Monday, August 17, 2009

Crohn's Disease, Food, And Travel

I recently returned from a one week trip to the west coast of Canada and this got me thinking about how my Crohn's Disease has settled into one particular area of my life: food.

My disease is currently managed. I feel fantastic, bathroom trips are normal, pains are practically gone, I have a lot to be thankful for. I credit my blessings with two main things: the anti-inflammatory drug 5-ASA, and my complex and tightly controlled diet.

To briefly summarize, I kept a food journal for months and went through a lengthy elimination diet process and I now eat zero: dairy, spices, acidic foods (fruit, vinegar, tomato, citric acid, ascorbic acid, lactic acid, etc), gassy veggies, fried or fatty foods, caffeine, whole grains, fibery foods or alcohol. There might be other things I eliminated but I can't remember right now. It's a long list.

This means that I have to cook or prepare most of my food from scratch. Nearly every prepared or pre-packaged food product is spiced, seasoned, covered in sauce or preserved with citric acid or some such. Or contains dairy. Ug. Over a longer period of time I've found a few replacement products at my grocery store like soy cream cheese that tastes good, rice milk, soy cheese slices, un-spiced bacon, egg whites, milk-less bread, margarine etc.

As you can imagine, nearly all restaurants are a no-go for me. You may THINK you are getting a cooked from scratch meal at your favourite expensive restaurant, but no. Most foods are prepared ahead of time or from a box. (But I want PLAIN mashed potatoes! Sorry ma'am they are all pre-mixed with garlic and butter. But can't you just mash me up a fresh potato? Nope.) Which means I am often left with a compromise of plain pasta noodles (brushed with olive oil) which they charge me usually $10 for (!) and some deep fried shrimp appetizer. I realize deep fried is bad, but if I just eat a little bit I'm usually ok. I can eat at sushi places b/c that is fresh, plain and made to order as well as some stir fry places like Mongolian Grill.

However travelling makes me feel a bit panicky. Even with half my suitcase stuffed with food, I still need to make a bee-line for the nearest grocery store upon arrival and cook most of my own meals, so I need access to a kitchen. We went out to restaurants a couple times and the fantastic sushi place we went to was to die for. But the rest of the time I just got noodles and shrimp.

Not knowing where you are going to get your next meal... or being trapped in the airport system with nothing but a few peanut butter sandwiches stuffed in your carry-on can be nerve wracking. It's almost like being reduced to your survival instincts. Food is no longer a given guarantee.

If you are in the same boat as me- I sympathize. I possibly have a cruise coming up next year which is even scarier: no grocery stores!

Here are a few travel food tips:

- Most airlines pressurize their luggage cabins. You can transport food in your luggage except for fruit and meat. Actually anything that needs refrigeration is out of the question. Seal things in zipper bags in case they leak.
- Most restaurants will have a small number of un-spiced things you can get. Plain pasta, baked potatoes, rice, veggies etc. Ask about any un-marinated meats like steaks, seafood etc.
- Sushi places are great for controlling what goes into your food. You CAN get cooked sushi like shrimp and crab, and you can even get vegetarian. Basically veggies wrapped in rice. If you don't like the seaweed wrap you can ask for it to be made without it: wrapped in rice only. Betcha didn't know that!
- If you are travelling in a foreign language country, ask someone to write out your list of food issues in the local language for you, so you are not stuck trying to explain.
- If acid-y things are a problem- ask for no lemon in your water.
- Some accommodations come with a kitchen area- check out bed and breakfasts, cottages and vacation homes instead of hotels.
- Some restaurants or hotel kitchens will warm up your food for you if you bring your own.
- You can bring your own non-liquid food onto a plane in your carry on. Avoid meat or anything that can spoil. Fruit is often not allowed to cross borders, nor can several meats.

On the up side of life, I seem to be growing more tolerant of 'risky' foods and can eat some of them in small amounts. I hope this trend continues!