Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption: Washington, D.C.

DSCN3351Hi, everyone!  Our good friend Megan took a trip last week to Washington, D.C. and once again kindly wrote about it.  She came up with a fantastic way to stay fructose free on vacation!  I can’t wait to try it out!  Here’s what she wrote:

I feel like I’ve discovered a vital key to traveling with Fructose Malabsorption: Airbnb.com. I mentioned in my last guest post that I wanted to give Airbnb a try on my next trip and lucky me, my next travel opportunity appeared! My husband got a new job and with the time off between the old job and the new job, we decided to take a short vacation to Washington DC.
First, let me explain how Airbnb works. You register on the website and create a profile. Once you have a profile, you can rent out other peoples’ homes, apartments, flats, lofts…even tree houses…you can rent almost anything that provides shelter, almost anywhere in the world. You can opt to rent the entire space or just a room in someone’s home. My husband, Jon, and I rented an entire apartment because I think it’s a little strange to rent a room in someone’s house and hang out with total strangers, but that’s just me.
After searching available rentals in the area you’re visiting and finding one you like, you can DSCN3339message the homeowners to ask questions and request a reservation. Jon and I rented a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of DC for $100.00 a night. The man we rented from had rave reviews from other renters and didn’t look like a serial killer so I figured we’d be okay. Through Airbnb messaging, phone or text, you and the person you’re renting from set up a check-in and out time and negotiate how and where you’ll pick up the keys to your rental. Then it’s vacation time!
The reason I’m so excited about Airbnb is because it allows you to rent a place with a kitchen, thus eliminating the hazards of eating three meals a day in a restaurant. And it can save you a lot of money. Jon and I checked hotel prices for the same area in DC as the apartment we rented and they were three times the price of the Airbnb rental!
I realize Airbnb may sound creepy or sketchy to some, and I’m sure it can be, but I thought of it like this…either way I’m going to have to take a risk. I can risk spending my entire vacation in a hotel, sick from restaurant food, or I can risk staying in some random person’s home. As terrifying as potentially being kidnapped is, nothing is scarier than eating at a restaurant that prepares my food in the same vicinity as onions. I decided that getting fructosed was a much more realistic risk than being kidnapped, so we went with Airbnb. Overall, we had a great experience and having access to a kitchen really lowered the stress level that often surrounds mealtime.
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Fructose-wise, our trip went pretty well. Our rental apartment was two blocks from a Whole Foods (before renting I staked out the location of grocery stores) so every morning we had breakfast in the apartment, walked to Whole Foods to buy my lunch and then went about our sightseeing. Every evening, we walked home and made dinner.
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There were a few occasions when we did try restaurants. I looked up restaurants with gluten free menus because I figured if they already cater to GF people, making a few more adjustments for me would be okay. That turned out to be a good plan, as all the places I chose Firefly and Oby Lee had separate GF menus and were patient and friendly with me.
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One place we tried that I have to tell you about was Sweet Green.  This place was AWESOME! It’s a build your own salad bar with local, organic ingredients. They even have olive oil and a squeeze of lime for those who don’t want pre-mixed dressings! Unfortunately, Sweet Green restaurants are only on the East Coast as of now…maybe there’s a Minnesota reader out there looking for a good franchise to invest in and make some extra cash…that or you could rent out your guest room.

Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption: the Dominican Republic

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Last week my fructose-challenged friend Megan braved the Dominican Republic and very kindly wrote a post about her trip!  Here it is:

“Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption” are perhaps the four scariest words in the English language.  At least they are for me. Which is ironic, because I used to be (am?) quite the traveler. Over the last decade I’ve managed to backpack through Europe and South-East Asia, live and work in Japan and the Philippines, and take a backpacking honeymoon adventure in Argentina. This was my “before” life. Now I’m nervous to walk to the supermarket for fear that they won’t have a bathroom…which is ridiculous, as logically I know all supermarkets have bathrooms, but if you have FM you completely understand the anxiety that comes with it.

