As part of musical theatre group, Collabro, Thomas Redgrave spends a lot of his time on the road. In this blog post, Thomas talks honestly about managing his IBS with travel and a hectic work schedule, and how sticking to non-trigger foods takes all his willpower.

Being on the road with IBS comes with its own challenges, including the lack of toilets on the motorway. I travel a lot for my job and when we are on tour our daily drives can take anywhere between one and six hours, so it’s imperative that I do nothing to jeopardise myself in these situations.

The key is preparation, or rather a preparation in mindset. I know my triggers: alcohol, spice, sugar, caffeine (easy enough to avoid), eggs, dairy, wheat, gluten (which are, unfortunately, in EVERYTHING). The simple task is this, avoid these at all cost! Which is easier said than done because of two factors.

One, sometimes I just crave food I can’t have! Everyone does. When I’m home I’ll sometimes have a pizza, knowing very well that I will be too unwell to do anything the next day. Because I love pizza!

If I make this mistake while traveling I only have myself to blame when I’m doubled over with stomach and bowel pain halfway down the motorway, hoping that the next service station isn’t more than 20 miles away. Or worse, having to smile through the pain on stage.

Two, the availability of food that matches my dietary criteria in England is near null. I live in London so my range of healthy food choices are vast and easily available. Ironically, the more rural you travel the harder it becomes to find healthy food (by which I mean healthy for me). At least while you have no means to cook for yourself.

Finding even semi-healthy food that accommodates my triggers is an ongoing battle. For example, the service stations we regularly stop at for lunch are filled with Greggs, Burger King, McDonalds and other fast foods that cause problems for me.

Mercifully though, a large number of service stations have M&S of which I have ferreted through and found a few items free of bread, milk and eggs that I am able to eat. Some of them are even tasty. But eating the same lunch out of a cold packet every day soon becomes stagnant and I start to veer towards food that, I can only assume by the reaction in my gut, hates me.

Now, in fairness, we have an amazing catering company who travel with us and supply us with dinner (and the crew a full three meals) every day, taking my intolerances into account. However, because of our schedule, dinner is early, around 5pm. By the time the show has ended, normally just past 10pm, and I’ve arrived back in my hotel room, I’m hungry and tired. This is my danger zone! During this time, and against my better judgement, I’ve eaten food such as, crisps, hairbo and chocolate (I don’t even like chocolate).

The worst thing is that eating that late, even healthily, is again almost as bad for me as the food I eat itself. Despite this, I’ve done quite well. Of the 50 days we have been on tour so far I can count my guttural mistakes on one hand. Safe to say, it’s the lack of variety in the foods that I can tolerate that leads me to want for something more and then eat poorly from time to time.

Thinking back on it now, I don’t think there is any way to combat those moments of weakness other than just having a stronger will than I do. Knowing your triggers is one thing, but if you’re on the road (and on the road for a long time), sticking to your non trigger food can take a lot of effort and willpower considering the lack of available options.

I’d say if you are wavering then treat yourself but within reason. Don’t be so strict with your diet that one day you eat a whole chocolate cake and pay dearly for it. One piece of cake, or whatever your prefer, may save your sanity and the mild discomfort you get after is preferable to either the tedium of continually denying yourself something you want or the pain you get from a regrettable overindulgence.

On a final note, charcoal capsules are my friend. They help reduce my bloating and flatulence and if you’re prone to the latter, as most of us with IBS are, your travelling party will thank you for taking them… as mine do. Remember that if you are taking medication, especially heart medication, you will need to consult your GP or pharmacist before taking charcoal tablets, as they may absorb the medication.