Stage and screen actress Laura Bell Bundy takes a positive approach in dealing with celiac disease.
Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Laura Bell Bundy made her acting debut in regional theater at the tender age of nine. As she matured, so did her roles. The Southern belle originated the role of Tina Denmark in the off-Broadway production Ruthless! The Musical, receiving a Drama Desk nomination for outstanding actress in a musical. This led to her 2002 Broadway debut in Hairspray, where she originated the role of Amber Von Tussle. She then initiated the lead role of Elle Woods in Broadway’s Legally Blonde: The Musical, receiving a Tony Award nomination.
Outside New York City, the stage actress has guest-starred on various TV series and she reprised the role of Elle in the national tour of the musical. Along the way, she’s become a rising star in country music. She now co-stars alongside Charlie Sheen in FX’s television comedy, Anger Management.
Bundy, who makes her home in both Los Angeles and Nashville, says the stress of bicoastal living is nothing compared to the strain she endured with undiagnosed celiac disease. Here the 5-foot, 4-inch actress talks with Gluten Free & More about her diagnosis, her eating habits and what angers her in real life.
Q: How did you happen to discover you have celiac disease?
A: I initiated it. This was 12 years ago. Literally, it was me going to my doctors and telling them they needed to test me. There weren’t a lot of doctors willing to test for celiac because it sounded quite odd to them.
Q: What made you so convinced you had a medical condition? What were your symptoms?
A I was having many issues. I was swollen all the time—retaining a lot of water and bloated. I was having joint pain. Digestively, the disease was creating a situation similar to irritable bowel disease. I also was having really, really bad acid reflux. This was during the fat-free craze and I was eating things like SnackWells and low-calorie breads, just constantly poisoning myself. A week after I went gluten-free, I lost 10 pounds of water weight.
Q: Ten pounds in 7 days? That’s quite a drop in a short period.
A: I was appearing on a soap opera at the time and was getting a lot of pressure about gaining weight. They had worked me into such a frenzy that I was exercising 2½ hours every day and still gaining weight. I got very frustrated and almost fell into a depression.
When I discovered I had celiac disease, I remember thinking, Oh my God! This is the reason I feel so terrible. The diagnosis was a lifesaver.
Q: Was it challenging to change your diet?
A: Yes. I’ll admit it was hard for me to cut out bread. But it was worth it because the gluten-free diet eliminated all these problems. I felt better. I looked better… my skin was better. It was like night and day.
Q: What about sticking to the diet? Do you find you eat gluten by mistake?
A: It happens more often than I’d like. To really stay away from gluten entirely, I’d have to cook everything myself. I can’t have soy sauce. I can’t have certain cold cuts. I have to be really careful about sauces and gravies. Even if I go to catering at work and have them grill me some chicken, I have to be the diva and ask them to wash the grill off first.
Q: You are involved in a lot of activities and attend award ceremonies and that sort of thing. What about when you go to events?
A: An event is a very scary thing for me because I don’t want to be the diva person, asking what’s in this. If it looks like a crab cake, fried in any way, on a crostini…I just will not touch it. If it’s a simple chicken skewer or a veggie tray, I’m fine. I always bring something in my bag like a Lara or Kind bar. Believe it or not, I often carry Lays classic potato chips. They have only three ingredients—potatoes, oil, salt and no preservatives—and they’re gluten-free.
Q: You keep saying you don’t want to be a diva….
A Actually, I’m totally low maintenance—but the food thing is not something I can be low maintenance about. Gluten creates big issues for me. As an immediate example, the first thing that happens when I ingest gluten is my face swells up. If I’m on screen, I have a blowfish face. Sure, it’s great that you can go to the set and there’s all this wonderful food but I bring food from home.
Q: Besides gluten, have you omitted any other foods from your diet?
A: Here’s the thing. A lot of people with celiac disease have to be careful about dairy products. I can’t have milk. I can’t have ice cream—that was a very sad day of discovery, let me tell you! Cheese is not as bad. I’m okay with fresh mozzarella cheese but I have issues with really aged cheese.
Q: Have you found good dairy-free substitutes?
A: I love almond milk. I keep that in my refrigerator. I haven’t found good vegan cheese substitutes yet except for Tofutti cheese. I’m still trying to discover what works there.
Q: If I walked into your kitchen, what nutritional staples would I find?
A: You’d see a lot of rice products. I eat a lot of Glutino crackers and I always have green juices. Right now, I’m obsessed with Suja juice. I drink one every morning. There’d be roasted turkey, hummus, baby carrots. You’d see brown rice pasta. I love pasta dishes. If there’s no gluten-free pasta at an Italian restaurant, I’ll bring my own and have them cook it. I eat free-range meats. I take multivitamin and mineral supplements. I do superfood powders. I also drink a lot of ginger tea, which is very good for my digestion. I eat a lot of salmon for the omega-3 fatty acids. I try to have a balanced diet. I’m very aware and so in touch with my body now.
Q: On Anger Management, you play a therapist to Charlie Sheen’s character. In real life, what angers you and how do you calm down?
A: I think I have intolerance for intolerance. I don’t enjoy negativity and people who are constantly complaining. I think if you have an issue, you should try to solve it if you can instead of wallowing in it. To calm down, I ask myself, why do I feel this way and what is really bothering me about this situation? Is it my issue or is it something I can ask someone to help me solve?
Celebrity correspondent Bonnie Siegler lives in California.