Learning How To Eat On The Road
JoAnn Williams, Nate Law, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
MRV: The Buzz, Your RV Lifestyle Insider. Written By: Nanette Hilton
Traveling On A Picky Stomach
Learning How To Balance Travel And Health When Struggling With Allergies And Conditions That Limit The Types Of Foods One Can Eat
Every three minutes a food allergy reaction results in a hospital visit, adding up to more than 200,000 emergency room visits per year. And food allergies are on the rise, up 50% among children since 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
JoAnn Williams and her family know firsthand the challenges of food allergies. Three out of their six family members suffer from celiac disease requiring gluten-free (GF) diets, two are allergic to nuts and their eleven-year-old daughter, Scout, has extensive food allergies including apples, berries, dairy, melon, nightshades (tomato, potato, pepper, etc.), cinnamon, fermented products, and many more.
According to her mother, “The road to identifying Scout’s allergies was long with lots of trial and error, physical pain and doctor visits. Finally, about four years ago, we found a gastrointestinal specialist who identified most of the foods she must avoid. Once those foods were eliminated from her diet, Scout's general health improved.”
Food allergies affect people of all genders, races and ages. Allergy symptoms can be as mild as an itchy throat or as extreme as a life-threatening case of anaphylaxis. It’s understandable that people, like the Williams family, may be reluctant to leave the security of home, even feeling trapped and excluded from mainstream society.
With relief JoAnn shares “Now that I know what I need to do, traveling with Scout is not as stressful as it was in the beginning. I will admit, our first vacation on her limited diet was very stressful. The key to coping with that stress has been experience. The more we've traveled the better we've gotten at knowing how to pack, shop, and prep in different situations. Camping is definitely the easiest form of vacationing probably because it is already expected that we will prep and cook our meals at the campsite.
The vacations that create the most stress, food-wise, are theme parks or city-touring. We can’t just find a fun restaurant along the drive or grab a treat in the park. We have to plan and pack every meal. Because of the nature of Scout's allergies even the smell of foods bothers her so many food establishments just aren’t options for us.”
Scout confides that “Traveling is fun but really tricky because of my allergies. I always feel like some of the fun is lost because we can't get the junk food other people get. Making sure we pack my favorite treats is really important to me and helps me feel less weird. I like it best when my whole family eats food that we made at home or in the hotel instead of eating in a restaurant where I'm the only one with something from home."
JoAnn suggests that travelers with specific dietary needs find hotels with kitchenettes. She says, “It is well worth the extra cost to have a full size refrigerator, a stove, prep space, etc. We always pack our foreman grill, our rice cooker, and our popcorn popper to make meals and snacks in the hotel room. I also suggest doing a majority of the shopping before getting to the destination. Even though there are stores everywhere, we can't always find the things we know work for Scout and because her allergies are so extensive we don't gamble with what we don't know, especially when traveling. The biggest thing I can say is to PLAN. Disneyland is particularly allergy friendly and you can even call ahead and speak with the chefs of any restaurant to plan a menu for your family.”
Nate Law, a recent medical school graduate coping with gluten, dairy and sugar intolerance, concurs with JoAnn’s findings. “It’s hard to find things to eat and that can be stressful, but that doesn’t prevent us from traveling,” he says. “It just takes a little extra preparation. We research different places I can eat before we go. As long as there is somewhere I know I can eat I feel a lot better about going.”
Twelve-year-old Jeffrey and his mother, Tiffany, (wishing to remain anonymous) both have Type 1 diabetes. Tiffany recalls that “Jeffrey also has celiac disease. Jeffrey was diagnosed with diabetes at 16-months old. Something like ten percent of Type 1 diabetics also have celiac and just before he started kindergarten his endocrinologist noticed a rash on his face and sent him for blood testing. He then had a biopsy of his stomach and was referred to a gastroenterologist who diagnosed his celiac.” These two also find planning and packing key to successful travel.
“When Jeffrey was first diagnosed,” says Tiffany, “I had to shop at health food stores to find GF food. It has become much easier to find GF options at any store, so I don’t pack nearly as much food when we go on trips now. If we go to a special event, I find out what kind of food will be served there and just bring a Jeffrey-safe option. When our niece served donuts at her wedding reception, I brought a box of GF donuts. Sitting in a car can make your blood sugar go high, so I try to pack healthy low-carb snacks and when we have the opportunity to stop and walk we try to take it.”
Jeffrey says that “as long as there is something good that I can eat I really don’t feel left out. Sometimes what my mom brings for me is much better than what everybody else is eating. I like to eat GF pretzels and peanut M&Ms.” Tiffany is quick to add that she “also packs raw veggies, olives, cheese or cold cuts and jerky along with whole grain GF crackers.”
Nanette Hilton is an avid cyclist and nature-lover with artwork and
writing published worldwide. She holds a degree in Writing from Brigham
Young University and currently lives in the splendorous Mojave Desert.