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Attitudes toward restricted diets - your experiences?

I'm diabetic, and rather than take tons of meds, I choose to control it through diet whenever possible. This means, quite simply: lots of animal proteins, lots of good fats, no bread, rice, pasta, or sugar. Following those guidelines, I eat a pretty tasty and varied diet.

However, I've found that explaining this to people is often more of a battle than it's worth, particularly WRT asking for restaurant recommendations. I get a lot of "Oh, but you must try the death by chocolate cake!" or "It's really too bad you don't eat bread" or "If you didn't have such special needs (said in scornful tone) it would be easier."

It's not a big deal. Give me something meaty and fresh, that isn't served on top of bread or rice or pasta, and I'm a happy camper. But the fact that I don't do sandwiches, pizza or dessert really seems to get under peoples' skins!

I think of it this way: if a vegetarian - a dietary choice, mind you, not usually a medical necessity - asks for recommendations, rarely are they faced with "It's too bad you don't eat meat."

Why the attitude toward medically necessary diets? Or for that matter, toward food allergies or intolerances? Wondering if others have noticed this problem, or am I just lucky?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

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  1. It might be easier to tell people that you are both diabetic and have celiac disease. Even though you don't have celiac, that would make people understand that you aren't going to eat gluten and give them a "reasonable" explanation so that they wouldn't harp on you about it, and the diabetes part is TRUE.

    People hate picky eaters and eating with them can be a real drag. Whether it should be like that or not or whether or not it's polite isn't the issue, the truth of the matter is it's irritating when, say, everyone goes to a churrascaria (brazilian steak house) and the vegetarian in the group is looking at everyone in disgust and piously eating their dry salad. People need a "reason" to latch onto that is acceptable to them socially so it doesn't just look like you're being difficult just for the sake of being difficult (which many people do). For example, taking someone who doesn't drink, or who hates wine to a wine tasting dinner is a total downer, unless the person says they are the designated driver. Then everyone is like Ohhh! Ok, and they don't comment to them all night, "oh, if you only drank, you would really like this. Oh, this wine really brings out the flavors of the chicken. Or Oh, you would like wine if you tried it enough times." It's a "socially acceptable" reason and they'll leave you alone. You need the same or you are always going to be the difficult person in the group.

    Yes I know you shouldn't owe anyone an explanation and you should be able to eat and drink what you want without it being anyone else's business, but eating together is a social occasion and it's natural for people to discuss with each other what they plan to order, what they're enjoying and why, if they've been there before, something they particularly recommend or are looking forward to, etc.

    I think it's a little of both - people who HAVE a "different" eating situation, whether medically necessary, religious necessity or just personal preference are hypersensitive to comments that would otherwise be innocuous "oh you must try the death by chocolate!" and the non-"different" diners feel the need to dig at the person who is being different from them. I think an acceptable and quick explanation such as celiac/diabetes would really be your easiest bet, otherwise you will get into a whole discussion with people every time about how their mother/sister/friend tried what you'er doing and it didn't work or how it's silly or whatever other nonsense.

    14 Replies
    1. re: rockandroller1

      You know, I've tried exactly that - actually gone one step further. When I know it's going to be an issue to explain, I say "I'm allergic to grains and sugar." Thing is, I'm terrible at lying and it makes me pretty uncomfortable.

      The funny thing is, with the exception of my *intense hatred* of tomatoes, I'm not a picky eater at all - in fact, I regularly eat things that many of my acquaintances won't touch. Things like pork, lamb, unpopular vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, etc. - yet the minute I turn down dessert, it's - you nailed it! - socially unacceptable.

      And yeah - you also nailed it re: the "mother/sister/friend tried what you'er doing and it didn't work" nonsense. I say, if it works for me, that's good enough :)

      Thanks for the feedback.

      1. re: Vaya Con Carne

        I definitely don't recommend lying about having celiac disease. The more people that lie (and do it obviously, in most cases) the less the disease is taken seriously. Ditto for allergies. You don't need to explain yourself to people, especially those who persist. If they push, give them a look and say "I'm sorry, but I can't imagine why this should be so important to you".

