For most of us with food issues, managing them has become second nature. It takes some getting used to, but we put together a routine that involves specific grocery stores and restaurants that we trust. When we travel, all of that goes out the window. We must plan, we must research, and we must cross our fingers and hope for the best that we can stay healthy on the road.
As a health coach, I spend quite a bit of time helping others figure out what to pack when they travel. I practice what I preach, as I currently react to gluten, dairy and eggs, as well as any migraine triggers such as vinegar (salad dressing), soy sauce, citrus and processed meats. When my family travels anywhere, even for a few days, I spend most of my packing time and energy on food. Food for the road or plane, food for the hotel or house where we are staying, and things to keep in my bag for an emergency. (On one trip, I was so wrapped up in packing my food that I forgot to bring my wallet and pajamas.) After doing this in my own life for some time, and helping others as a health coach, you would think I had this down pat.
I guess not. For a recent trip to Boston, I packed a bag with almonds, gluten-free bread and almond butter, fruit, vegetables, crackers and many other snacks. Our first stop was Bob Evans, and I was able to assemble a decent lunch of grilled chicken, hash browns and broccoli. I was feeling quite smug. If I could eke a decent meal out of a Bob Evans, I could go anywhere on this trip and eat well.
Reality hit when we arrived in Syracuse. My daughter found a healthy-looking restaurant that seemed to be perfect: wraps, smoothie bowls, lots of healthy options. As I looked further at the menu, it seemed that all of their meats were soaked in soy sauce. They did not offer plain grilled chicken…everything was “pulled.” I could hear Dr. Sprecher’s voice in my head “If it tastes sweet, it is dessert!”, so no smoothie bowls for me. I sat with a bottle of water while my daughters ate, and my husband and son ate at a nearby sub shop. I was quite hangry and defeated by the time we got back to the hotel, where I ate my soggy bread with some almond butter on it.
The bread was also my breakfast the next morning. I was desperate, DESPERATE for some real food by the time lunch rolled around. Unfortunately, we were on a long stretch of road with only rural exits and infrequent rest stops, which featured McDonald’s and a pizza place. Every time a sign would pop up for a new stop, I would get my hopes up, only to be shut down when I saw the McDonald’s/pizza signs. EVERY SINGLE ONE WAS THE SAME! We managed to find a Wendy’s (the only fast-food restaurant I trust) at about 3:30 p.m. By then, my husband was threatening to send me home on a plane because he couldn’t stand driving with me when I was hungry.
We rented a home with the kitchen, and stocked it immediately upon our arrival. We ate at home most of the time. I used my trusty app “Find Me Gluten Free” when we needed to eat out, but even that was not foolproof. We had a lunch where the waitress said anything on the menu could be adjusted to be gluten-free. “Do you have a gluten-free pizza crust?,” I asked. “No,” she answered. “Do you have a gluten-free bread for the sandwiches?” I asked. “No,” she answered. “Do you have gluten-free pasta?” I asked. “No,” she answered. So they really couldn’t adjust ANYTHING on the menu to be gluten free. I had a salad with no dressing.
The only win came on the last day, when we found a Pizzeria Uno where we had a FABULOUS gluten-free pizza. Down the street was a Ben and Jerry’s with dairy-free ice-cream. My daughter and I finally got to enjoy “vacation” food, and boy, did we enjoy it.
I guess the moral of the story is to never get too complacent when you are on the road. Always, always have a meal on hand or at least something to keep you satiated if you cannot find something to eat. My husband said he expected Boston to be more progressive with its food, and truthfully, I did too. Thank God we had a place with a kitchen. On the way home, I packed a cooler with enough food to get us through the ride home without stopping. And I was SO happy to come home to my kitchen, my Heinen’s, and all of the places I know and trust. There is no place like home!
