Personal update: travelling outside my comfort zone.

July 1st marked my 31st birthday. I naturally found myself reflecting upon the last year and thought it would be appropriate to share a personal update with you:

Some of my happiest memories in life have been whilst travelling; enjoying new experiences and embracing different cultures. Since my diagnosis, I lost the travel bug. This was mainly because a huge part of travelling (for me) is sampling the host country’s cuisine but I also became quite anxious of not being able to eat whilst travelling. This is a legitimate fear for anyone who has to follow a particular diet but gastroparesis adds a further layer of complexity because there is no such thing as a ‘gastroparesis diet’. I cannot tell a restaurant or hotel that I am gluten free, or dairy free or nut free. It is hard enough to explain to friends, colleagues and family what I can and cannot eat:

Not very spicy food; low-ish fat (40g/day); low-ish fibre (15g/day); I also try and avoid refined sugar, dairy and eat low-gluten foods when possible. All vegetables (including potatoes) must be well cooked (soft) and peeled. I cannot eat the following: seeds, nuts, granola, beans/legumes (except red kidney beans), brown or wild rice, raw vegetables, salad leaves, berries, broccoli, brussel sprouts, coconut, corn, green beans, kale, figs or oranges.

I can see them (understandably) thinking: ‘Well, what can you eat then?!’

birthday
Birthday flowers from the local French market
This last year I have worked hard to challenge my fears surrounding gastroparesis and the following helped me to spend my birthday abroad exploring Le Pays Basque (the Basque country in France and Spain):
  • The focus of my diet today is enjoying home prepared food that is nutrient rich and has a good provenance. My emphasis is on what I can eat rather than what I cannot.
  • I have introduced gelatin into my diet because it is very healing for the gut (as well as being great for your hair and skin!): I stir Great Lakes beef gelatin into a smoothie most days and I also drink chicken bone broth a couple of times a month. This makes a  noticeable difference to my symptoms.
  • I try to be consistent in my approach towards food but flexible: as I have started managing my symptoms, I have carefully introduced more variety into my diet. This has really helped me to gain much needed weight. For the last 3 months, I have managed to gain half a stone and have maintained that weight (this is a big step forward for me as I lost 1.5 stone after my diagnosis).
  • I have worked hard at building my confidence eating outside my home. I have made an effort to regularly eat out with friends and family. When it is not possible to bring my own food or prepare in advance, I usually opt for ‘safe’ options: chicken breast or fish, for example. I do not worry or feel guilty about leaving things uneaten on the plate that I can’t eat. I am mindful about not over-indulging or being tempted by dishes that I know will exacerbate my symptoms but sometimes this is inevitable and I don’t beat myself up when it happens. It helps to remind myself that I do not have severe food allergies so, whilst eating outside my safe food list might exacerbate my symptoms, it will not cause me to end up in hospital with a severe allergic reaction.
fish
A safe and delicious option for dinner on holiday: I ate the fish, vegetable puree and most of the arborio rice and passed the tomatoes and olive tapenade onto my fellow diners.
  • I have taken mini breaks abroad this year to help me prepare for a longer vacation away. This really helped build my confidence and allowed me to prepare more fully, with greater awareness, for a longer time away from home.
  • When travelling, preparation is essential: my flight hand-luggage is a bag of food. I always take food with me for travelling and for the airport. As Dr. Frank Lipman writes: “airports are a lawless society where food is concerned!” I make an effort to prepare my own breakfast when away as this is easy to do (even when staying in a hotel) and sets me up well for the day ahead. I also bring a mountain of snacks as fuel – these are essential if it’s not possible to find a gastroparesis friendly option for lunch or dinner.

I won’t lie: travelling with gastroparesis is not easy but it is perfectly possible if you respect your new priorities and make the time and effort to prepare. I had such an enjoyable birthday and a wonderful holiday. If you have to follow a very restricted diet, then I would definitely suggest renting a holiday apartment or staying somewhere where you have access to a kitchen so you can prepare your own food for most meals. See Crystal Saltrelli’s very useful travel tips at Living (Well) with Gastroparesis. Whether your plans for a holiday are a stay-cation or a trip abroad, I hope you enjoy your time as much as I did. Let me know what you get up to: I love adding locations to my list of ‘places to visit’ and, furthermore, I love ticking them off! I’ve caught the travel bug again…

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