        1. re: purple bot

          Ditto on lying about celiac disease. I'm not sure why you can say that you're a diabetic who manages the disease through diet-- as you told us in the first sentence. Most people know that this is an option to insulin-- it's hardly a unique option. People are also sympathetic to the person who prefers not to have shots

          Of course, if you want to lie about gluten allergies, you can point out how it 'goes right through you' and give the TMI that puts a swift end to the interrogation.

          Oh wait, you're slagging off on brussel sprouts and lamb? I take my support back. :)

        2. re: Vaya Con Carne

          When it comes to desserts I think a simple statement of "I don't really have a sweet tooth" should work. I really don't have one, except once in a blue moon, and I pass on the birthday/wedding cakes by just saying that. Most people get it and leave me alone.

          I do have a stomach condition where I can't eat very spicy foods. A little spicy is okay, but not too much. This has developed in the last few years, so it's difficult with my daughters. They were raised with spicy and just don't get that I can't do that anymore. One of them makes this incredible salsa, but man alive! It is just too hot for me, but she will offer it to me and say that it isn't really that spicy, so then I taste it and it is too spicy for me! My stomach will start burning if I eat it, but she just thinks I'm being a wimp.

        3. re: rockandroller1

          I'm allergic to alcohol and you wouldn't believe what sort of crap I get about it. Every single friend I have hounds me about it like it just can't be possible. Maybe if I just get my tolerance up, I can be more normal, they say. "What about beer? You have to be able to drink beer. Come on! Not even wine? Maybe a nice mixed drink?" I'm to the point where I feel like I'd be better off pretending to be a recovering alcoholic because at least then people wouldn't pester me about every single time we went out.

          Even the smell of some types of alcohol is enough to trigger nausea, lightheadedness, and asthma attacks. I really don't want to attempt to "raise my tolerance," thank you very much. I don't think it's impossible that there may be some types of alcohol I could drink without becoming violently ill in a few sips, but at the same time I don't really care to risk it.

          1. re: queencru

            Queencru, I sympathize. I'm not allergic but I'm extremely sensitive to alcohol (Asian flush reaction!) so I rarely drink. My office, though, is full of bigtime drinkers, and the pressure is amazing. It's like they're all a bunch of dope pushers!

            For some reason, a simple "No thanks, I don't drink" usually works - they probably assume I'm an alcoholic, but whatever works :)

            Too bad a simple "No thanks" doesn't work when it comes to the ubiquitous birthday cakes that seem to make the rounds every few days.

            1. re: Vaya Con Carne

              I don't drink simply because I don't like to and I have no palate for wine. I find the "designated driver" line works like a charm. I never get a second comment after that. Usually it's true, though, since the Spouse really enjoys wine with dinner. Oddly enough, the Spouse almost always asks my advice on wine pairings and selections since I read a good bit about it. I just won't drink them.

              1. re: rockycat

                The "no thanks" is absolutely no problem when I live in areas where I have to drive, but if I'm living somewhere where I don't have a car, all bets are off. If you're not driving, it seems like there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't drink to excess.

                1. re: queencru

                  It's amazing how people push to drink. I remember taking a month off to lose a little weight for the summer months and because I stopped drinking and I'm recently married, boy do you get the *wink wink* *nudge nudge*, got any news to share? line. Funny at first but annoying after awhile. Why is it possible just not to drink because you don't feel like it?

                  1. re: bdachow

                    It should be fine to eat, or drink, what one wants, when one wants. There will always be folk, who will think something else is happening. It comes with humanity, and there is little that we can do about it.

                    Though we dated for over 6 years, when my wife and I decided to get married, it was a little rushed, but we had to fit it in around limited vacations, etc. Oh, the tongues wagged - quick marriage, well it's gotta' be... After 37 years of marriage, there are STILL no children. Hope those tongues didn't fatigue too badly. It just happens.

                    Do what you want for your own reasons. There is really no need to explain why - it is not their body, and it is not their business.

                    Now, if I turned down fine wine in a restaurant, people would ask my wife, when she was committing me, but that's another story.

                    Hunt

          2. re: rockandroller1

            I really like your dissection and agree with lots of it ('cept I wouldn't say I have celiac if I don't have it--you'd be amazed--or not--at how many people believe that's a made-up condition anyway so it might get you nowhere). As someone who can't drink for health reasons, even I can't help but roll my eyes sometimes at people who are on restricted diets for reasons other than health and religion. Truth be told, planning a meal with some of these people, whether you're eating at a restaurant or at my house, can be a PITA.

