Davio’s Northern Italian Restaurant in Phipps Plaza was the perfect setting for Food Network and TV host Sunny Anderson to demonstrate one of her favorite recipes—a colorful, Tuscan Panzanella salad. Anderson is touring the country in select locations after teaming up with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA). It wasn’t only Anderson’s celebrity status and culinary prowess that made her the perfect spokesperson for ‘Get Your Full Course,’ an educational campaign designed in conjunction with CCFA and Janssen Pharmaceuticals to provide resources for people living with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Anderson is speaking publicly about her own 20-year journey with ulcerative colitis (UC) on the paired role of nutrition and appropriate therapy in managing UC and IBD.

“The Kitchen” show host was diagnosed with UC while living in South Korea during her tenure with the Air Force. Sunny has learned to manage IBD with the help of her doctor as well as learning to identify foods that heightened her symptoms. It hasn’t been something she’s been willing to talk about much, until recently. “I was diagnosed when I was 19, although I would have been diagnosed sooner if only I had listened to my body,” explained Anderson to dinner attendees made up mostly of IBD patients, their families and healthcare providers. “I had all the symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis, including extreme abdominal cramps to blood in my stool, but I was too scared to discuss them.”

Celebrity Chef Sunny Anderson demonstrates Panzanella

Photo Credit: Valeri L. Reaves/Getty Images

Now, Anderson is not afraid to talk about sensitive topics like, well, “poop,” and how important it is to make sure you understand what’s going on with your body. “Living with IBD, food is sometimes the last thing you want to think about. It’s an individual disease, what works for you, might not work for me.” With culinary prowess and waving knives (Don’t worry…I like to emphasize with my knife) , the popular summer salad of soaked hard bread, tomatoes and red onions dressed with cilantro and a vinaigrette dressing came to life while Anderson continued. “It’s an individual disease. What works for you, might not work for me. It took many years, but I was able to work with my doctor to get my symptoms under control.” Knowing her triggers has helped Sunny to tweak her eating habits and cooking style. “I don’t take no for an answer,” exclaimed the chef—who, with a hefty final chop on a tomato, pivoted from comical to serious. “That’s how I treat this disease. Don’t let it rule you.” Anderson shared real moments in her road to chef-dom, such as submitting cooking videos to the network, and pointing out her cooking tattoos including race tracks (burns) resulting from rushing to get various dish creations in-and-out of the oven.

During the fun, yet intimate Get Your Full Course program, guests received clinical tips from renowned Gastroenterologist, Dr. Bruce A. Salzberg. Dr. Salzberg, who lectures nationally and internationally on the subject including such places as Tibet and China, treats patients locally at the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center of Atlanta, the first of its kind to be developed in the Southeast. Salzberg and a team of renowned gastroenterologists, surgeons, nutritionists, counselors and other GI specialists offer comprehensive treatment for patients from the age of 16 and up. In addition to endoscopic, surgical and medical treatment, patients may receive psychological treatment, counseling on fertility or guidance on nutrition. “We’re now getting into newer mechanisms of action, a better understanding of the micro bio—bacteria that we all have in our gut, as well as the genetics of the disease. With the help of the CCFA, and support and research, we are certainly coming to a better understanding of this disease, and treatments such as Biologics that can help achieve and maintain remission,” says Salzberg. “Part of the discussion I have with my patients is that unfortunately there is no one specific diet that is going to be successful for all IBD patients. If you have an intestinal disease, it certainly is going to affect your thought process–your daily life. It affects you, and your family, all the time. No matter if you’re at home, at a restaurant, or on vacation.”

In attendance was Duane White, a graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, whose management career path would lead him to Atlanta. It would be some 22 years later that the UC would manifest in his life. “I was 45 when I was diagnosed. Basically for three days over a weekend, I experienced severe diarrhea,” said White. “I went to our family doctor, who sent me to another GI. They kept telling me, ‘read the Bible and pray.’” After four or five months of getting better, but then regressing, Duane was referred to a specialist. White became a patient of Dr. Salzberg. “Believe me, I don’t miss my appointments with him. Ever. In my case, I lost a lot of weight. I used to be able to bench press 250 pounds. Now, I finally have a permission slip to get back in the gym. I understand that IBD can keep you from absorbing important nutrients, and keep you weakened. I’ll start out by lifting only 50 pounds.”

Parents Jack and Ellen Spandorfer also attended the GYFC cooking demonstration, along with their two children, who were diagnosed with IBD at ages 10 and 12. “We were in Target shopping,” recalled Ellen, when Jack Jr. suddenly was on the floor holding his stomach grimacing in pain. Those were the beginning signs.”

Inflammatory Bowel Disease includes the chronic digestive diseases ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease, and affects 1.4 million Americans combined. Sunny’s recipes, exclusive cooking demonstrations and educational content are featured on www.GetYourFullCourse.com.

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