Intolerances, marathons and me


I am a marathon runner and triathlete – and I am intolerant to gluten and dairy products. It’s not always been the case: I contracted giardiasis whilst on my gap year in Thailand aged 18, and didn’t do anything about it, so it kind of ruined my stomach.  

It was tough for a while: I was completely undiagnosed for 6 months, which meant everything I ate seemed to make me ill, and during this time I had depression and lost a lot of weight. It’s taken time, but thanks to developing a love of long distance running and amazing support and kindness from family and friends, I am now very much me again, just unable to eat gluten and dairy – which isn’t as hard as you might think!


I’ve trained for 5 marathons, have a 6th on the horizon and have taken up long distance triathlon: I train a lot and I love it. But training needs fuelling and I often get puzzled and pitying looks when I tell people how active I am and about my intolerances. However, it’s really not that difficult: in fact, I would almost recommend the way I have to eat to anyone.


So here is a bit of insight and some of my top tips into eating “Cathy Friendly”:


Eat real

The inadvertent best thing about being unable to tolerate gluten or dairy is that I am forced to eat real food. I just can’t eat most processed foods, as they often contain wheat. Much of this processed, “convenience” food is better off not being eaten anyway – so I am forced to eat much better.


Carbing Up

Many people ask how I can eat enough carbs to keep the marathon engine going. And it’s easy. I am somewhat dubious about the need to eat masses of ‘stereotypical’ carbs anyway, but my evening meal will usually have either rice, quinoa, sweet potato or sometimes gluten free pasta as the support act to the protein and vegetables.


Typical eats and treats

I am lucky and can tolerate oats, so I always have porridge for breakfast, mixed with water, tons of cinnamon and sweetened with honey or jam. I always take my lunch to work in Tupperware: 9 times out of 10 it’s a salad with either eggs, tuna or some of last night’s left overs. During the day I will snack on “Cathy Friendly” snack bars, such as nakd bars, and on fruit, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.

     I am still able to eat ‘treats’, and still eat what could be considered as unhealthy foods. We often eat homemade burgers, I can eat certain brands of potato wedges and chips, and my favourite Friday night dinner would be gluten free sausages and mash. I also love chocolate, crisps and sweets – and luckily there are plenty of “Cathy Friendly” options of these out there!


Do it yourself

Admittedly, it can be hard to buy anything ‘ready made’ that I am able to eat. Some supermarkets do ‘free from’ pre-prepared foods, but to be honest, I’d rather cook for myself anyway.

Many recipes are very easy to adapt, to make them gluten and dairy free, although they can be hit and miss, and a bit underwhelming at times, and my boyfriend often complains they are ‘missing something’ when I replace ingredients. BUT there are some wonderful recipe books and food blogs out there filled with recipes that are completely gluten and dairy free already – no substitutions necessary. My absolutely favourite is Pippa Kendrick and her book “The Intolerant Gourmet”. It’s filled with beautiful recipes that cover everything from soups to pies and puddings to stews. I can’t recommend it enough, and can’t wait to get my hands on her latest book.


Eating out

I am extremely lucky, I know, to live in Brighton, which is the alternative food CAPITAL. I can go pretty much anywhere and I know that there will be gluten and dairy free options available. I know full well that in some places, the options are very limited. I lived in France a couple of years ago, and there were numerous occasions the only thing I could eat in the restaurant was very plain salad…and chips.

I find though that chefs are very accommodating and will usually do their very best to make a meal that is suitable for me.


My top tips

It’s taken me a while to get good at being gluten and dairy intolerant, but I feel like I’m pretty much there now. So here are some tips to get through if you do find yourself intolerant all of a sudden:

–       Be prepared and organised: take snacks you know you can eat and look up the menu at restaurants before you go, so you know they are OK.

–       Stop being so fussy and recognise you may only have one choice on the menu. I don’t really like jacket potatoes, but I would be a very hungry girl if I didn’t just suck it up and eat them.

–       Take your own food if you’re travelling… and sometimes a lot of it!

–       Eat Asian! Most Asian cuisine is dairy free anyway, and you can always go for rice based dishes.

–       Let people know: I have found people get really embarrassed if they’ve nothing to offer me to eat, and get really excited about preparing food I can.

–       Eat well. It’s possible to eat a really good, really balanced diet despite gluten and dairy intolerance – so do it!


It does take some getting used to, and can be hard when you’re trying to fuel a large amount of exercise as well. I am always happy to talk about any foodie issues, so do email me if you fancy a chat, or I am always on Twitter. Like, always.

Happy running; happy eating!


3 thoughts on “Intolerances, marathons and me

  1. I eat very minimal gluten or dairy (the first does not agree with my digestion and the second gives me pimples) and am so used to it as well. Asian food is a good tip, as well as taking food with you when going on holidays – that’s often where I let myself down and end up eating the wrong things and suffering as a consequence.
    And – if people only knew that sweet potatoes are an absolute ACE source of carbs for athletes.

  2. Thanks for this. I’m gluten and dairy free mooooosssst of the time, mainly by choice but also by intolerance. Dairy and I do NOT get on, and I don’t miss it or find it hard to eat around it. The gluten thing is a newer addition to my dietary exclusion – I am a massive fan of the Whole 30 way of eating, and find that when I reintroduce gluten (or any grains) I feel bloated, sluggish and just a bit awful. So in my day to day life – I stay away from it, and eat very similar to you (although no rice or quinoa or oats). I have sweet potatoes, mince and eggs for my pre-race breakfasts – I honestly perform and recover better since I have stopped the whole peanut butter bagel thing! Sweet potatoes are the bomb!

    The hard thing with gluten being a minor niggle for me, is that I haven’t quite developed the willpower to COMPLETELY step away from it and 100% control my food choices. I’m working on it though!

    My fave recipes are anything by Melissa Joulwan from the blog The Clothes Make the Girl. She has two AMAZING cook books – Well Fed, and Well Fed 2 – every thing I have made from them so far is brill!

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