Thursday 26 April 2018

I'm most intolerant of my intolerances

Due to the unwelcome discovery that she now has several food intolerances, Andrea Smith embarked on the 'no-fun-for-the-rest-of-your-bloody-life plan'

Andrea Smith will be walking 115km of the Camino de Santiago in less than two weeks
Andrea Smith will be walking 115km of the Camino de Santiago in less than two weeks

There is less than two weeks to go before I stop talking about walking 115km of the Camino de Santiago and actually go and do the thing, and I'm wondering, for the thousandth time, what possessed me to say 'yes'?

When it came to my diet this week, I hit a serious snag. The background is that I developed madly itchy hands and blistery spots on my face a few months ago that were driving me insane. Nothing was helping, although I tried every cream and potion imaginable, so I ended up going down the medical route.

I had begun to suspect gluten to be the culprit, but was shocked when my blood tests showed that I was strongly intolerant to... wait for it... gluten, dairy, egg white and nuts, and borderline intolerant to yeast.

Is someone having a giraffe? How can you get to 46 with no problems whatsoever, and then suddenly develop a load of allergies?

I discovered that the skin condition is called dermatitis herpetiformis, and it's a common symptom among those with coeliac disease. I don't have any of the digestive disturbances associated with that condition, thankfully, although I have noticed that I get very fatigued when I eat foods containing gluten.

I have to have further investigation, but in the meantime, what's left to eat, sez you? Not a whole lot is the depressing answer. Even most of the gluten-free stuff has dairy in it, which is kinda devastating.

So this week was mainly spent following the what-the-hell-can-I-actually-eat diet? Also known as the no-fun-for-the-rest-of-your-bloody-life plan. No chocolate, no peanut butter, no pizza - I'll end up skinny by default. And cranky!

To make matters worse, I was lured on the Camino trip by promises of delicious Galician food and wine. I rarely drink so not being able to have wine (as it contains yeast) doesn't bother me, but I imagine trying to work my new, no-craic diet around what's available to eat as we walk along is going to be a right pain in the face.

When it comes to walking, I'm not as far along my fitness plan as I would have liked. The most I've managed to walk in one day was 11km, and I needed about three days to recover from that. The soles of my poor feet were really tender, despite socks costing €14 and the fancy insoles and gel pads I bought to smooth the way.

How will I fare walking 20km for six days straight, I wonder. And don't even get me started on the inconvenient fact that some of the journey will be uphill. I bloody hate hill-walking - HATE IT - and am still haunted by the memories of marching over the Wicklow Way in the teeming rain as a teenager.

There was an amazing summer project, The Switchers Club, on my road when I was growing up, organised by a committee of our parents. We enjoyed day trips, swimming lessons, crafts classes and all sorts of fun competitions, and were so lucky to have it and didn't even realise it at the time.

There were also regular hostelling trips to Tiglin and Aughavannagh, where we would go for little walks, have picnics and explore the place. I loved the fun of the hostelling but wasn't mad about the walks, even though they were never hugely taxing.

So when I signed up for the Wicklow Way trip, I had no idea that it involved a serious trek across the mountains. It was 32 years ago, but I'll never forget how difficult it was slip-sliding up and down the mountains for the whole weekend in the teeming rain, carrying heavy sleeping bags and backpacks.

Most of the girls cried at some point, and we all cursed our leader Frank, who jollied us along and kept promising us the minibus was waiting "over the next mountain".

That was the most difficult thing I've ever physically done, and I'm still not over it, but I'm consoling myself with the presumption that the Spanish weather will be better, won't it?

Plus we're on a trip organised by Dublin-based Follow The Camino, who have arranged for our luggage to be sent on ahead of us from one hotel to the next. So at least there won't be any heavy haversack to lug along as I haul myself across the Way of St James, along with the rest of the group supporting The Rise Foundation.

Tune in next week to see if I get more practice walks in to make me feel more confident before I set off on my travels. And will I come to terms with my life sentence without chocolate and pizza? (sob, no!).

Andrea is walking the Camino Way to riase funds for The Rise Foundation

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