How to Eat Out Stress-Free with a Special Diet
It can be difficult to work out how to eat out stress-free with a special diet as there are so many different types of diets for health now. Restaurants and cafes have got a lot better at labelling menus and being aware of food intolerances but there is still a way to go.
I have been on my very restrictive Autoimmune Protocol Diet for over five years now and it has been transformational in reducing inflammation in my body. It is not meant to go on for that long but that is another story. I am used to it now and am slowly re-introducing foods, and even though it can be boring if I don’t make the effort to make new recipes, I am quite happy with it.
Eating out at restaurants and other people’s houses, however, can be a real challenge. If you, like me, are restricted in this way you will know what it is like. You just want to be able to eat out stress-free when you have a special diet, and not end up feeling like a troublemaker or ending up getting ill due to ingesting some food that is detrimental to you.
I have developed different ways of dealing with these hurdles that can make the whole process easier for you and your friends and family…and the waiter/waitress for that matter! After all, eating out should be a relaxing enjoyable experience for everyone.
Social difficulties of special dietary requirements:
- Embarrassment and stress due to feeling like you are being difficult.
- Feeling like you are being an unreasonable or ungrateful dinner guest.
- Not wanting to put more work onto others.
- Awkwardness in restaurants.
- Pressure from family to just be “normal”.
- Friends and family having difficulty understanding the reasons for your diet.
- Potluck events can be tricky as there is little or nothing you can eat except your own offering.
- The temptation to eat something you shouldn’t just to make it easier for others.
Tools and tricks:
Communicating your needs:
- Spend some time planning how to explain the reasons for your diet and how it benefits your health. I sometimes like to say that I am on a prescribed diet plan recommended by my nutritionist (which is true!).
- Practice a short clear explanation of what happens to you in the following days if you break your own diet rules.
- Ask for exactly what you want in restaurants. eg ask if it is possible to just have fish/meat fried plain in olive oil with some steamed vegetables. I like to imagine I am a famous actress or pop star and say what they would say..smile often and ask politely of course!
- Advance planning is crucial. Get ahead by checking restaurants online menus, then email them to explain your requirements in advance. This saves a lot of the hassle and the chef will hopefully have a written record of what your requirements are on the day.
- Aim for restaurants that make lots of fresh salads and simple grilled meats and fish. Identify sides of greens or salad that you can have in advance and swap them in for other disallowed foods.
- Look on Paleo and Coeliac websites in advance for ideas of 100% gluten-free restaurants.
- Take your own food contribution to dinner parties if that is helpful. Make it yummy so others will want to share too to make you feel less excluded.
- Take your own seasonings to restaurants and dinner invitations.
- Email friends/family some recipes that you can eat if that seems appropriate.
- Print out allowed/forbidden foods for the family.
- If it is a work lunch, it may be easier to just take your own food as you may be time-limited.
Staying on track with special diet:
- Think about ways of saying ” no thanks” to offers of food that don’t offend the person offering and allow them to eat it happily in front of you. eg. That looks delicious, and I would love to eat it, but my diet doesn’t allow it. You go ahead, I am going to have a herbal tea, fruit salad, or whatever..”
- Sometimes eating in advance of the event is helpful, nothing worse than going hungry!
- Be appreciative of any extra effort made by others to accommodate your requests rather than apologising guiltily. There is nothing to be guilty about, you have a medical condition, take care of yourself.
- Tip well in restaurants for the extra effort made.
- Stay strong in your convictions and don’t be swayed by others saying ” Just a little won’t harm you!” You know it will!
So with great planning ahead, clear compassionate communication and an attitude of gratitude, you can hopefully eat out stress-free with a special diet. Ideally eating out will be something you can enjoy thoroughly. We certainly deserve a break from the kitchen and missing out socially is not beneficial to our mental health. So I encourage you to do your research but also to keep a sense of humour as the best-laid plans..and all that…
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ― Virginia Woolf”