This only worked because the destination, the Spiritual Life Center in Wichita, Kansas, allowed me to bring in my own food. We were going for a Reiki retreat. I called ahead to talk to someone. It’s thankfully easy for people now to choose an option like “vegan” or “gluten-free.” But for me, there’s no simple box to check for “there are 30 foods I can’t eat.” So I had to touch base with a human being to communicate my needs. There are 30 foods I’m not eating right now. No exaggeration, no typo.
When I made contact with the woman who would play middleman between the chef and I, she asked me to email her the list. She had tried to tell me they were accommodating because they have a salad bar. I was firm, “I am not the kind of person you can just tell, ‘go to the salad bar.'” The cross contamination alone has gotten me sick before, so I stopped going near salad bars. I sent her my list of 30 foods I can’t eat. I waited too long for the call back so I called her. After all, I have to plan an extra grocery trip into my schedule just to feed myself over the weekend. Here’s my hot tip: don’t wait. Be firm and assertive but polite. Don’t dump any food anxiety on people who only understand “special diets” as “vegan” or “gluten-free.” Most of the normals don’t understand that eating the wrong thing can sideline me for days.
Here’s my other hot tip: don’t waste time trying to explain why you can’t eat 30 foods (or whatever it is). First, it’s none of their business. Second, giving someone too much information is distracting, not to mention a waste of time. You want them to only have the information they need in order to function to help you so you don’t get sick. Anything else and this gets diluted and you may be in danger. I don’t even bother with phrases like “leaky gut” or “auto-immune disease.” Just tell people what you can’t eat and ask what they can do about it. If it’s only a few things, they can probably help you. If you’re like me and don’t eat a whopping list of 30 common food items, ask if you can bring in your own food.
In this particular case, I wouldn’t have been able to stay at the retreat if they wouldn’t let me bring my own food. This was close enough to home I could have packed lunch for the day but gone home at night. But it’s hardly a “get away from it all” retreat if I still go home at night.
I packed two days’ worth of food. I was mindful of the social aspect of it. I figured I’d need “lunch” and “dinner” type foods to fit in as well as dessert. If the rest of the group is eating lunch, I want to fit in by eating lunch foods (even if my normal “dinner” is a light “lunch” or “breakfast.”) I gave up on the notion of dessert since I figured they’d be fed cakes or something made of grain and there’s nothing that can come close to that for me. I brought fruit instead. My strategy was to bring more than enough — which was a great idea because I forgot my frozen breakfast sausages in the freezer at home!
What I bought at Whole Foods:
*Spring mix salad greens
*Salad dressing (Hilary’s Apple Fennel)
*Two rosemary chicken breasts (pre-made)
*Two cans of tuna
*Apricots, peaches and apples
*breakfast sausages (sadly forgotten at home)
What I actually made:
*Day 1: Lunch: salad with half a chicken breast (by now I realized I’d forgotten the sausages, so I saved half for breakfast the next day knowing I need protein when I wake up for good blood sugar all day). I also ate 2 apricots and a peach. My fellow Reiki retreaters were jealous of the fruit.
*Day 1, Dinner: I didn’t do the fruit. Instead, I made another salad with an enormous amount of tuna/avocado. Instead of using lemon juice and salt on the tuna/avocado combo as I normally would, I mixed the two with the Hilary’s dressing.
*Day 2, Breakfast: I slept in and went to breakfast late so as to avoid any social awkwardness over eating half a chicken breast for breakfast. I sat with two retreat buddies and no one commented, thank God! I’d eaten snacks in my room, so it was enough.
*Oh yeah — the snacks I packed: I kept some snacks in my room for myself so I wouldn’t have to go all the way to the kitchen if I got hungry. I’m used to spacing out small meals all day on my schedule, not this “three big meals a day” business the retreat would be on. I kept dried mangos on hand, peanuts, apples, apple chips, raisins, and peanut butter M&Ms. I can tolerate M&Ms if I want chocolate/sugar. It’s not on my diet or encouraged by my doctor, but the lesser of all evils when I want something “traditional” and sweet/chocolatey. Honestly, it is just too expensive to buy Green & Blacks or Lulu’s all the time. Those also require special trips. I looked into making my own raw/vegan chocolates like I prefer, but it’s expensive to get going with those ingredients, though I’m sure it’s cost-effective once you get going.
*Day 2, Lunch: Another salad with the last chicken breast. This means I still had salad fixings, dressing, an avocado, and a can of tuna left over. I also had snacks left over.
Why salads were awesome:
I had to prepare my own food. If you can’t go with salads like I did, I think the best way to go would be to pre-make all the meals so they can be zapped in the microwave (call ahead to make sure there’s a microwave and fridge, etc). It didn’t take me too long to prep a salad since it was all pre-washed and sliced. I had plenty of time still to bond over meals with my fellow diners. They were all health conscious too — I mean, we were on a Reiki retreat. So thankfully there wasn’t the usual b.s. I’d get from people in other social situations who look at me in mock horror like, “what do you eat?”
How to answer that? Tell ’em it’s none of their business and you’d like to just enjoy your meal without talking about your special dietary needs. Seriously. Create that boundary. Be polite. Try, “Thank you for your concern, but I have this handled and am eating under the direction of my doctor.” Then change the subject. I have had to endure special diets like this since September. Before that, I had a helluva time in 2009… This isn’t my first rodeo. I find telling people I eat under my doctor’s direction stops all the free advice and suggestions and “have you trieds” before they start.
Ideas for Traveling Outside the Region
If I’d had to fly to a retreat farther away, I would have found a grocery store (preferably a Whole Foods if available) to purchase my food on the way to the hotel/hostel/etc. I’d prefer a hostel situation over a hotel just due to my food issue alone. You can purchase your own food and store it in the hostel refrigerator. Hotel kitchens are professional just like restaurants, so you run into pre-prepared foods and pre-marinated meats. Seasonings are a nightmare (I can’t have peppers, any peppers).
Hostels are awesome for people like me! Just be wary of shared utensils (never use a wooden spoon if you’re Celiac). As long as I can store and prepare my own food as you can at a hostel, I’m in good shape. Plus, traveling like this can cost less and gives you a chance to shop local grocery stores as a local would. It’s been a couple months since I’ve had restaurant food, dairy, or caffeine. I am not messing up that progress now.
Hope you enjoyed this blog post about how I survived a retreat while still eating right, not getting sick, and continuing to heal my leaky gut. BTW, I hate that phrase “leaky gut.” It sounds like I have a leak, rather than saying, “I have a porous intestinal wall.” It doesn’t even have a medical billing code. So if you’re always digestively sick, can’t figure out what you’re allergic to, and simply miserable, I recommend finding a functional medicine doctor. Don’t waste time with run of the mill physicians your insurance covers or naturopaths. Neither of those helped me. Functional medicine, supplements and eating right helped me.
This blog and its writer want you to know that you need to seek the help of a professional physician for your medical needs. This blog post and its writer, Heather Larson, are not here to treat, diagnose, or heal your disease. Thoughts and opinions belong to Heather Larson. This is a not a replacement for medical care or advice. The author of this blog is merely sharing her personal experience, thoughts, and opinions. She is not medically trained nor a licensed physician.