Meet a Health Hero: Alice Bast

Read more about the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness's Alice Bast, a semi-finalist in our 2012 Health Hero Challenge!

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Name: Alice Bast

Occupation: Founder and president, National Foundation for Celiac Awareness

Who or what motivates you to be healthy?

My parents are my inspiration. My mother died of pancreatic cancer when I was in college, so I vowed to live a long and healthy life. She taught my siblings and me how to grow vegetables in our garden and took us berry picking. I grew up eating a whole-foods diet, and I still do today. My father attended the U.S. Naval Academy and set a good example early on. I can remember him getting up at 5 a.m. to do calisthenics every morning. He inspired me to stay fit, even after his passing. It goes to show what a difference parents can make by setting the right example.

Describe a health- or fitness-related turning point in your life.

Getting diagnosed with celiac disease completely changed my life. I mean completely. I finally knew the root cause of my head-to-toe symptoms that had evaded doctors for years. I wasn’t crazy, and in fact, I was able to restore my health by adopting a lifelong gluten-free diet. That means I need to monitor every single thing I eat, including how it’s prepared, but I value food—good food—even more. They say food is our medicine, and in my case that’s particularly true. A healthy gluten-free diet gave me my life back. And now, through the National Foundation Celiac Awareness, I’m helping others restore health and reclaim their lives, too.

What “policy: would you institute to make Philadelphia a healthier city?

Our public school system is in dire need of a healthy-food initiative. I would love to see school menus that focus on fresh, unprocessed foods and are still affordable. Kids should know that vegetables don’t come from a can, and that apples aren’t just for the teacher. I would include a requirement for all schools to receive gluten-free and food-allergy training, as more and more of our kids have special dietary news. School cafeterias should be a safe and welcoming place for all kids, and one that supports a healthy lifestyle.

What’s the most important part of your health or fitness regimen?

It goes without saying, but my gluten-free diet is critical. A crumb of bread is enough to make me sick, so there’s no room to be lax. I check every food label to make sure what I’m eating is gluten-free. As a result, I’ve also gotten into the habit of choosing foods that have ingredients that are easy to read. I’m not afraid of fat, I don’t shun sugar, but if I’m grabbing a box of rice, I want the first (if not the only) ingredient to say “rice.”

For fitness, yoga rocks. It makes such a difference in my stress level, and I can feel a difference in my body when I go regularly.

What is your No. 1 piece of health-related advice or encouragement?

Keep it simple. Grab a friend and find a physical activity you enjoy together. Go for a walk. Try a new sport. Pick an unusual fruit or vegetable and see what you can make with it. I know it’s hard to find the time—I hate when I spend the entire day sitting in front of my computer—but somehow, find a way to get away from your desk and move. If you’re feeling tired or depressed, push yourself to do some sort of activity. You’ll be amazed at how much better it will make you feel.