I was diagnosed with FM in October 2013 and six months later I’m still trying to figure out how to live with it. I’m still doing the doctor merry-go-round, and while things have improved, I have a long way to go. Prior to my diagnosis, my cousin and I had planned a spring break trip to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. At the time, it seemed like a welcome vacation; after the diagnosis, it became something to worry over. I was so concerned about what I would eat and if I’d be sick the entire trip. After talking to Paige about some of these worries, she invited me to blog about my first international traveling experience with FM. A big thanks to Paige for sharing No Sugarless Gum with me!

First of all, I SURVIVED! I did not need to worry half as much as I did. Since this trip wasn’t as “active” as my past travels, and I basically spent a week bronzing on the beach, I thought I’d share with you the highlights, some advice, and a few things I learned during my first trip with FM:

•    Traveling with FM is like traveling with a tiny, horrible, crazy little monster that you can’t escape. You can’t ever forget it’s there and you have to constantly contemplate each food choice and its consequence. While it would have been awesome to drink margaritas on the beach all day and eat all the delicious looking desserts in the buffet, this would not have pleased the FM monster. So while it’s hard to pass up all the treats, do it. It’s for the best and you’ll enjoy your vacation more.
•    Pack snacks!  I left with a bag of potato chips and a Tupperware of dextrose muffins. This did not last very long. Flying from Minneapolis to the Dominican takes 6 hours, and that’s just the time spent in the air. Factor in airport waiting time and the time it takes to get to the hotel and you’ve basically spent a day traveling with nothing to eat. Also, I should have brought more snacks for the week that I was in the Dominican. About halfway through the trip my dextrose muffins started growing mold (if I was smarter I’d have refrigerated them!) so I had to buy peanuts at the resort grocery store. Seven bags of peanuts and TWENTY dollars later I had snacks for the remaining vacation time and my return flight. However, if you’re extremely unlucky, like me, you’ll be flying with a man who has severe peanut allergies and you won’t be able to consume your $3.00 bag of peanuts. Lesson here…pack a lot of snacks, some being peanut-free.
•    You will get fructosed. Even though I tried really hard to make good food choices I did get fructosed a couple of times. I think it’s just best to accept that it will happen and not to worry about it, because that will only make it worse. My doctors at Mayo told me that stress can highly exacerbate FM symptoms so if you get fructosed on vacation, just ride it out and try not to let it bother you.
•    Prepare for language barriers. Since I had never done the all-inclusive kind of traveling before I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought a lot of the staff at the resort would speak English, however, that was not the case. Thankfully, I speak passable Spanish, and so I found myself explaining to every waiter I had on the trip, “I have mucho food allergies! Please make this chicken with no sauce, no onion, no garlic. Nothing. Plain. Very important. Thank you.” (Imagine that dialogue in my bad Spanish.) Miraculously, this seemed to work. Had I been somewhere that I could not speak the language, I would have made a card before leaving (using an online translator or a fluent friend) to explain my issues and ask for plain food. Also, I think saying you have an allergy (even though we all know FM is not an allergy) is more effective than trying to actually explain FM. The word “allergy” seems to make people take notice.
•    Find something that works and stick to it. I am not a buffet person. Before this trip, I had never eaten at a buffet. However, I got lucky because the resort we were at had a “healthy section” at the buffet, as well as a gluten free section! This meant all the food was completely plain, unseasoned and gluten free! Bingo! While it was boring to eat plain chicken and white rice all week, I knew it was safe and I knew it would work for me. My cousin and I ended up eating at the buffet most of the time so that I could continue to feel good on our trip. If our resort had these options I’m sure other resorts do as well. (Below is a typical buffet meal.)

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•    Consider your options. My cousin and I chose to do an all-inclusive trip because it was easy, and because we had planned the trip before my diagnosis. If you think all-inclusive is for you, I’m certain you can find available food options. Call ahead and ask resorts what they offer. I had a great trip but all-inclusive really isn’t my style. This left me thinking about how I can incorporate my “old” way of traveling with my “new” lifestyle. I’ve heard a lot about http://www.airbnb.com and I think this would be a great option for people with FM or any food allergies. By renting a home or apartment you would still have the option of a restaurant, but you could also cook a lot of your meals. I think I’m going to try this the next time I travel.

