"Thanks to Heartland RVs for partnering with me for this post. All opinions expressed are my own."
Worried that a special diet or food allergy will keep you from enjoying a weekend trip or full-time living in an RV?
Three Heartland owners spoke with me about how they are able to enjoy the RV lifestyle and maintain their diet. With a combination of food restrictions that are both self-imposed and medically required, these women and their families have found ways to survive and thrive — and stay on the road.
Amy Hudson is new to RV travel, in a 2017 Heartland North Trail travel trailer, with her husband, Rory, 9-year-old son, Ian, and two Brittany Spaniels.
Ann Mayer travels part time in a 2011 Heartland Landmark Rushmore with her husband, Dan, and their new pup.
What type of special diet do you follow, and is it by choice or by physician's orders?
Amy is on a self-imposed gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free diet, and she also avoids beans and legumes. In addition, her family avoids dietary ADHD triggers such as food dyes, preservatives, and certain other chemicals.
Ann maintains a medically advised diet that is free of gluten, sugar, and artificial sweeteners (any product made with saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose).
Valerie describes her dietary restrictions of little to no fats or oils, and no red meat or pork as "mainly self-imposed and somewhat advised."
What prompted these changes in diet, and why is maintaining them important to you?
Amy reports that in 2001, her thyroid "went haywire." After a long diagnostic process involving several doctors, she was placed on medication and experienced some improvement, but then gluten, soy, and dairy became "a huge problem," as did constipation.
"In 2009, suffering severe stomach pains (no one could touch me, it hurt that bad), and with no help from any medical professional (13 different docs), I decided to go gluten free."
Amy undertook the information gathering process herself, explaining, "I am a research fanatic, and I lived on the computer researching anything related to symptoms, food, allergies, etc." Not only did Amy's constipation problem disappear after changing her diet, but she learned "how to cook anything gluten free and dairy free," and became a source of knowledge to friends.
"I will never eat gluten again. I rarely eat cheese. I avoid soy at all costs. I don't like feeling horrible."
Ann says that thyroid cancer, a heart attack, weight gain, and increasingly bad lab results caused her doctor to address her diet. "Thyroid and heart disease are progressive diseases that lead to other illnesses or death if not controlled, so that was my wake-up call. I could keep doing what I was doing and die early — or change my diet and improve the odds that I would live a longer, healthier life."
Noting a trusted friend's success on the THM (Trim Healthy Mama) program, which advocates avoidance of gluten, sugar and artificial sweeteners, Ann gave it a try. "After two years of eating GF/SF/ASF, I'm down 33 pounds, my weight is appropriate for my height and age, inflammation in my body has been reduced, my energy level is better, and my lab results have improved. In general, I simply feel better, so for me, it is a way of life."
Valerie had surgery to remove her gall bladder three years ago, which led to her dietary restrictions. "Since then, my digestive tract has let me know, in not so subtle ways, that I needed to change my eating habits."
Maintaining the diet is important for her overall health and well being. "I don't enjoy being sick after eating my no-no foods, and my husband doesn't enjoy the 'pull over now' bathroom stops I sometimes have to make." At least when towing an RV, Valerie pointed out, "the bathroom is right behind us!"
What is the biggest challenge you've faced while living and/or traveling in your trailers while trying to maintain this diet, and how did you tackle it?
Amy admits that finding restaurants and grocery stores that prepare or sell gluten free foods is the biggest challenge in traveling. She prepares beforehand by cooking and baking everything she can at home, including "foods like hamburger buns, bread, snacks, mixes, and other items, so I am not left without. I also create a list of restaurants and grocery stores that I know carry gluten free foods."
Ann says that the biggest challenges she faces when RV'ing are eating in restaurants and attending rally potluck dinners.
"At restaurants, I generally have a salad (dressing on the side) or order a burger or sandwich and skip the bread. At rallies, I often bring my own meal or eat before I go, so I don't have to miss the socializing aspect of the activity."
Eating in the RV does not pose a problem. "I bring my alternative sweeteners and flours with me when we travel."
To clarify, Ann explains that alternative sweeteners are natural and plant-based, not artificial. "Some of my favorites are stevia, honey, agave, palm sugar and monk fruit."
Valerie also agrees that restaurants and potlucks cause issues, and it's a challenge to remember to check menus before going out to eat, then to ask further questions of the wait staff, and also to ask questions about ingredients used in catered and potluck meals at rallies.
"Cooking for myself in the RV is not hard, and I find that I feel much better when I do stick to my diet. I am blessed with a wonderful husband who is willing to eat what I can eat, and does not expect me to fix him something separate from my food, though I do have frozen hamburger patties for him to grill along with my turkey burgers."
What advice would you give someone who is hesitant to try RVing because of their own special dietary needs?
Amy: To do their homework, to find and make lists of places that carry the foods they can have, and to not be afraid. Always have a plan and a backup plan.
Ann: Bake ahead, stock up on meals and snacks you can eat, and don't hesitate to bring your special foods to group gatherings. Your friends will understand.
Valerie: Take a short trip in your RV, and see how it works for your needs. There are so many great places on the web to help with any dietary need. You do have to be proactive with your needs, and be willing to speak up when necessary, as I have learned and am still learning to do.
Is there anything else you'd like to add, such as online resources for support or recipes?
Amy recommends carolfenstercooks.com, foodphilosopher.com, cybelepascal.com, and glutenfreeonashoestring.com. She also added an endorsement for the benefits of maintaining a special diet. "I found that by converting to gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free and ADHD-free, my family and I eat a lot healthier. We read every single label on a food item before we buy it."
Ann encourages searching the internet for THM and GF/SF web sites, as many of them offer recipes and support groups. One of her favorite recipes: Cilantro Lime Chicken.
Valerie offers the reminder that having your own kitchen behind you wherever you go actually makes things easier. "Coping with my dietary restrictions in the RV is easy, since I know how my food is prepared."
Speaking of which, take a look at some of the meals these women have turned out. All this special diet stuff looks mighty appetizing to me, and I'd try any one of these dishes or products. Waffles, y'all! Waffles!