A Survival Guide For Social Eating When You Have Dietary Restrictions
As we plan to sit around the dinner table this week with friends, family, and lots of food, I thought it was time to address this tricky topic.
A while back one of the lovely NMDL readers suggested I do a post on the social aspects of eating when one eats in a manner not typical. For me, some of this revolves around dealing with other people and their issues, and some of it is pure logistics!
Since I eat in a way that is quite different from most people, I am often reminded of just how worked up people can get about how other people choose to eat.
Please note, I am not addressing eating disorders here, but rather adults making decisions about how to eat. I’ve had many experiences where people have judged me about the way I eat. When I was a much larger person, others would shoot me nasty looks as I ordered a dessert. Since I’ve been a healthy weight for my frame, people still criticize how I eat. Often, it seems as though others think my personal choices are a negative judgment of their choices, though they are not. These are a few concepts I use in my life to help me deal with the complications of eating differently from most people around me.
Don’t let other people try to shame or bully you into eating a certain way. You are the only one who knows what it’s like to live in your body. We should be able to make our own decisions about our own bodies. This covers a lot of things, including food. I hope everyone makes healthy and informed choices, and listens to their body. Sometimes another person will have a genuine concern about your health. If it is someone who cares about you, listen to the concern, and address it respectfully (if you need help, take the opportunity to receive it). Eating disorders are real, but not all atypical ways of eating are disordered. Make an honest, informed, responsible assessment of how you choose to eat, and do your best to make it work.
Be willing to be somewhat flexible. While I prefer to eat raw, as long as the options are vegan and gluten free (my essentials for health), I can manage in a social situation. Figure out where you are willing to be flexible and be prepared for this when you eat with others.
Come up with a dish or two that most other people love, regardless of their dietary specifics. I struggle with this, as I don’t think I’ve ever been comfortable preparing food for others. Some people are great cooks, but it’s not my gift. Every once in while though, I have a hit. People love my slaw, so when I’m invited to someone’s home I bring it. That also guarantees there will be at least one thing there I can eat.
Be ready to discuss/answer questions about how you eat, in a way that doesn’t provoke an argument (unless you want to have the argument). Why aren’t you eating, or why did you bring your own food? I have a lot of food sensitivities. Why don’t you eat meat/dairy? I feel healthier when I don’t. Why do you think you have a problem with gluten? Diarrhea. Okay, that last one is usually my last resort when someone is clearly judging me and seems to think I’m an idiot incapable of making my own choices. Generally my response is more polite.
When eating out, know what’s available in your area, and plan ahead. Use a smartphone app or the internet to locate restaurants that will accommodate your needs (this is great if you go out of town, too). Others often think I can just go to any restaurant and order a salad, but food I can get at most places is just not as nutritious as what I make at home. Plus I have to ask so many questions to be sure of staying gluten free, etc, it’s a pain. If you can find a place that meets the needs of everyone in your group, that would be ideal. There really aren’t many places around me that are agreeable to most people I would eat out with, so sometimes I have to sneak in some of my own food. Sometimes I make sure to eat something that covers my needs before going out, so I can just order whatever is available without feeling like I don’t have enough.
But what about eating at home when no one else eats like you do? I really have no completely satisfactory solution here. I’m in a situation where no one in my house has the same schedule or eats the same food. It can be a hassle, but I’m committed to eating in a way that I enjoy and that makes me feel good. I try to have my family prepare our food together, and share what we can. That way it’s not completely on me to make all the different meals, and we still have some family time. Now that my son is old enough to use the stove, this is somewhat easier.
Are you dealing with these issues too? How?