I was trying to think of some inspirational way to end this post but that’s not really my style. I’m more of a realist. So, the reality is this: I had a great vacation. I’m glad my cousin didn’t mind traveling with a fructard like me. I’m glad she didn’t mind eating at that mediocre buffet every day. Traveling with FM is possible; it just takes a little work and planning…and it’s not nearly as scary as you think.

Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption: North Port, Florida

This was the first vacation I’ve taken since going fructose free where I wasn’t just sick to my stomach over what I would eat.  My husband and I took a quick trip to visit my grandma in North Port, FL where she spends the winter, and she has by far been my biggest supporter since I was diagnosed with FM.  She studied to be a dietician in college, and she was the first person to talk to me about my disorder with curiosity rather than dumbfounded bewilderment.
I’m not too surprised by this, she’s an amazing lady!  She’s 90 years old (minus 7 months!), and it’s commonly agreed upon that she looks 20 years younger and has the energy of a 30-year-old.  And her hilarious commentary can keep you entertained for hours.  My husband said one of his favorite parts of the trip was “driving around and listening to what your grandma had to say about everything.” Continue reading

Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption: Milwaukee

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Last weekend I went to visit my sister who just moved to Milwaukee to start her very first job!  I was really surprised by how great the city was (the part I visited, anyway).  It seemed like a smaller version of Chicago.
The restaurant scene really surprised me too.  I saw a lot of grass-fed beef options during my initial restaurant research, as well as vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free menus available.  It seemed like a city that has fun with its food, while still taking it seriously.

I was really hoping to have a perfect food vacation too, by following all 7 of my rules for traveling with Fructose Malabsorption, but I forgot to make my list of foods I can eat.  Calling ahead and making a food itinerary really helped, but one thing I did not foresee was the hotel we stayed at didn’t have a fridge or a microwave!!!  What the hell?!!!  So I’ll have to amend the above post to include calling ahead about that as well!  Luckily my sister’s apartment was only about a mile away so I just stored all my food items there.

Overall, I think I did a pretty good job.  On the last day I did feel a little fatigued with some brain fog, but I didn’t suffer any stomach issues.

The night my mom and I arrived we went to AJ Bombers.  I ordered a hot dog without asking about the MIL1__No Sugarless Gumingredients: FAIL.  That was really dumb of me.  I had planned on having a burger there, but that’s pretty much the only thing I would be eating all weekend, so I made a snap decision and I think it made me a little sluggish the next day.  The poutine was something I had always wanted to try.  I knew the gravy had some iffy ingredients (the waitress brought out MIL2__No Sugarless Gumthe can for me to look at), so we got it on the side.  And sadly, it was kind of gross.  The poutine tasted like a sour-cream-and-onion Pringle, which is not what I wanted.  The hot dog was fantastic, though.

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The next day I had chosen a place called The Eatery, because I knew my mom and sister would probably want breakfast food at some point, and I had found something there I could eat called the hangover burger.  Which is what I ordered (sticking to the plan: yeah!!!).  The pulled ham also called to me.  I asked if it was ever treated MIL5__No Sugarless Gumwith anything and the waitress said it was just plain ham.  But when she brought it out, it was covered in a bunch of crap!  (Crap that looked really delicious…)  You can see it in the picture to the left in the right corner.  Our server brought out just the plain ham (on the left).  Really good!!!!

That night we ate at Cafe Benelux, and got to dine on the rooftop.  Even though I had MIL6__No Sugarless Gumeaten a burger at lunch, I felt like having another one–and good thing because I didn’t have many other options.  And even though the white cheddar pureed potatoes sounded really great, I was told their french fries were remarkable, and I’ve always been a big french fry girl.  I was not disappointed.

And that’s where it ends.  It was a short trip but I can’t wait to go back!

Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption: Las Vegas Day 5

The last day of our vacation.  As I said in my initial post, I did not do very well following the rules.  I could feel myself becoming more fatigued each day, but at least no stomach issues.

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We went to lunch at The Society Cafe at the Encore.  I chose this one because it had Society Cafe2__No Sugarless Gumallergy menus available.  It was a really cute place, too!  It was decorated in black and white with pink accents in a Frenchy decor.
I ordered a burger and fries which was good, but at this point I was getting sick of red meat.

I was really looking forward to our dinner this night, but unfortunately it turned into kind of a mess.  We were going to Tender at the Luxor and there was a dish on the menu that was a wild game tasting from the Broken Arrow Ranch, which was featured on the first Bizarre Foods show I ever edited.  I thought it would be so cool to get to try food from a place I had a special connection with.

I had called ahead to talk to someone about my “special needs” and they said just to talk to someone when I got there and that they didn’t marinate their meats or anything.  I even brought my list of foods I could eat along!  So I talked to the waiter about it and showed him the list and he looks at it and then says “wow, that’s a long list.”  Um…what?  There are like, fifteen things on there that I can eat!  But then I realized: he thinks those are my allergies.  Because how is it possible that someone could eat so few foods, right?  My husband and I both tried to explain: “what I CAN eat.  CAN!  AM ABLE TO EAT!!!!”  But he just couldn’t grasp it (“can’t with a ‘T? Cannot eat?”)  We actually had two waiters, so the other came over and seemed to understand and I thought I was in good hands.  I said if it’s not on the list, I can’t have it.  Can’t with a ‘T.’

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I was supposed to get three different meats, but it turned out one of them was marinated after all, so I got an extra piece of venison in its place.  But look at the rest of this dish: pearl onions by the venison; up in the left square is some kind of fig chutney; and then under the other meat (I can’t remember if that’s the antelope or wild boar) is something the waiter told me is “just a grain, don’t worry.”  That’s not on the list, guy.

So I just ate the meats, and the venison really needed the sauce that I couldn’t have.  At least the antelope/boar was OK.  But that was overall a pretty frustrating experience.  And one of the waiters stole my list!!!

Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption: Las Vegas Day 4

Hot Dog and Fries__No Sugarless Gum

If this picture doesn’t scream “classy” then I don’t know what does.  This was the lunch we settled on because we didn’t plan anything for this day.  We wandered around quite a bit and this was the best we could do.  I’ll never complain about eating McDonald’s french fries, though.  The hot dog was from Nathan’s World Famous Hot Dogs, and it was quite good, but I’m pretty sure I got fructosed from it.

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My husband and I always have at least one night on vacation when we order room service.  No matter what it’s my favorite meal because I get to be ultra lazy.  We stayed at the Cosmopolitan, and their in-room dining menu was only so so.  (Last year we stayed at the Vdara and theirs was pretty impressive–they even had gluten-free options!)  I ordered their Free Range Brick Half Chicken, and it was great: very tender and flavorful even while meeting my Fructose-Malabsorption diet standards.  The fries were pretty stellar too.

Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption: Las Vegas Day 3

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I only have one picture for today and it’s really crappy, so here’s one of the view from our hotel room!

I did something risky today: after coming off a high from a sale at Zara in the Fashion Show Mall, I went to Wendy’s and ordered some fries and chicken nuggets.  Now, the fries I’m pretty confident about being appropriate for my diet, but the nuggets were a gamble.  But I wanted them so bad!!!  I didn’t even get the 4-piece, I went right for 6.  As soon as I bit into the first one I KNEW there was onion powder in the breading (I looked it up, there isn’t), not to mention the wheat.  They were so good though!  I just love those nasty things.
And I’m glad to say nothing really happened.  Now I will probably eat them every day and become the fattest person in the world.

For dinner we went to a steak house that people there seem to hold in high regard.  It’s at the Circus Circus hotel.  That’s right, the hotel with the creepy clown on the sign with carpet that is probably covered in snot and pee from all the kids that are there.
But it was a classy joint!  It was super dark (that’s why my picture is so terrible) and it looked like a place you would go in the ’50s if you were in the mob or something.

