Dining with Dietary Restrictions
Often times, discomfort due to unpleasant digestive symptoms, such as gas, bloating, and indigestion, can often be alleviated with targeted dietary shifts.
Sometimes it can be beneficial to remove certain foods from the diet to lower inflammation and support the body’s ability to heal itself. However, the foods that might be required to be eliminated are dependent on each individual person- and should best be done under the advise of a health practitioner.
Adjusting to a therapeutic diet or navigating dietary changes can feel overwhelming at first – especially for anyone who hasn’t experimented with different ways of eating or identified their trigger foods yet (like through an elimination diet or with an intolerance test).
It may feel frustrating or disappointing to cut out your favorite foods or go-to staples. You may experience initial confusion about what you can and can’t eat, how to go about making these changes, and whether you can still eat at your favorite restaurants.
We help our clients make sense of this information and adjust to a new way of eating by holding their hands through the process. Practitioners like us, help clients like you explore which foods work for them and empower them to experiment with new foods, meals, and methods of preparation.
At The Holistic RN, we share recipes and provide support with food shopping – teaching you how to read food labels to search for ingredients that may irritate you and how to spot trigger ingredients in certain dishes. For example, you may learn that you are sensitive to gluten but may not be aware that it’s found in soy sauce.
In addition to educating clients on how to spot trigger foods, here at The Holistic RN, we also empower clients to make the best dietary choices that support their unique health needs, both inside and outside the home, so they can feel comfortable dining out.
While preparing meals at home ensures you know exactly which ingredients are going into your food– ordering takeout or eating at restaurants does not provide the same assurance.
We want our clients to feel that they still have flexibility and options, and that they can enjoy the experience of ordering food from their favorite restaurants. Dining out is a pleasurable, social experience that can bring a new level of joy to eating.
Since ordering food from a restaurant leaves the food preparation to others, you may be uncertain about the ingredients and their quantities in your meal. This means that you may need to be extra diligent to ensure you are getting exactly what you order – and nothing more.
This blog post is aimed to help you integrate your dietary needs with dining out by helping you plan ahead, feel comfortable asking for what you need, and choose gut-friendly options without fear or uncertainty.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Ten ways to support gut health when dining out…
Here are ten ways to support your gut health when dining out, ensuring that you are able to stick to your dietary requirements with ease:
1. LOOK AHEAD
Scope out the menu ahead of time and come up with a plan for avoiding trigger foods. For example, if you know that sauces and dressings contain ingredients that can irritate your gut, plan to order the sauce on the side or forgo it altogether.
If you are unable to locate the menu online, call the restaurant to ensure they will be able to accommodate your requests.
2. BRING INSTRUCTIONS
It can be helpful to show up with a small note card to share with restaurant staff that explains that you follow a special dietary approach for medical reasons and cannot physically tolerate certain foods.
On this card, list all the foods and ingredients you’re unable to eat. Keep a few cards handy for when you dine out so you always have one to share with your waiter and the chef. You can even leave one on the table as a visual reminder for staff.
When I travel to countries that do not speak English, I do this myself with a card in their language. It is extremely helpful in ensuring that they understand my needs and takes the fear out of ordering for me.
3. ASK QUESTIONS
Don’t be afraid to ask about ingredients and preparations and if substitutions can be made to meet your needs. Familiarize yourself with substitutions that work for you. Scan the menu and have a few available swaps in mind.
For example, if you can’t eat almonds, be prepared to suggest walnuts or peanuts instead. This way, the waiter doesn’t have to guess for you.
We support our clients with brainstorming suitable substitutions.
4. BE PREPARED WITH BACK UPS
Bring your own extras and have backups available. For example, you can carry a few travel containers of nonperishable dressings, sauces, or spices.
That way, if substitutions cannot be made to accommodate your needs, you can order a dish as plain as possible and add your own extras. If you are going to a restaurant or gathering where you are unsure if there will be foods you can eat, bring a snack with you just in case.
5. GIVE YOURSELF DIGESTIVE SUPPORT
Remember to take any necessary digestive aids ahead of your meal. If you will be away from home for a while before it’s time to eat, bring them with you and set an alarm on your phone to remind you to take them.
This may include digestive enzymes or bitters that are part of your gut health regimen. There may even be digestive support available on the menu!
Foods that naturally contain digestive enzymes include avocado (lipase), fresh pineapple (bromelain), and fresh papaya (papain). In the event that your dish comes prepared in a way you can’t tolerate, digestive aids may help minimize the impact.
6. INCLUDE GUT-FRIENDLY ADD INS
When possible, request extra herbs and spices with digestive health benefits (such as ginger tea or fresh herbs like mint) to add to your meal so you’ll receive an added boost of gut health support.
7. AVOID GUT IRRITANTS
Avoid ordering foods and drinks that are difficult to digest and/or may be harmful to the gut, such as fried, fatty foods; artificial sweeteners; alcohol; spicy foods; or foods high in fructose.
These foods are generally gut irritants for most people, even those with a healthy GI system. Familiarize yourself with menu terms to identify overly rich and fatty foods (such as au gratin, battered, tempura, etc.).
Again, if you don’t know what something on the menu means, don’t be afraid to ask!
8. PRACTICE MINDFUL EATING
While eating, slow down and chew your meal well! Focus on the conversation and ambiance.
Make sure you’re comfortably seated, and release any tension you may be holding. Try to relax and stay in the moment – stress will only inhibit the digestive process.
9. KNOW WHEN TO STOP
Stop eating when you are almost full and pack the rest to go. In Japan, this is known as hara hachi bu – a practice of stopping a meal when you’re 80% full.
This encourages eating slowly until the first signs of fullness to avoid overeating, which can cause GI distress, like pain, reflux, or bloating.
Dining out while trying to avoid many foods can be stressful. Planning ahead, remembering rules, resisting temptation, and being hypervigilant can make a person feel anxious. This stress alone could possibly aggravate your symptoms.
The only thing worse than eating something outside your diet is stressing about eating something outside your diet! It’s not realistic to adhere to a limited diet 100% of the time – the goal is to do the best you can, whenever you can.
If you’re going to have that piece of cake, release any guilt and enjoy it!
We teach clients with dietary restrictions how to navigate a restaurant menu with confidence and show up prepared to social gatherings where food will be served.
With a little preparation and planning, dining out in a gut-friendly way does not have
to be intimidating. In fact, it can be quite enjoyable!
The above tips have been adapted from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. I hope this post gives you some ideas for ways to enjoy eating out while still managing dietary restrictions.
Remember, when it comes to making major dietary shifts, it is best to work directly with a knowledgeable practitioner.