Home » Food Matters Project | Gluten-Free Cassoulet with lots of vegetables

Food Matters Project | Gluten-Free Cassoulet with lots of vegetables

This post is part of the Food Matters Project, a cooking collaboration from a wide range of food bloggers. Each week, I will cook a recipe from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters Cookbook, which places an emphasis on mindful and sustainable eating. Follow along with us! My posts for this project can be found here.

I found the Food Matters Project via a blog written by a (soon to no longer be) Chicago food blogger, the Faux Martha. This is a series about food philosophy, better eating, and healthy, delicious food.

I think it is time for some real talk.

Real talk about my struggle with food.

You see, I used to be fat. Not just pleasantly curvy. Fat. Obese. Morbidly obese.

I am not exaggerating and here is the picture to prove it.

Mary Fran Loses 125 pounds on a gluten-free diet

That first picture? It is the only one I can find from when I was that heavy. I spent 3 years making sure I was taking the pictures and not in them. I was eating things like french toast grilled cheese, ramen noodles for a snack, fried chicken fingers and french fries just about every day. It was college, and you were supposed to eat crap, right?

Not right. I was in the hospital three times for a migraine that wouldn’t go away. (Those were month long hospital stays with experimental treatments and filled with glutinous treats my mom & doctors thought would boost my morale).

I did Weight Watchers and lost 15 pounds by eating their little boxed meals and treats (all filled with gluten). But then the weight loss stopped. And I was still getting migraines that lasted for weeks. I didn’t have a day without a migraine.

The doctor put me on an elimination diet from normal migraine triggers. No chemicals – no dyes, no artificial flavors, no processed foods. No nitrites, nitrates, sulfates or sulfites. No MSG. No alcohol. White rice, plain toast. I gained 10 pounds not eating.

Then my mom read some crazy hippy book and when I was knocked out with pneumonia and a migraine, she cooked a month worth of meals for me. And she made them gluten free. She made me promise that even if I went out with friends that I would be gluten-free for a month. Fine. It couldn’t be any worse than how I was eating.

Stop. Right now. In 3 days, I had my first day without a migraine. I lost the 10 pounds I gained on my elimination diet. I actually felt good. I didn’t intentionally eat gluten for 2 years. Just to see if it was a fluke – it wasn’t. I missed crusty white bread. And I thought that it couldn’t really hurt me to eat one piece. I had a migraine for 2 days and tummy problems for a week.

Now I could live, I still had a food problem. I was over-weight and recovering from a car accident that the doctors said might take away my ability to walk without a walker. I wouldn’t let that happen. From challenging myself in secret to push my walker away and walk to it when no one was around to running 4 miles a day. Every day. I started eating the foods that my body needed for fuel and not junk. I got down to a healthy weight for the first time since the 5th grade.

I felt good.

And then I lost my ability to run or even work out. So I stopped caring about food. Big mistake. I have a little purple dress in my closet I need to get back into. So, I rejoined Weight Watchers to keep me on track. And I decided it was time to start acting like food matters.

I am already down 10 pounds in 5 weeks and I have about 35 more to get me to be the thinnest I have been since the 6th grade (I already wore a dress from the 8th grade to a wedding shower).

I am going to share with you the foods I really eat and leave the dessert eating to one a day and pawn the rest off on my willing coworkers.

Now, for the Cassoulet. This week, the recipe that I started with is available from Keely. And you can see the rest of the participants on the Food Matters Project website.

This recipe is gluten-free as long as your stock (or wine) is gluten-free and you use a gluten-free meat (some sausages contain gluten!) and since the recipe tells you to use sausage, pork chops or duck breast, you have choices. I used ground turkey seasoned with Italian sausage seasoning for the meat. I used 2 large cans of diced tomatoes, 1 large can and 1 regular sized can of cannellini beans and about a cup of dry white wine (in place of stock or the suggested red) because I used turkey as my meat. I left out the zucchini because I don’t particularly like it and added extra carrots and celery. I portioned it out into 6 lunches for 7 weight watchers points each. For a good, hearty lunch that will leave me full, I call it a win.



