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Eating out, snowboarding and traveling in Italy (or anywhere) on a restricted diet

This week I told my Rheumatologist that I had been snowboarding in Italy... Yes, it’s true, I did tell him this. He then gently reminded me that I am supposed to stay warm and to be careful in the cold so that I don’t set off my Raynauds. I explained that I went for the afternoon in the mountains on a trip to Italy with some friends and I LOVED the experience, despite falling over several times, having to rest against the snowy slope to catch my breathe and being hit by a ski lift!

I relished telling him about my antics. I fell short of fully explaining the sheer elation I felt at having tried this mad sport, something my younger self would have been too anxious to do and something the older, wiser (or should know better) self had to do. There wasn’t time to tell him that as I lay face down in the snow, having hauled the heavy board strapped to my feet over with my whole body yet another time so that I could push myself up again (and again) without assistance, arms aching and feet and shins screaming to be let out of the restraints, that the total joy of being outside in the snowy landscape was over-whelming and exhilarating. The silence (apart from the intermittent tinny, ski-lift music and weird hoovering sounds of the lights or whatever they were), the clear blue sky before the snow got heavy and the physical challenge overrode the little ’why am I doing this?’ voice inside my head. Why, indeed. Because I can, basically. I can because I have chosen to ignore medical doctrine that I have a condition that I cannot reverse (I can and I have - and so can others). I can because no one put any doubt in my mind as to my ability to try this sport and the friends I was with were great teachers and moral boosters. I can because I chose experience over fear and a chance to be outside in nature over shopping in a busy street (although shopping can be fun, too, sometimes). And I feel grateful for this, very grateful and ever so slightly addicted to the adrenaline rush! If I could wish for anything, it would be to hear my Rheumatologist ask, ‘So, what are you doing to stay so well?’ And for him to be personally and professionally interested in my response. Taking that a step further, to work as a Nutritional Therapist with his patients would be a dream and maybe one day that will happen..! Aside from the mega high from trying this crazy sport (although I think it’s two skis for me next time), I managed to eat my way around Northern Italy with the aid of my pals and pigeon Italian, more often than not, sticking to my restricted diet. Besides, the food is so amazing and varied in Italy that it’s no hardship to skip the pasta and creamy desserts, not for me anyway. Eating out when you have chosen to cut out allergens, inflammation and acid reflux causing foods, has in the past been stressful for me but now I’ve certainly got the hang of it and can usually find something that doesn’t turn my insides into a toxic cauldron. Here are a few tips for those who might have similar anxieties about eating an anti-inflammatory, low GI, gluten-free, dairy-free or paleo diet whilst abroad: 1. Have suitable snacks with you at all times. Even breakfast out can be a challenge in Italy. Nuts, seeds, paleo bars, rice cakes, dried and fresh fruit can all be carried in a day bag. When you are wandering round at 4pm starving after a long walk, unable to find anything gluten free in the whole of Como, these snacks will come in handy. I also usually have some 70% or 85% dark chocolate on me for a cheeky pick me up whilst on the go. 2. Many restaurants in Italy do gluten-free pasta and pizzas but check the opening times and get recommendations, as it’s not as widespread as you think and if it’s a Monday in Milan, for instance, you’re even more restricted as many restaurants are closed. 3. Stay hydrated. We walked for miles on our trip and that means even more water is required to replenish what is lost. Every cell in our body needs water to function well and to avoid cell damage. It also helps you to pace yourself when the cocktails are tempting you at 7pm or earlier. See next point. 4. Those of us with auto-immune conditions know that sugar is our enemy. As a self-confessed sugar addict and wine-lover, I have taught myself to pick drinks, including cocktails, that are less sugary. Even natural fruit juice can be disadvantageous. Therefore, check the ingredients and go for the clearer spirits and more bitter or lightly citrus cocktails whenever possible. Your head and digestive system with thank you in the morning. 5. Not diet-related but still important for overall health whilst on holiday, is to have some ‘down time’. City breaks can be full on and there’s a temptation to keep up with your companions or to see everything. A bit of time out to read, sleep and just simply to chill without distractions can help to give your body time to recover for other busy days and activities. 6. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need in a restaurant or discuss how the food is cooked. Italians love food and talk it about it in the same way that we talk about the weather, so will generally happily explain the food or make adjustments to suit your needs. You may learn something and even make some new friends! 7. Take any supplements you use with you, especially if you need to support your gut health or immune system. I don’t take any prescribed medication but when traveling I do take some in case of acid reflux. 8. You may need to take your own ‘safe’ products, such as soap and shampoo. i have several less than 50ml bottles that i refill every time i go away. I have even taken my own washing powder in a clear plastic bag, as it’s not easy to get small quantities of fragrance-free or allergy-free products. 9. You might also want to guard against travel sickness, which I experienced as Labrynthitis during my trip and when I got home because I didn’t take anything for this at the time, despite traveling a lot by plane, train and car, often in the dark. I have since discovered a homeopathic remedy for this called, Travella.

10. Enjoy yourself! A bit of preparation means that you can relax and enjoy the holiday without worrying about what and when you are able to eat. Then, when you get home, get thinking about your next holiday because the planning of a holiday makes us as happy as the trip itself, and sometimes more. This was the longest break I have ever had where eating out was fairly regular and it was more than OK. The extensive walking and snowboarding definitely ticked the exercise and outdoor boxes, too. Now back at my desk, I periodically wrack my mind for what I can do that will properly shock my Rheumatologist so who knows what I’ll be telling him next year when I see him! Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be fun. Happy holidays, folks!

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