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Portraits William Dietrich

Shauna James Ahern | Gluten freed, she's devouring life again

"Yes."

Tattooed on the wrist of the self-styled "Gluten Free Girl," Seattle's Shauna James Ahern, is the word that famously caught John Lennon's eye in an art piece by then-unknown Yoko Ono.

It's also the basis of a charming love story for Shauna. As a Beatles fan, Shauna knew she had met her soul mate, restaurant chef Dan Ahern, when he rolled up his sleeve to reveal a tattoo of Lennon and the word "Imagine," from the famous song.

The two wed this past July.

But "yes," posted on Shauna's Web site, www.glutenfreegirl.com, also is an expression of the exuberance she has found since learning that a lifetime of ill health could be cured by avoiding gluten, an elastic protein found in wheat, rye and barley. She has celiac disease, an auto-immune disorder in which the body attacks its own tissues because it mistakes gluten for an invader.

Now Ahern has appeared on the Food Network, set up her own Web site (which draws about 15,000 views a week) and written a book called "Gluten Free Girl: How I Found the Food that Loves Me Back . . . And How You Can Too" (Wiley & Sons, $25) due out next month.

"The book is horrified nostalgia" about a past — which included a brief stint as a child actor in Hollywood, English teaching on Vashon Island, and an episode as a live-in editor for actor Pierce Brosnan in London and New York — in which her sickliness mystified her.

"I was down to eating half a jar of baby food a day."

Celiac disease has been linked to depression, hair loss, poor concentration and a host of medical disorders. Yet Ahern said only an estimated 3 percent of celiacs have been diagnosed. Her own doctor refused to authorize a routine blood test for the disease, and she had to go to a naturopath.

Since switching two years ago to flours made from non-gluten grains like rice or nuts, her health has rebounded. "Food is again so beautiful that I started taking pictures of it," she says.

Dan Ahern, who's also given up gluten, has turned the restaurant where he cooks, Madison Park's Impromptu Wine Bar, gluten free. Most customers don't notice it — the food tastes the same — but celiacs make a pilgrimage.

"We get people in the restaurant who haven't eaten out in five years," she says. "This whole thing has been a rebirth. This tattoo is my reminder to say 'yes' to every moment that arrives."

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