            1. re: rockandroller1

              Absolutely do NOT lie about having celiac disease. It's an offensive and immoral suggestion.

              1. re: rockandroller1

                Please people, don't lie about allergies/intolerances/disease! You just undermine the seriousness of the situation for the rest of us. Seriously, you think you bring the level of nut or gluten examination to the situation that the "real" folks do? Not at all. So you let things slide, and people get complacent.

                Not moral and certainly endangers the rest of us.

                1. re: Vetter

                  Thank you Vetter. We need more people preaching this from the Soap Box. It drives Jfood crazy when people lessen the level of allergy-sensitive restauranteurs due to their self-centeredness.

                  You would not believe the level of rationalization posters come up with. Jfood has a nut allergy and hates raw onions. Do you have any idea how many times he has told the server no onions, yet they are delivered? What does jfood do? He asks for a re-do if they cannot be removed at the table or he moves them to the bread plate and continues eating.

              2. I'm surprised that giving a medical reason doesn't get people to back off. Perhaps part of the problem is restrictive diets for nonmedical reasons are so widespread that some people think you're using diabetes as an 'excuse' for an unrelated diet choice? Especially since a low-carb diet isn't something followed by all diabetics (my partner's type 1 and his meds require him to have a certain quantity of low GI carbs with each meal).

                I'm not trying to excuse other people's actions, just trying to imagine reasons for some pretty silly interference on their parts. But honesty forces me to acknowledge that I secretly get very irritated with people who follow restrictive diets because they are the latest fashionable way to lose weight or from a food-is-medicine perspective (i.e. seeing food only as a source of nutrients/antioxidants, rather than a source of enjoyment too). I personally think that moderation is the key to a healthy lifestyle, and I'm surrounded by female relatives and friends who think 'all carbs are bad', 'I don't eat any dessert', or 'all fats are the enemy', etc, and then end up bingeing on whatever it is they avoid, crying about it and generally hating themselves (and food).

                Obviously this isn't your situation, since you're following a specific diet for medical reasons. I'm just trying to explain why others might be leery of restrictive diets in general, since they seem to be so widespread in our society. A bit like what purple bot and lizard said about fake allergies leading people to take allergies in general less seriously.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Gooseberry

                  The problem you're describing is 'orthorexia'. These restrictive diets, whatever they are, are often manifestations of an eating disorder, hence the discomfort (and the evident joylessness of the person's relationship to food)

                  I'm not saying this is the case for everyone. But I find a lot of it. There are some people who really thrive on the feeling of a restrictive diet and tend to jump from one to the other. I know some folks like that, who've gone from one extreme regime (including anorexia) to another. It seems to be more prevalent than ever, and I imagine it is also cause for the waning sympathies of food service professionals and certain chowhounds.

                  NOTE: I am NOT saying this is the case with posters here. I am simply giving a name to what gooseberry is describing.

                  1. re: Gooseberry

                    Vaya Con Carne, having done a modified Atkins 7 years ago, I found the same attitude. My conclusion? Jealousy about the discipline the dieter has. The herd mentality.

                    Nothing more.

                    Ignore them.

                    1. re: Gooseberry

                      Gooseberry, I think that's part of the confusion here - Type 1s and Type 2s have very different needs, but to those who don't know this, it's all just the same condition.

                      I agree re: moderation, except in cases where even the tiniest bite of something makes a person sick - for instance, me with sugar, or another poster with alcohol. And there's where things get tricky - to most of the country, "enjoyment" takes the form of, say, a cupcake. For me, "enjoyment" can come from a nice piece of grilled salmon or a yummy lamb kebab or even some well-prepared broccoli - with no ill effects, and some nutrients as well.

                      1. re: Vaya Con Carne

                        Hi Vaya con carne,

                        Yup, that's why I specifiedmy partner is a type 1. He sometimes experiences the reverse from you - people who asked in a shocked tone, "Should you be eating that pasta/potato/rice? You're diabetic!" Whereas the truth is, if he skips carbs with meals, the insulin he takes will put him into a coma. To prevent this, when he occasionally goes 'low' he has to eat something super sweet, like syrup or candy -which only confuses everyone more!

