I have long prided myself in having no dietary restrictions. After spending half of my life limiting what I could eat and eliminating all pleasure that eating could bring, removing all restrictions was the most therapeutic way for me to approach my relationship with food. When my friends and colleagues identified as vegan, Paleo, raw foodists, and gluten-free, I gladly enjoyed all foods. Honestly, for a while, cooking for and going out to eat with people with food restrictions kind of irritated me.
Oh how humbling life lessons can be!
What I can and cannot eat has changed drastically in the last two months (and I am eternally grateful that these new-found food restrictions are not sending me down the rabbit hole to anorexic hell). After being diagnosed with Hashimoto's, I cut out gluten, which stimulates autoimmune attacks on the thyroid. A round of food allergy tests added coffee, dairy, yeasts, and several other foods to my "do not consume" list. It is tempting to whine, but I'm putting my best face forward — I'm seeing this as a six-month experiment during which time I'll do a bunch of healing, then retest the allergies and see if anything changes. A summer without cold press and happy hour sounds kinda sad and pathetic, but dammit, I can do it!
What I've come to realize is that living with food restrictions is pretty easy when you prepare your own food. Eating out at restaurants or sharing a meal that a friend or family member cooked for you, on the other hand, can pose some downright discomfort. Whether your diet is determined by food sensitivities or allergies, disease, religious beliefs, or moral reasoning, communicating your food needs to the people you share meals with is imperative. Here are some ideas for you and I to consider as we settle into a new way of eating. If you have others to add to this list, please do so in the comment section below. I know I could use all the support I can get right now and other readers could too.
• First and foremost, do not feel ashamed, embarrassed, apologetic, or otherwise inconveniencing. Let's consider who is most affected by these restrictions, shall we? It's not your mom, your partner, your kids, your colleagues, or your BFF. Au contraire! It is you! And you have made these changes to your diet to take care of your body/heart/mind. Find resolve in your convictions and let the forgiveness flow.
• Approach your food restrictions as if everything is normal. This is a page out of my wife's book and it works like a charm. It goes like this: if you present your food needs as if there is nothing weird or unusual about them, people will follow your lead. The opposite presentation — that your food needs are totally outrageous and inconvenient — sets up the opposite response. Just play it cool.
• Communicate. If you are going over to a friend's house for dinner for the first (or second or third 0r thirty-fifth) time, don't be afraid to call ahead with the list of foods you cannot eat. You may think that is inconvenient, but let me tell you what's more inconvenient: planning, shopping for, preparing, and presenting a meal that your guest can't eat! Consider the time and energy your host puts into making you dinner and give them the tools they need to do so successfully.
• All that said, there are times when calling ahead with your food needs is not practical. For example, a wedding, or family reunion, or a BBQ at your spouse's co-worker's cousin's house. So, be prepared. Don't arrive hungry and bring snacks to tide you over.
• Know where you can go out. Keep a list of restaurants in your city where you have more than one option to choose from on the menu. The Twin Cities are quite accommodating to all ways of eating and many restaurants are well-versed and able to accommodate food allergies. Don't be afraid to mention your food restrictions to your server and ask for recommendations. For those of you out there with severe celiac: eating out is very tricky because most restaurants cannot avoid cross-contamination. But take heart, there will be 100 percent gluten-free restaurants here before you know it.
What are your tips and tricks for sharing meals on a restricted diet?