My husband and I drove down for a book signing in my hometown of Bristol, Tennessee…but the signing was in Bristol, Virginia, since the town actually exists in the two different states...but that’s another blog post. We had a marvelous time and I got to spend some much needed time with my baby sister, Susie, and see friends I hadn’t had the pleasure to lay eyes on in far too much time. But, the open road was not without its perils.
A little more than two years ago, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Now, RA isn’t your regular, run-of-the-mill, wear-and-tear on the joints. This is an auto-immune disease that attacks the joints in the body, particularly the small ones in your fingers and toes. I have never been in so much pain in my life. My ankles, knees, fingers and wrists swelled and felt like someone was ripping them apart from the inside out. Both shoulders froze (not at the same time, thank god!) and I didn’t have the strength to roll over in bed or the mobility to wash my hair in the shower…and I’m a young woman!
Hubby and I were desperate. I just wanted to go back to the way I’d been before. I was put on several toxic drugs that really didn’t help with my increasingly limited range of motion or my surmounting level of pain. I did, luckily, find Enbrel—a biologic that started to help, but my progress was very slow. In the meantime I ended up seeing a naturopath, and she advised me to give up wheat. At the time I couldn’t understand how food could be causing me to be so sick…and I didn’t believe her.
Luckily, I did more research. I read blogs by other RA sufferers who’d been cured by changing their diet. And then I found the web site, and lady, who changed my life. I happened upon Maria Mind Body Health, Maria Emmerich’s blog about adapting to the grain and sugar free lifestyle. What was different about Maria was how she showed her readers they could make anything they wanted to eat, but in a “healthified” way. I stopped eating grain and sugar and my life changed.
My pain went away, as did the horrible inflammation. And we were still eating good—almond flour gingerbread men at Christmas, hooray!—and my husband dropped fifty-three pounds! Suddenly, I was like everyone else again and the progression toward cripple I’d feared so very much came to a halt. It turned out I was gluten intolerant, and the inflammation brought on by eating it was feeding my disease. After cheating once on vacation and having my ankles swell to the point of not being able to stand—thirty minutes after having a little pizza and a doughnut—I swore I’d never eat gluten again.
We eat almost all meals at home and I very much prefer this, so I can know exactly what’s in my food. With the upcoming book signing, we knew we’d be eating out—it was unavoidable. I was nervous, but told myself I’d be very careful…turned out that didn’t even help. I realize I have to be responsible for my own health and food choices, but the onus also lies with servers and counter personnel working in the restaurant industry. If you are serving food to those of us with allergies or intolerances, you must be knowledgeable!
Now on to the ultimate purpose of this blog post—to point out the two real-life examples that there are restaurants who, frankly, couldn’t give a rat’s behind about you or your health…and an example of one who’s made me a fan—and customer—for life.
On the way down, our first stop for a meal was in New York, slightly outside of Buffalo, at an Applebee’s. I informed the server of my gluten intolerance and also let her know I don’t eat soy either, as it also exacerbates my symptoms—and most soy is GMO!!! Stay away…far away!!
She was very nice and brought out a sheet listing the allergens for all menu items. I was absolutely overjoyed, because most of their salad dressings were soy free! This is almost unheard of in most restaurants and I usually end up with only oil & vinegar as an option at nearly every place I’ve eaten. At Swiss Chalet about the only condiment I can have is the Chalet Sauce, which was pleasantly surprised me. I enjoyed my bun-free burger and Ranch-covered salad at Applebee’s and thought maybe I’d been worrying too much about the whole eating out thing.
When we stopped in Beckley, West Virginia at Bob Evans, the manager went back and cooked my breakfast herself to make sure the margarine they used on the grill didn’t touch our food. We tipped both her and our server. In Bristol, we took my son to his favorite place, Red Lobster, and they were also very accommodating. The server discovered the lobster tails were broiled with a butter sauce containing soy, so she had them broil it naked and brought me plain butter for dipping. At this point, I was feeling pretty confident. We’d managed to eat well and I was feeling just fine…until that last day.
In Abingdon, Virginia, we took my nieces and sister out for a treat at IHOP. I told the server I couldn’t eat gluten and proceeded to order an omelet. You’d think that option would be safe, wouldn’t you? BTW, it was a Chorizo Fiesta Omelet with grilled serrano peppers on the side…and it was blindingly delicious. I enjoyed every bite…but I’d pay for it later.
That night I started to get joint pain and felt achy all over. I’d just had my Enbrel shot, so I couldn’t imagine why. And I’d been so careful about my diet hadn’t I?
Well, it happened that I hadn’t been careful enough! On our way home the next day, we stopped at an IHop for breakfast in Beckley—after walking out of Cracker Barrel for their use of margarine, ewww! The staff here was pretty rude, from the hostess who couldn’t be bothered with us while she talked with a friend for ten minutes, to the server who just seemed annoyed we’d shown up in her booth. She did, however, show more care than our cheery, attentive waitress from the day before.
I was horrified when I ordered an omelet and she let me know, after I’d told her about my dietary restrictions, all of them contain PANCAKE BATTER! My brain reminded me that I’d read this on Maria’s blog in the distant past and I kicked myself mentally for gobbling down the omelet from the day before. And I was none too happy with the server who’d served it up to me without a thought.
Turns out her lack of conscientiousness cost me over a month of pain. My fingers on my right hand, ankles and knees have all paid the price for that one omelet. But the restaurant can count their lucky stars that was all I suffered. I hate to think of the price someone would pay if they ate there having an anaphylactic-type food allergy.
On the flip side, let me tell you how—again—I was uber-impressed with Applebee’s! We stopped at the location in Erie, Pennsylvania. I’ve never seen staff in a restaurant be so conscientious. Our lovely server, Rosalyn (who gave me permission to use her name in this post), not only brought over the allergen sheets, but the manager to go over them with me, as well. The manager went through each item I was interested in, went in the back to check ingredients, and even stayed in the kitchen to supervise the cooking of my food to make sure all went as planned. I’ve never seen staff that cared so much. I’ve never been as impressed by a restaurant in my life. And they will be my eatery of choice whenever possible!
Lesson learned and Buyer Beware! I’ll keep striving to have a healthy body and mind—contributing to the being the best author I can be!
To learn more about a grain & sugar free lifestyle, you can follow Maria Emmerich on her blog and Facebook pages: