional stores. It all made sense. The symptoms I was experiencing were the result of the civil war being waged between my intestines and my immune system. And gluten was the sneaky culprit.
Casting my mind back, I remember the symptoms beginning back in high school. Sitting in class (particularly in the afternoon) trying to hide my bloated, tight-as-a-drum belly. And it wasn’t just the appearance that worried me – It was also really painful! My poor intestines were so full of gas I was doubled over in pain. I knew it wasn’t right, but teenage girls don’t talk about that sort of stuff – it’s embarrassing!
Fast forward a few years down the track, when things really came to a head. By this stage I was in a constant state of exhaustion, my hair was falling out, and I was losing weight. My academic performance was slipping, and blood tests confirmed I was anaemic. I knew something was wrong, and was desperate to solve the mystery.
As part of my studies, I came across this ‘rare’ condition called coeliac disease in my nutrition textbook. I say ‘rare’, because back in 1995, coeliac disease was estimated to affect 1 in 5000 people. Nothing like the figure of 1 in 70 people that we know it to be today!
I was gobsmacked. My symptoms fitted the description perfectly – on paper, I was (quite literally) a text book case! I pushed my GP for a referral and finally got to see a gastroenterologist.
Twenty one years ago, as I stood in the public phone booth and received confirmation of coeliac diagnosis, I found myself both relieved and devastated. My head was spinning with the entirety of what this diagnosis meant.
It dawned on me that I would never again eat my favourite cereal (Just Right®). Never again would a delicious dim sim, or a piece of my mum’s vanilla slice pass my lips. I knew already there was no room for ‘just a little bit of cake’ or ‘just a bite of meat pie’ at half time at the footy. Even crumbs were enough to cause damage.
How was I going to deal with this new life? And what on earth was I even allowed to eat? I needed help, so I sought out a dietitian to set me straight.
Now I’d like to tell you that from this point it was all up and up – that the dietitian I saw filled me with confidence, enthusiasm and positivity for this new gluten free way of life. But that would be bending the truth somewhat. My memories of that visit are of being told about all the foods I now couldn’t eat, rather than practical and positive advice about the food that would help me get well. I remember walking out feeling uncertain. Sad. Deflated.
But it didn’t take me long to decide that I wasn’t going to go through life feeling sad about food! I made the decision, then and there, to become the dietitian that I had needed at diagnosis. Because I LOVE food, and always have. I decided I would learn everything there was to know about coeliac disease, and then some! And I made it my business to start spreading the word for those with coeliac disease and other food intolerances. The rest, folks, is history!
In 1997, I founded Shepherd Works – a unique practice specialising in gastrointestinal nutrition. To start with it was just me, however over the past 19 years, I’m thrilled to have seen it grow into the exceptional team of dietitians we are today. I’m now very proud to be at the helm of a brilliant team who help so many people out there every day.
And, from my humble beginnings of self-publishing and photographing food on my kitchen bench for the first cookbook, I now find myself the very proud author of 13 gluten free and low FODMAP cookbooks, signed with leading international publishing houses and distributed around the world!
On writing this maiden blog entry, I reflect on the very long journey I’ve taken from rather disgruntled newly diagnosed coeliac, to where I am now! I’ve learned so much through my research, through my clients, and through collaborating with likeminded individuals – I now hope to be able to share great things with you.
So I’d like to say … Welcome to this space! I trust you’ll find Shepherd Works to be a source of credible information, enthusiasm for good, healing food, and practical help for living with coeliac disease and other food intolerances.
Best wishes for good health,