  1. Casey says:

    Wow! Congratulations to you for making your life so much more meaningful. I am glad you shared your story. I know, it will help others who struggle with weight.

    My husband has celiac so I understand the issue of not recognizing the need for a gluten-free diet. It has become better in recent years but when my husband was diagnosed, the doctors seemed to be lacking real knowledge about this situation.

    • maryfran says:

      Thank you for your kind words!

      I think many doctors are still lacking knowledge. When I told my neurologist about cutting the gluten he was like “Why didn’t I think of that!”.

  2. Margarita says:

    You have a very inspring story and I admire you. 🙂 This cassoulet is really a winner, isn’t it? I wish I was a coworker… then I’d get all those desserts!

  3. Evi says:

    Congratulations on your journey! I look forward to seeing your recipes!

    This id definitely a great one for lunch- easy to pack and eat!

  4. Beth says:

    As one of the friends pictured with you in photo #2 when you were 270 (holy cow, I had no idea!?!)… well, let’s just say that I remember the times when you were in and out of the hospital with the migranes and the pneumonia and the general-what-the-hell-is-happening-stuff that you were going through. I also remember praying for you. A lot. Because I was terrified that you weren’t going to make it.

    And I was SOOOOOOOO relieved when you discovered the gluten allergy–because you got your life back. I know I don’t have to tell you, but thank goodness!

    Mifa, you are going to Change. The. World.

    I know it.

  5. Rachel says:

    Mary Fran,

    I, too, had a weight problem. I weighed 226lbs at my highest and in two years after trial and error with food, I got a food allergy test and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I realized that I was gluten, wheat, and yeast intolerant (mosty) and a few other things I never would have guessed. Though I already found out I was intolerant of the main three through trial and error, it was nice to have that confirmation. I have been mostly gluten-free for about a year and the weight just falls off. Its unreal. I’m down 55lbs and I am almost in the 160’s and can’t wait since its the lowest I’ve been since high school. Ironically, just in time for our 10 year reunion (I hope I get to see you there!)

  6. Dia says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Mary Fran!! I loved the line about always being sure you were BEHIND the camera in those days!! A friend with Asthma & Diabetes has been considering going GF, & recently read an article on the link with migraines. Her hubby gets those (& they both want to loose weight) & she noticed on a recent trip after pizza for lunch & a sandwich for dinner – migraine!

    I’ve been pleased to see Weight Watchers get on the ‘veggies are OK’ bandwagon recently, several friends who are on WW are loosing some (though, of course, I feel they would do well to nix the gluten as well) Another friend who’d been struggling with several issues, inc weight, went GF last fall after her dau was Dx with Celiac! My friend had the DNA testing, & is now off soy, dairy, gluten & eggs! A few weeks ago I saw her from across a room, & almost didn’t recognize her, she’s MUCH closer to her ‘ideal weight,’ her skin is clear, she has more energy …
    Another friend told her ‘just think of it as Rat Poison’ when you’re out!’

    My family (daughter & her fam are also GF) cut out dairy last fall, & Mary just ordered the ‘Engine 2 Diet’ after watching ‘Forks Over Knives’ …. we already eat LOTS of veggies & fruit etc, now meat is following the dairy!

    About 15 years ago I went up 20# in 2 months when I washed dishes in an AK ‘fly-in fishing camp’ with a French Chef as camp cook! Little exercise, lots more meat & dairy than I was used to (I’d been living at a vegetarian resort) … the weight came off when I went back to veggies that winter, & was walking & teaching Tai Chi. Of course lots of Gluten in AK as well, & desert every evening (usually ice cream) …. When we went GF 3 years ago, I was also heavier than I’d been – figured it was ‘just’ post menopause …. nope! Now I’m back closer to college weight, & so happy we realized how bad gluten is for our family!

  7. Ana says:

    Thanks for sharing your story – it was very inspring and one that any individual can connect to. The recipe looks wonderful as well; the ground turket is a great idea!

  8. Amy says:

    I met Mama Cakes tonight at WS, I was buying a vitamix. Your story is an inspiration….food matters. I am recovering from Transverse Meylitis – healthy connections and whole foods is where I am headed. I look forward to reading your blog.

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