Food allergies/sensitivities are very common among patients at our practice. It is often said that if a problem is chronic, the first place is to look is at your food, especially at your favorite foods. After all, you eat them all the time, right? The conundrum comes when those foods are identified as triggers, and you need to eliminate them from your diet. When I first started here as a patient, my breakfast was an English muffin, lunch was a sandwich, and dinner was typically pasta. (I was born and raised Italian, so it was not entirely my fault.) When Dr. Sprecher told me I had the Celiac gene, it was panic time. Literally, "what am I going to do now?" Turns out, that was the tip of the iceberg. I had sensitivities to eggs, dairy, many grains, and several nuts and seeds. I currently still live by these restrictions in addition to migraine-trigger foods such as vinegar, citrus, deli meats, chocolate and avocado. I have figured out some ways to still enjoy flavorful food without ruining my health in the process. Here are some of my favorite tips:
1. Look at flavored oils. If you are on a restricted diet, chances are you eat lots of sauteed foods, i.e. chicken, vegetables, etc. Flavored oils help boost the taste without adding any sketchy ingredients that are typically found in seasoning mixes. I love going to the Olive Scene in Chagrin Falls...it is like a candy store for people like me. My favorite oils include basil, orange, cilantro and roasted onion and Herbes De Provence. Vinegar options include strawberry, peach, passion fruit, mango and jalapeno. They have locations on the West Side as well. You can check out their website here.
2. Along the same lines, I love finding unique spice mixes. While I usually get them from the Farmer's Market, I recently found Penzey's in Beachwood, which is a store full of spice mixes. (Cinnamon, garlic, shallots, pepper, fajita, vanilla sugar, etc.) Again, another candy store for someone whose options are limited. They are naturally gluten-free according to the website and employees. You can see what they offer here.
3. Garden herbs are a great option at this time of the year. I am lucky to have a daughter who is into gardening and grows her own herbs. Fresh basil, oregano, chives, mint and dill can add amazing taste to just about anything. One of my favorite summer drinks is infused water, with different combinations of fruit and herbs.
I truly don't believe that limited food choices have to mean bland and boring food. Do not hesitate to contact me if you are looking for help brainstorming food ideas! You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.
While some people come to Dr. Sprecher for tune-ups, most come with health problems that have made their lives difficult if not downright unbearable. (I am shocked, in awe actually, of what some people endure on a daily basis.) After thorough testing, most are faced with the knowledge that they need to make major changes in lifestyle in order to get their body back on track. Reducing sugar/carb consumption, eliminating gluten, dairy or other foods, adding supplements or even a full-scale elimination diet are a few of the recommendations our patients leave with after their second or third appointments.
Some patients are ready to jump in and do whatever is needed to feel better. Others feel completely overwhelmed and don't know where to begin. When many of the foods that are your daily go-tos are suddenly off limits, it can leave you wondering what to do next. Here are a few coach's recommendations to help get in the mindset to start something new.
1. Tap into your "why." This is also known as a positive emotional attractor. Do you want to be able to be more active with your grandchildren? Do you want to travel? Do you want to be able to go places and feel a part of things, and not be "the sick one" anymore? Figure out how your life could improve by making these changes, and envision what your future would be like.
2. Figure out what your strengths are, and tap into them. The VIA character strengths quiz is a favorite of many coaches, as it determines your top strengths in order of 1-24. (It is not negative in any way...the strengths at the bottom of the list are things you may need to work on a little.) Strengths include honesty, kindness, curiosity, judgment, zest, perseverance and self-regulation. If you have "love of beauty and excellence," you may do better taking a walk in a beautiful setting. Or if "spirituality" is a top strength, you can take a yoga class or incorporate meditation into your goals. The test is free, and you can take it here.
3. Set SMART goals. They are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Figure out something that is reasonable for YOU. Trying to exercise every day may be a tall order...how about three days a week? Setting goals you can reach gives you a feeling of satisfaction and encourages you to go forward.
Of course, I am here to help with all of the above and to help figure out what you CAN eat. As of right now, I cannot eat gluten, dairy, eggs, or any migraine-trigger foods such as vinegar, many nuts, avocados, etc. In other words, I know how it feels to wonder what to eat! I always say, where there's a will, there's a way. I have found recipes for nearly everything that meet my dietary requirements. Is my bread as good as a hot baguette from Panera? Probably not, but it is bread, and I can eat it. (My daughter will say of my food "It almost hits the spot!" I said that will be the title of my recipe book someday!)