Even after the endoscopy - I clung to the comments that the biopsy didn’t come back as definitive for Celiac though I had significant upper-GI damage. I was on expensive medication to make my GI system work. I was physically miserable.
I remember crying to Jeff and thinking over and over... how could I go on like this for the rest of my life? Not just the $60 copay per month - but the pain and unpredictability with my GI system.
Then came the day an Orthopedic doctor asked me, after a slow-healing stress fracture, if I’d ever been diagnosed as Celiac. This surprised me. Then he sent me for a bone density scan (DEXA) and warned me osteoporosis and more bone injuries were in my future if I couldn’t properly absorb calcium.
That shook me. It was no longer about resisting a fad.
It made me stop and think. I knew my mom had to be gluten free. Could I have some of the same issues? I know that food allergies can crop up at any age in life…did I suddenly grow "allergic" to gluten? Most of all, I couldn't bear to go on with the discomfort and expense (and unpredictability) of my GI issues without at least giving it a try.
I sucked it up and made the effort. I went completely gluten free and within a week or two my guts worked. Like a normal person. I no longer needed that expensive prescription medicine. I no longer felt sick, bloated, or in pain.
Avoiding any other (gross) details – suffice it to say that I was thrilled my body was acting “normal” at last.
Here’s the funny thing…a lot of people (again with the fad aspect) go Gluten Free thinking it’s a “healthy” diet and they’re likely to lose weight. That's not what happens.
Not that you can’t eat healthily while avoiding gluten (wheat, barley, malt and more) - if you substitute by eating more fresh veggies and fruits and quinoa…However, if you rely on packaged foods and snacks you'll find they are packed with fat! Moreover, I’ve actually gained weight now that my body is finally absorbing more of the nutrition in the food I eat.
Anyhow--it’s easy enough to be Gluten Free (okay, for brevity – hereafter GF) at home. We already eat a lot of white rice. Baked potatoes. Grilled chicken or steak. Veggies & fruit. A normal family meal wasn’t too difficult. The rest of the family could have bread or rolls – I just skipped it for a nice arugula salad with my favorite (GF) vinaigrette.
BUT. I travel. A lot. It is not as easy to find GF options when you travel.
Below are my tips and things I’ve learned that help me.
1. Whenever you can – get a rental car.
You can find your nearest Chipotle or Noodles & Company where they have GF options.
a. At Chipotle just be sure to get a bowl.
b. At Noodles & Co. just before sure to ask specifically for Rice Noodles.
They can make it with any sauce (just be sure to avoid Soy Sauce or dishes that might include it. Soy Sauce is not GF). My “go-to” is the Pesto with mushrooms and tomatos (their Pesto Cavatappi – but with the rice noodles). They will even denote “Allergy Aware” on your order – which may (or may not) help with cross contamination.
c. With a rental car and potentially a hotel with a microwave you can find your closest Whole Foods and find a lot of options.
2. Pack your own snacks. You can bring it through TSA. Really. Pack a lunch box if you want. I bring baby carrots, almonds, my favorite GF chocolate covered pretzels and fruit snacks.
Note: this was inspired by a particularly snooty Flight Attendant. When Delta had no Gluten Free options with a meal in First Class she told me: “You know, you can order a special, like Kosher, meal.”
And then chided/reminded me about it 3 more times during the 2 hour flight. At one point she leaned in and said: “So why didn’t you bring your own snacks?” Well, first I was on a quick in & out trip with one small bag and a computer bag— I didn't have room for snacks.
Second, how was I to know I’d be upgraded to 1st Class? Sure, it’s great to sit at the front of the bus—but I rarely (if ever) have time in advance to order a meal and 99% of the time if I’m in First Class it's because I lucked into an upgrade.
3. Simple meals are your friend. Ask for a plain grilled chicken breast and a baked or mashed potato. Side salad. Avoid dressings if you can – or go for a vinaigrette (odds are pretty good that’ll be safe).
4. If all else fails, you can order Dominos to your hotel room. They have a GF pizza and it’s been reliably safe for me.
5. Culvers. They have a safe GF bun. They serve the bun and the burger separate so you assemble it on your own. Many Culvers serve their fries from a fryer dedicated to non-breaded items only – so it’s worth asking. I tend to be OK eating their fries. Also good news: their frozen custard is GF! Watch out for toppings beyond what they recommend on their website. (Hot fudge = OK)
Tips: MSP (airport) MSP doesn’t have a ton of GF options. One I’ve found is that Surdyks has a really nice packaged salad with fresh greens & goat cheese. It’s even marked GF. My preferred side dish with this is a bag of Kettle Chips. (Also marked as GF).
Another option – especially if it’s breakfast – is Ike’s. (This can be spendy, but hey, I’m on an expense account.) They can do an egg white omelet (create your own) and side of bacon – and you’re good to go.
One note here – they prepare ALL the food on one single grill (currently – because their toaster is broken). So, you might ask about cross-contamination and/or have to educate your server on what you cannot eat. If you don’t you might get a pile of toast on top of your breakfast entrée.
I used to prefer Caribou. Then I read up and found out that Starbucks has ALWAYS been more GF friendly. From the get-go. Their coffee mixes (i.e. Frappuccinos) are GF which means just about all of their drinks are GF.
Their website is also a wealth of information on what is GF safe. On top of all that they offer a lot of snacks and all the GF ones are clearly marked. They are go-to at most airports…even if all I can find is a salad, almonds, and a fruit bar.
Other airports: SLC
A bunch of the Delta gates are near a Smashburger. Smashburger has a GF bun and as long as they aren’t out of them – then you have a good option for a grilled chicken sandwich or burger. Note of caution: the fries –should- be gluten free…but I have had to avoid them due to cross contamination. They’re making them in the same place they make breaded chicken strips/sandwiches and so on occasion I’ve felt sickly after eating them. If you get a bigger Smashburger you can ask if they have a dedicated fryer for fries only (GF stuff only). Some of them have that…but typically not at the airport!
I'll add more airports and "safe" eats as I go. But in the meantime - my advice:
- Bring your own food as much as possible.
- Expect to not have a meal you can eat on the Room Service menu. (Hilton, Hyatt, Omni, Marriott...I'm looking at you.)
- Vietnamese restaurants are a great option (helloooo rice noodles!)
- Thai is good, too (same reason)
- Even a steakhouse is better than an Italian place - because you're likely to find a grilled something that you can eat and a potato.
- Did I mention bring your own food as much as possible?