Interview with Danna Korn
I had the distinct pleasure of catching up with Danna Korn, who has been called one of the world’s leading experts on gluten-free living and the “Gluten-free Guru” of our generation. She has written numerous books, including the popular Living Gluten-Free for Dummies and Wheat Free, Worry Free, and co-author of Gluten-Free Cooking for Dummies. She is respected as one of the leading authorities on gluten-free diets and has been featured in People Magazine, on ABC’s 20/20 and dozens of other national media outlets. Danna has been researching Celiac disease since her son, Tyler, was diagnosed in 1991. Soon after, she founded R.O.C.K. (Raising Our Celiac Kids), a support group for families of children on gluten-free diets. Danna and her husband Bryan own and operate a wellness company called Sonic Boom, and they reside in California with their 2 children.
Mara: Tell me a little bit about your son being diagnosed with Celiac. Danna: It was a long, scary road arriving at a diagnosis! He was a sick little guy, but doctors kept telling me there was nothing wrong with him, and even accused me of having Munchausen Syndrome (where moms make up the illness). Finally, nine months and four doctors later, a doctor declared that he was, in fact, a sick little boy (and I wasn’t, in fact, neurotic).. It’s interesting, but that was truly a relief to hear. They suggested he may have cancer, a blood disease, cystic fibrosis, or other serious disorders … I was terrified! Finally, after lots of testing, he was diagnosed with celiac disease. Mara: Was that scary and what did you do when you found out? Danna: It was terrifying! My first response was, “He can’t have that … I’ve never heard of it!” Once I calmed down and asked what it meant, I thought, “Okay, I can handle this…” and I asked the doctor, “What’s gluten?” He responded, “I really don’t know, but even a tiny bit of it is like rat poison to his system.” Turns out the hospital dietitian didn’t know either, so I was truly on an island all by myself – terrified to feed my own son. Mara: What were the symptoms he was experiencing? Danna: Right about the time we started introducing foods like crackers to his diet, he began to get diarrhea. It got more and more severe, to the point where he had 20 diarrhea diapers a day (I remember it well because a container of Pampers had 20 diapers in it, and we’d go through one a day – expensive!). Besides the diarrhea, his belly was growing distended, while his arms and legs got skinny. Most apparent was his change in disposition – he went from being a happy-go-lucky little toddler to an irritable, clingy baby.
Mara: What was the best moment in the midst of the difficult diagnosis?
Danna: A few months after he went gluten-free, I remember thinking, “Hey! His tummy is flat! When did that happen?!?” I even experienced a bit of denial, thinking, “Maybe he doesn’t really have celiac disease – after all, look how healthy he is!”
Mara: What’s been the best or easiest thing about your household going gluten free?
Danna: The best thing has been that it has forced us to focus on nutrition and healthier lifestyles. It’s had a profound effect, and we’re all nutrition fanatics, far beyond just gluten-free.
Mara: What’s been the hardest or worst?
Danna: The hardest times involved family members who didn’t understand. They thought I was neurotic and overly concerned about crumbs and contamination, and refused to do their part to keep him safely gluten-free. Sometimes they would intentionally give him gluten just to “prove” to me that he wouldn’t die.
Mara: Do you have any advice for other families that have just been diagnosed with Celiac or are thinking about a gluten free lifestyle?
Danna: I have 20 years of advice! There’s so much – but most importantly is to realize that this is a great thing. You have the key to better health! MOST people who have celiac disease never get diagnosed, so they never get to know how much better they’d feel if they went gluten-free.
Mara: Tell me a bit about your company Sonic Boom Wellness.
Danna: We’ve “gamified” wellness – we make it fun to improve daily habits! Because it’s sponsored by the employer, people “play” at work with colleagues, which holds them accountable and sustains motivation. We’ve put wacky in wellness, and it works!
Mara: What is it and how did the idea for it come to you?
Danna: I’m a kid at heart. I was the mommy who played on the slide and had swinging contests with the kids. My husband, Bryan, had worked in wellness for years, but it just seemed so boring – health assessments, biometric screenings – what do those do to change behavior? NOTHING! So we started Sonic Boom, headed in a totally new direction by encouraging people to have FUN at work, and get healthy at the same time.
Mara: I understand you have 5 gluten-free books out in the marketplace now.
Danna: Yes! That’s exciting! When I set out to write my first one, everyone said, “Don’t do it! No one will publish that!” I sent 4 proposals and got 4 acceptances … and that was years ago, when no one knew anything about celiac disease or gluten. The topic just gets hotter and hotter! My books are a little different from most of the books out there. Most are recipe books, and a few talk about the science behind celiac disease. My books have all the science too, but they focus mostly on how to live – and LOVE – the lifestyle.
Mara: What are your future plans for using your vast knowledge of Celiac—do you have another website, a health practice, any future plans for a cookbook or another book coming out?
Danna: I’m proud to be a strategic partner with General Mills, helping with their gluten-free initiative. I was delighted to be invited to Budapest last year to do their first-ever Gluten-Free Day, and there are talks of having me speak at another event like that in Hungary this year or next. I’m working on the new edition of “Gluten-Free Cooking for Dummies,” and I have some surprise plans for R.O.C.K. (Raising Our Celiac Kids) (the world’s largest support group for gluten-free kids). I started R.O.C.K. 20 years ago and would love to see it grow. All of that and my full-time Sonic Boom business keeps me busy, busy, busy!
Mara: What is traveling like for you and your family?
Danna: It’s awesome! Traveling to Europe last year was amazing … they have TONS of gluten-free pastas, pizzas, and beer! It was a treat!
Mara: How much planning is involved?
Danna: It’s not that tough. If you focus on a healthy diet without a lot of processed foods, it makes it easier. It’s the same as eating out where you live – you just have to be careful and knowledgeable when you’re talking to the server and chef.
Mara: Where can followers of GlutenFreeWorld.tv connect with you?
Danna: My site is probably the best: www.dannakorn.com – there’s a contact button there.
Mara: Anything else that you’d like to tell my audience?
Danna: Gluten-free’s the way to be! Live it and love it!