Nancy Nichols surprised the North Texas restaurant world last week by stepping down as dining critic at D Magazine. The pasta, the pancakes, the artisan bread she loved for 18 years in the job were conspiring to kill her. She recently sat down for lunch to talk about the decision:
For the last two decades, Nancy Nichols would open a menu and see opportunity.
But on this day, as she perused the menu at Lark on the Park, she was mostly reminded of limitations.
“I look at the sandwiches section, and I have to get creative there," she said. "I mean, it’s kind of hard to order a grilled cheese without bread.”
So instead, she tells our waiter:
“I think I’ll try your Tassione salad. And then your fish of the day.”
For the last several years, the story has been the same. Dine out at a fancy new restaurant. Then pray she could make it home before the intestinal distress kicked in. Sometimes, she didn’t make it.
Nichols says these symptoms aren’t unusual for restaurant critics, who can eat rich, multicourse meals three to six nights a week.
She knew something was seriously wrong, though, when her mind started to go fuzzy.
“I was doing things like driving down the tollway, and instead of turning off the Bluetooth in my car, I would turn off the ignition," she said.
Her lowest moment didn’t come in her car, though. One morning, she woke up and couldn’t move.
“I mean I literally looked at the floor, and I looked down at my toes. And I did not know how to get my feet down to the ground – and it was like 7:30 in the morning," she said. "That was terrifying. And I just reached over and called my gynecologist … and just called her and I said, ‘I have to come in, cause I think I’m dying.’”
What followed was months and months of tests. First she thought she had hypothyroidism, then hyperthyroidism. Finally, an endocrinologist asked if she’d ever considered cutting out gluten.
The test for Celiac disease was negative. But then her doctor e-mailed to say she tested positive for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – a condition in which gluten causes the body to attack the thyroid.
“And she said. ‘Take care, see you in six weeks.’ And it’s like, OK…and I was like, ‘Yay, I’m sick!’ After three years, and you finally find out what it is, then you can have a plan, you know? You can fix it.”
Nichols hasn’t eaten gluten since mid-October. She says within a few weeks she felt remarkably better. Already this year she’s traveled to Cuba and Dubai – trips she wouldn’t have even considered six months ago.
Which doesn’t mean life is perfect.
First, she had to tell her editor at D she was giving up the dining critic job. She’s staying to cover the restaurant business and write features on other topics.
And she’s also suffering the withdrawal that more than 3 million other gluten-intolerant Americans face. No more fettuccine or fried chicken. Adios beer and anything with a bun. Which are mild compared with the loss of her favorite pizza.
“It’s not the same," she say. "I mean, I’m just a Cane Rosso junkie. That hurts – that I can’t just fold up one of those warm, soft crusts and just go face-down in it. As a matter of fact, I’m giving myself six months of gluten-free, and then I’m going to do an experiment, and I’m going to go to Cane Rosso and I’m going to eat a pizza. And I’m going to see what happens.”
It might hurt later. But she’s willing to pay the price for one more taste of chewy, cheesy bliss.
On Think today at 1, Nancy Nichols talks to Krys Boyd and takes your phone calls about leaving her position as D Magazine’s dining critic.