Social situations in many different cultures frequently revolve around food (some of you may even find yourself in this situation this weekend- chips, pizza, wings..anyone have a guess?). These situations can leave individuals with food intolerances feeling isolated, frustrated, teased, or misunderstood.
When living with food sensitivities, it can often feel like there are only two choices: starve or be in pain. Sometimes you may decide to engage in eating foods that you know will aggravate your symptoms just to fit in or because the temptation is too extreme. Or perhaps you will have impeccable self control and avoid the delicious foods staring at you, but then feel starving and sad afterward.
I know what it’s like and I want to make it a little easier for you. I would like to share with you some of the strategies that I have found helpful for managing these uncomfortable social situations.
- Eat before you go, then nibble on the veggie plate, some fruit, perhaps a handful of nuts, or maybe even some tortilla chips if you can tolerate them. For your drink, just ask for water. If you want to make it a little fancy, see if there are any lemon or lime wedges. Nibbling can help you feel like you fit in and it can make your host not feel judged.
- If you are going out to eat, look at the menu ahead of time. There may not be something that completely fits with your dietary habits, but at most places you can find a dish that won’t completely throw you into a symptom attack. If you are in a location where you don’t know very many restaurants, a quick Google search for gluten-free, dairy-free, or organic might get you close to something you can tolerate.
- Be more strict about what you eat for a few days before the event. Eating foods that bother you can have a cumulative effect. Say you react to avocado (high FODMAP) and you eat it for a few days and then attend a social event. If you stray from your “safe foods” at the event, you are more likely to react. But if you have been more strict lately, your gut is more likely to be able to withstand something a little bit irritating to it.
- If friends and family show interest in preparing something you can eat, do it with them. It is so thoughtful when people try to include items that you can eat into their menu. But if they try to ask you what you CAN’T eat, you are more than likely to forget something, especially if you have a laundry list of sensitivities. And then your host may feel discouraged if you decide not to eat what they have prepared for you. Cut through the issues and instead, suggest something you can make together.
- Look for social settings that cater to food intolerances. If you are lucky enough to live in Portland, OR, there are a few Meetup groups for individuals with digestive issues and food sensitivities. I am one of the organizers for a group called “Digestive Health”. This weekend we have a Recipe Exchange/Potluck where we will be exchanging gluten-free, dairy-free, low sugar recipes. Some of them (or perhaps many!) will even be SCD-friendly, low FODMAP, Paleo, GAPS, etc.
Tea can make for a safe social event involving food/drink. For one of the Digestive Health Meetup group events, I created a handout about navigating teas for those with digestive issues. Click Here to View the Healing Properties of Tea Handout. The guide that I created was specific to ordering options at Townshend Teahouse, but it also has some great info that is useful for those living in all parts of the world!
How do you go about navigating social situations with food intolerances? I would love to hear your great ideas!