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I ordered a steak and potato, which is pretty fail-safe since usually only butter, salt, and pepper are used in cooking steaks.  This was, I think, the second best steak I ever had.  (First best was one I had in Tacoma, WA.)

Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption: Las Vegas Day 2

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Don’t worry, I didn’t eat the ketchup. I just left it in for the picture. 

This was my favorite food day of the whole trip.  For lunch we went to Fleur which is in the Mandalay Bay hotel.  We had gone there last year because my husband wanted to try their $65 Fleur Burger that comes topped with truffles and foie gras.  I went with a regular burger, which was very good (and cheaper).  Fluer2__No Sugarless Gum

So we decided to go again this year.  I figure it’s hard to go wrong with a burger and fries, so I didn’t call ahead or tell the waitress that I have Fructose Malabsorption.  Which was dumb, because about halfway through eating the french fries, I realized they were breaded.  I don’t think it really mattered, since it was just a little wheat, but I wish I would have just freaking asked!

Then came my favorite meal of the trip and by far my best experience eating out since my diagnosis.
We were going to see the Cirque du Soleil show Zarkana at the Aria tonight, so I found a restaurant called Sage that looked like it might have a few options for me.  I called ahead and talked to someone and they eventually put me on with the chef who was very friendly and listened patiently while I explained my dietary restrictions.  He even said “we look forward to having you dine with us,” or something.  We’ll see about that, Chef…
Our reservation was at 5:00 so we could eat before the show.  When we arrived, they had already made a note about my FM next to our reservation, so I didn’t even have to explain again that I was “special.”  The waiter asked me a few questions about what I could and couldn’t eat and eventually the chef himself came out to talk to me.  He was really interested in making something I could eat!
He came up with this bacon wrapped pork loin with buttery mashed potatoes.  It was SO GOOD!

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This looked better when it was first served, but I was so excited to eat it that I forgot to take a picture and had to reassemble it.

And even more than that, it was so nice talking directly with the person who was making my food, and he wasn’t interested in trying to decode my diet, he just wanted to know the specific things I could eat.

I should give myself partial credit for this one.  I actually followed some of my rules for traveling with FM: I planned this on my itinerary, called ahead, and went early.

So if you end up in Las Vegas, definitely dine at Sage.  Chef Scott will take care of you.

 

Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption: Las Vegas Day 1

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The first thing I ate this day was actually white rice from the Panda Express.  I hadn’t had lunch on the plane and I was starving.  It was so undercooked I couldn’t even eat it.  Quesadilla2__No Sugarless Gum

By the time we got settled in our hotel we were hungry again (well, I was hungry still).  I hadn’t made an itinerary like I should have, so we went to the concierge where we were staying and they suggested a Mexican/Chinese place called China Poblano.  I went through the rigamarole with the poor waiter (who really was trying to understand) and ordered the quesadilla de chicharron, which had just about the only meat that wasn’t marinated overnight.

Waiting for my new order.  Thankfully my husband's two tongue tacos didn't tempt me!

Waiting for my new order. Thankfully my husband’s two tongue tacos didn’t tempt me!

 

It looked so good!  I was so excited to eat it!  And my first bite…had an onion in it!!!  What the hell?!!!  Thankfully I had taken two Digest Spectrum beforehand and suffered no repercussions.

Of course it was my fault because I didn’t follow any of my rules.

I did order a new quesadilla, and it was delicious.

 

7 Rules for Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption

Las Vegas!__No Sugarless Gum

It’s not impossible to go on a trip when you have Fructose Malabsorption, but it makes it very difficult.  My husband and I went to Las Vegas last week for our 1-year anniversary (yay!) and I came up with some rules to follow to help stay feeling well.

Vacation, for me, used to be a lot about all the great food I would get to try–especially dessert.  Hopefully it will be able to be that way again one day, but now, it’s more like trying to survive and not get sick. Continue reading