Gluten Free Fitness

Advice

How to Eat Safely & Gluten Free Anywhere (Even Without a Gluten Free Menu)

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This past week I had to travel for work.  This is something I do not have to do very often, just a few times a year.  I was gone Tuesday through Friday, so 4 days of being unable to prepare my own food.

The thought of that can be a little scary for us celiacs sometimes.  I can be a bit of a control freak under the best of situations, but when you take away the power for me to prepare my own food and put my health and well being into a strangers hands, it makes me a little squirrely.

But just a little.

Here’s why

I have learned over the years (I think it’s 7 years or so, I lose track on a regular basis) that I have been gluten free I have eaten many, many times in restaurants without a dedicated gluten free menu.  Of course it is always nice when a gluten free menu is available.  It gives a sense of security.

To me though, I think it is important for us to not get complacent just because a restaurant has a gluten free menu.  There may be a gluten free menu, but that does not necessarily mean that YOUR server/chef/etc. is familiar with what serving a celiac entails.

And so it is up to us to always educate, in a very kind, compassionate, understanding, yet firm, manner.

This trip took me to Annapolis, Maryland.  There are quite a few gluten free friendly establishments in Annapolis, as I discovered when doing my pre-trip research.  But-I was on a business trip, without a car, and my dining options were limited to what was close as well as acceptable to my companions.  There were also meals in which the locations were pre chosen for our whole group.

Not to worry, I come armed with a boatload of patience and education.

Here are 5 tips to make sure you can always get a safe, gluten free meal:

1) If possible, call ahead.  If that is not possible, make your needs known as quickly as possible upon arriving at the restaurant.

Example: dinner one night was at a Japanese steakhouse .  The meal was to be done around a hibachi table, where the chef is also the entertainment.  Good times, but a celiacs nightmare.  I did get the number for the restaurant to call ahead but didn’t have time during the day.  When we arrived, I spoke to the gentleman at the front desk and explained the situation, specifically mentioning that soy sauce was unsafe to come into contact with my food.   After exclaiming “soy sauce is in everything!” which made me a bit nervous, he said he would speak with the chefs.  We discussed the possibility of my food being prepared separately in the back on a dedicated clean flat top with clean utensils.  He explained to me that one cream sauce would be safe, but the ginger sauce/salad dressing was not.  Obviously fried rice was out of the question since it is prepared with soy sauce, but since I am mostly grain free I skipped rice entirely.  (Steamed rice would be perfectly safe.)  Once seated, I explained again to the server the situation, and also mentioned to her that I had discussed it with the other gentleman.  I saw them confer before she went into the back with my order.  When she returned, she assured me that my food was being prepared in the back in a dedicated area, and that it would be prepared without any soy sauce or other sauces potentially containing soy sauce.  I was able to enjoy the hibachi show with my colleagues, and enjoyed a perfectly safe meal.

2) Choose naturally gluten free items as much as possible.

Look for meat, poultry, fish or vegetable dishes that appear to be gluten free on the menu. Salads with a grilled protein source, or a steak are my go to options.  Even if it appears to be naturally gluten free, alert your server of your needs and ask questions.  If a salad, always ask exactly what is on the salad as not to be surprised with fried (in a shared fryer) onion strings on top of your salad.  Soups are often thickened with flour or may have a wheat containing base, and require questioning the chef.  While in Annapolis we went to the Ram’s Head Tavern for dinner.  It was absolutely freezing there, and hot soup sounded wonderful.  I asked the server about 2 soups that sounded possibly gluten free, and she was able to ask the chef.  One was not safe, but the black bean soup was, and I was able to warm up a bit.  (The naturally gluten free glass of wine helped as well.)  I had a Greek salad with grilled chicken added for a flavorful and safe main course.  I also made sure there was nothing added to the chicken prior to grilling, so keep that in mind.  A piece of nicely prepared and seasoned protein, some potatoes, and veggies can make a spectacular, safe, healthy, and naturally gluten free meal.

3) Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions

Restaurants want you to have a safe meal.  They don’t want anyone to be sick and give a bad report of them, regardless of the reason.  Do not be shy.  Make your needs known, but of course in a kind and understanding manner.  Don’t show up at their busiest time and insist on custom made meals that are completely off the menu.  Be reasonable, and they will be reasonable back and keep you safe.

4) Don’t be afraid to use a script or a dining card

Especially if you are new to this whole gluten free thing, don’t be afraid to make yourself a little cheat sheet or hand over a dining card, like the ones made by Triumph Dining.  Those can be especially helpful if you have a potential language barrier, as they are printed with the language of whatever ethnic cuisine is in question.  You don’t want to forget to address cross contamination issues because you only focused on the ingredients.  If you think you may miss something, write it down.

5) Be friendly, courteous, and clear in your directions and needs

People will always want to help you more if you are nice.  The old adage “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is an old adage for a reason.  It’s true.  People can help you more easily if you are clear about your needs.  Answer any question they have clearly, completely, and nicely.  Humor never hurts either.  Most servers will remember someone who is kind and funny.

After being fed well and safely, express your appreciation

This will help not just you, but the others who come after you.  Tip well.  If it is a local spot, frequent it to express your appreciation.  It’s a win-win, as you now have set the standard for a safe meal and are giving the restaurant more business.  Submit a review on Yelp, Tripadvisor, or your restaurant search engine of choice.  These are keys to restaurant business these days.

Don’t be afraid to travel.  Go, eat well, and eat safely.

What are your best tips for dining out safely?  Please share them in the comments!

The Magic Bullet for Living a Healthy Gluten Free Life

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The Magic Bullet for Living a Healthy Gluten Free Life

No, not the Magic Bullet, one of my favorite small kitchen appliances… Not a pill, or potion, or lotion, or gimmicky late night infomercial product or fitness program…

Actually, it’s not very sexy at all. But, it will get you closer to your goals than a kitchen gadget, a pill, a potion, lotion, or gimmick.

It’s awareness.

Awareness

Since you can’t package it and sell it, I’m afraid this little tidbit may be receiving less attention than it should.

If you’ve been reading my rantings, you may have heard me rant about this before. I believe that celiac disease is a blessing in disguise, a built in necessity where we HAVE to become more conscious of what we put in our mouths.

Awareness can extend much further than the gluten status of a food though

1. Be aware of how much you move-sitting, standing, lying. Be conscious of your movement or lack thereof, and try to add more general movement to your day.

2. Be aware of how eating different foods make you feel. Do you feel energized or listless? Do you feel good or no so good after eating french fries or something with a list of unpronounceable ingredients longer than your arm? (Gluten free of course-whatever it may be.)

3. Be aware of your sleep patterns. Many, many of us aren’t getting enough sleep, and that can lead to issues with appetite and weight control. On top of feeling tired, which just stinks. I am guilty of trying to get a lot done in a small amount of time, I understand totally. But sleep is crucial. 7-9 hours is ideal. Really. I get up at 5AM, but I’m lights out by 9:30-10 PM.

4. Be aware of your stress levels, and minimize them whenever possible. If you find yourself getting aggravated, try to focus on your breathing, count to 10 in pig latin, whatever it takes to talk yourself down. Every day life throws a lot of chronic stressors our way, and we’re just not built to live well under that constant low level stress. It’s very different than the stress of running from a lion, you know? In that case you run and it’s over. If you find this interesting, a great book to check out is Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky.

5. Be aware of the nutritional value of your food. You don’t have to change anything, just take a look-see. You may find that your habits begin to slowly change, and gravitate toward more “healthful” foods just by being aware of your choices and not just grabbing by habit.

So it’s not a pill, or a potion, or a lotion, or a gimmick. But give it a try and see what happens. You may be surprised what a little awareness can bring you.

Leave your experiences with awareness below…I love to hear from you guys!