7 Steps for Celiacs Going on Retreat

As a celiac, I find it frightening to go on trips. Will I be able to find safe food? Will I have to go hungry? Will I get glutened and have to deal with the illness away from the comfort and privacy of home?

These fears were with me as I prepared to go on a couple of week-long trips recently: a meditation retreat at a place called Stowel Lake Farm; and a deep-dive into The Work of Byron Katie at a place called Hollyhock. Both places are on little islands, and both provide all meals for their guests.

In both cases, as I got ready to go I had moments of thinking that I should, as Stephen Mitchell says in The Second Book of the Tao, “just stay at home and cultivate my own garden.” I could simply accept that travel is very difficult for me now, and free myself to enjoy the normal beauties of my everyday life without the pressure to go adventuring. I’d be doing the world a favour by putting one less car on the road!

BUT… I really wanted to go. Both retreats were such wonderful opportunities! I simply had to deal with the fear.

Here’s the system I used for dealing with the fear of going on retreat:

  1. Acknowledge that the fear has a real safety message for me. (It’s true that eating away from home is hazardous!)
  2. Identify the dangers that the fear is pointing to. (Safe food may not be readily available. I may get sick.)
  3. Use the energy of the fear to take action on those dangers. (Call the retreat centre in advance about my dietary restrictions; pack enough safe food to survive in case the retreat centre doesn’t actually understand celiac disease as well as they think they do; find out if there’s anywhere I can buy food in the area if necessary; carry cash in case shopping is needed; pack medications in case of glutening.)
  4. Upon arriving at the retreat centre, speak personally with the cook(s) about my dietary restrictions. If necessary, request extra special arrangements to avoid cross-contamination. For example, request a separate service area for the gluten-free food, a hidden-away dedicated crumb-free peanut butter jar, and so on.)
  5. Be alert at every meal. Watch for cross-contamination. If in doubt about ingredients, ask. If something is unsafe, resist the temptation to try it.
  6. With all these precautions in practice, relax and enjoy. Remind myself that I am doing everything possible to safeguard my health. This will let my anxiety take a break from trying to protect me.
  7. Calm any anxiety as it arises by breathing consciously. (Make exhaling take longer than inhaling. Count to 4 while breathing in; count to 6 while breathing out. Do this for several breaths in a row. This relaxes the nervous system.)

I’m happy to report that, by carefully following the system above, I had wonderful and healthy experiences at both the retreats that I went to. The cooks and kitchen staff were caring and competent, nobody acted irritated or put-out by my assertiveness and precautions, the food was abundant and delicious, and I didn’t get sick at all. There were a couple of times on each retreat when I yearned to have the food everyone else was having, while I had a comparatively sad little gluten-free substitute, but this was rare, and the joy of being there made it easier to tolerate.

I wish you joy in your own careful gluten-free travels – and joy to you, too, if you opt to “stay at home and cultivate your own garden.”

P.S. I’m a celiac and a counsellor. If you’re troubled by some of the social or emotional issues that go along with having celiac disease, contact me! I do sessions at my Victoria BC office, or over Skype.



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