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My joy of traveling abroad as a coeliac
Written by David Johnstone. Monday, March 12th, 2012
For you, as for all Coeliacs, food is a huge hang up. Personally since my diagnosis it seems like I’ve have been constantly hungry. Missing meals during busy times at work never used to be a problem. But now it feels as if my stomach is imploding if I go too long without a meal or snack. Guess that comes partially from the sub concuss effect of changing diet or when I lost weight after diagnosis etc… don’t know. But basically I tend to get a bit stressed if can’t control or predict where the next meal is coming from.
So travelling was a tough hurdle to come to terms with. Entrusting your health and diet to random people you don’t know, or even speak the same language as, is very scary. The first time I travelled aboard as a Coeliac was with my job, for a test and race in France. It wasn’t very successful diet wise, had a huge meal error in a restaurant and took over a week to recover…
Now I realise I’m quite lucky working and travelling within Motorsport, half the time there’s team catering or hospitality. On these occasions I am sheltered and pampered. But really depends how understanding and open-minded the catering staff and chef are. I found to begin with some chefs were not interested and just thought I was some finicky troublemaker for them. This is an attitude every Coeliac or person with an Allergy will face at some point. Which is a shame, as this ignorance can really curtail our confidence with continuing normal lives per say. Luckily in my current job, I have a supportive Team Management that helps, and have grown a trusting relationship with our Team Chefs. Pleasant surprise was that last years Catering Manager turned out to be a Coeliac from birth, so I had help and understanding from day one.
Before diagnosis, one of my favourite things about travelling was playing Menu Roulette in random restaurants we would find ourselves in around the world. Never really knowing what id ordered. Sometimes it was disappointing, other times it was fantastic. That’s gone out the window know, can’t take that risk anymore. It’s replaced with the anxiety of having to explain my dietary requirements yet again; sure my work mates think I’m a broken record. My Coeliac travel folder is brimming with different country fact sheets and translation cards I’ve downloaded. Always carry the latest country’s translation card in my wallet.
Yet this all gets easier. Only 1 year on and it already seems normal. Actually the sheer joy and excitement of finding something different to eat, is far greater now then ever before diagnosis. You can have too many Entrecote and Salads you know, but still get the odd meal surprise, that I would have never considered before. This disease has opened up so many new food delights. Recently in a Pizzeria in the French Alps, had this amazing oven baked cheese dish, like a fondue full off meats and veg. Yum.
As time goes on, I have learnt to become more relaxed about eating out. I realise that I can’t fully control every food situation. With intelligent menu choices, experience and help from travel cards and fact sheets I know I will not go hungry. Personally I enforce a supper strict GF diet at home, control it where I can and hope that allows for any tiny errors during my travels. Unfortunately it’s a risk we all take, I don’t expect everyone to jump through hoops for my diet, but do require good information so I can make an informed choice from the menu.
I’m sat on a flight back from Spain finishing this piece. My last two trips have been Coeliac heaven. Sweden and Spain, both counters that are fairly aware of the Gluten Free diet. Even their McDonalds have Gluten Free buns! Best surprise of this trip was getting superb bread with my meal last night. Was eating alone in my hotel – Campanile Malaga… (Long story, got stuck out for and extra day blah blah) and the waitress brought out this warm brown sealed bag, straight from the oven. Inside was the most wonderful small baguette. Made my trip, haven’t been able to have bread, oil and balsamic with a meal in years. So remember, there are still food joys to be found out there!