If you’ve done an elimination diet or been allergy tested, then you’ve done the hard work to discover what foods do or do not work for your body.
It can feel amazing to have achieved this precious state of feeling good, especially after years of feeling unwell or after a major diagnosis. But the moment you’re served a food that doesn’t fly with your health protocol, you can come crashing down from that pedestal of good health, and in a hurry.
Maintaining your ideal eating plan can become a precious balancing act, and the many variables that a restaurant presents may feel daunting.
Is there anything I can eat on this menu? Will the waitstaff really “hear” me? Does the chef understand that gluten isn’t just in bread? Is this chicken or vegetable broth?
If you’ve ever had your hard-won physical homeostasis shattered, you may have resigned yourself to never eat out again.
But that’s no fun! We want to THRIVE through any diagnosis or state of health.
And if self-care is the essence of health care (and it is), then being able to vocalize our dietary needs should be THE thing we’re experts at.
Yet women sometimes feel like we’re “burdening” people with our “issues” just by stating what we need. Ladies, speaking up for our health needs is priority numero uno.
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago. Upon diagnosis I thought, “At least I’m not celiac! I don’t have to live without gluten!” only to find through an elimination diet that I did indeed need to forego the much maligned protein found in wheat, barley and rye in order to feel good and live comfortably.
Since cutting out gluten and dairy, I don’t miss the inflammatory agents in the least because my health without them is so much better.
Discovering that these were problems for my body was one thing, figuring out how to explain my needs to waitstaff was another.
Through my work to thrive through this diagnosis over these years, I’ve discovered some simple ways to get what I want and need when ordering at a restaurant.
1) Nail Your One-Liner
What is the one thing the waiter needs to know? Not your long and bumpy road to diagnosis, or the story about your a life-long allergy. Find the fewest number of words that will communicate your health situation, and the stakes involved.
Through trial and error, I finally landed on “I was diagnosed with MS, and I eat gluten- and dairy-free to manage my symptoms.”
Whenever I try to skip this step, I end up regretting it. Of course there are (many) times that I think I can decipher a menu on my own, and don’t mention my sensitivities at all, only to find that not all ingredients are included on the menu.
In thinking that I'm saving the waiter the “bother” of my food needs (such a female thought), I’ve only created more work if I have to send it back, or if they see me hunting for croutons or blue cheese crumbles as soon as the plate reaches my place setting.
If you're out with coworkers and this is a private condition that you prefer not share, take the opportunity to speak with waitstaff directly. Excuse yourself to the restroom and have a quick conversation to bring them up to speed. Or call ahead and let the manager or hostess know the situation.
2) Recruit The Waitstaff as Part of Your Healing Team
We're all in this together. Smile. Introduce yourself.
If we can communicate our needs in an empowered way, we are recruiting the waitstaff to be on our healing team over the course of this meal.
Remember, they want us to be happy. That is a priority of their job. Let them do their job.
Questions are powerful tools in allowing someone to step up, demonstrate their knowledge, and really be a part of the solution.
“What dishes do you recommend if I need to avoid peanuts/ shellfish/ dairy/ MSG/ gluten/ poultry (or D — some unique combo of the above)?” empowers the waiter more than saying, “I CAN’T eat this . . . (laundry list of ingredients)” and ending it there.
If you want them working as your advocates in the kitchen, let them be a part of your team.
3) Do Your Homework, and Make Empowered Decisions
Check out menus online and call ahead. You can gauge the restaurant’s level of reception to food concerns just by reading the menu.