                        So if someone watched you eating, then watched my partner eat, and was told you were both diabetic - well, I can see where some of the confusion might come from!

                        As for the sugar thing, I have a lot of sympathy for you and him; I'm currently two weeks into eating sugar-free for medical reasons. I would kill for some chocolate or ice cream...

                    2. I prefer to say I am not in the mood for chocolate cake when pushed, or pizza, or a sandwich, or whatever I am not eating.

                      I didn't drink alcohol for about 4 years and just said no thanks, I'll have an OJ/soda. When pushed I just said I don't fancy a drink tonight. Conversation over.

                      Because one of the things I can't stand is a lecture from the person who doesn't eat meat, bread, sugar etc telling me why I shouldn't have it. I don't want to know the ins and outs of someone's food preferences and they shouldn't have to hear about mine.

                      1. Vaya Con Carne, if it makes you feel any better I am a vegetarian, (an admitted dietary choice and not medical necessity), and I get crap all of the time from people about what I do and don't eat. If they give it to me then I give it right back to them. If they are respectful of me then obviously I am the same towards them (in other words, I would never say anything about their food choices, regardless of what they are, as long as they don't insult mine). Good luck and try not to listen to others...it isn't worth your time.

                        15 Replies
                        1. re: Laura D.

                          Ditto what Laura says. I'm a vegetarian too (15 years now) and as long as others respect that choice without the snide comments, then I respect their choices. Heck, DH is an avowed meat-eater too (as are the majority of my friends) and I'm okay with that.

                          Unfortunately, your comment that <<if a vegetarian ... asks for recommendations, rarely are they faced with "It's too bad you don't eat meat">> is sadly incorrect. I get this regularly, sometimes from my own family members (curiously not from friends). I am also regularly faced with (again often from family) the "oh, we have to modify our plans to be sure that L has something to eat". Meanwhile, like you indicated about yourself, I'm not a picky eater and often there's more on some menus that I'll eat that others won't touch.

                          So I would think that your polite responses, whether about your medical condition or that you just don't want something, should be adequate and accepted. If they aren't, then by all means give it back to them! :)

                          1. re: LNG212

                            Wow, I'm surprised to hear that you get the "it's too bad you don't eat meat" comments. Before my T2 diabetes diagnosis, I was also a vegetarian for many years, and nobody ever gave me a hard time about it.

                            But then, I'm a lifelong, 4th-generation Californian, so friends and family are used to vegetarians :) Something about a preference for meat, though, really gets people around here worked up!

                            1. re: Vaya Con Carne

                              I don't eat meat in restaurants, but I never tell people that. I just order the meatless option, and never get comments about it.

                              However, I'm allergic to tree nuts. Like lips and eyes swelling, hives covering my body, throat closing allergic. Yet people are always saying "Oh, you must try this hazelnut-chocolate ice cream...it doesn't have any nuts in it!" I also have trouble with waitstaff, who don't seem to understand that I will end up being carried out on a stretcher if they try to scrape the nuts off the top of a salad (rather than just telling the kitchen to make another salad without nuts).

                              Like cowprintrabbit below, I try my best to just say "I cannot eat nuts" before ordering my food, and hope the authority in my voice means they'll remember to take me seriously.

                              1. re: RosemaryHoney

                                My SO is also allergic to nuts. My favourite comment in a store occurred last week:

                                "Has your salt water toffee come into any contact with nuts?"
                                "Nope, none at all. No nuts. Just peanut butter"

                                Or two weeks ago, when SO nearly died after eating some fish at a restaurant in Chicago. The chef assured him over and over again that there was no nuts, no nut oils, no nothing (even assured him there was no sesame, even though that's okay in SO's case) but forgot he had "added a little bit of peanut butter to the glaze".

                                1. re: sailrox

                                  The first answer is technically correct. Peanut butter is not made of (tree) nuts and since technically peanuts are in fact legumes (botanically they are not nuts) and many people think 'tree nuts' (which are nuts) when they hear the word 'nut', I think your SO should change his question to 'are there peanuts in the food?' or 'are there nuts or peanuts in the food?' if in fact he is allergic to both peanuts and tree nuts. A peanut allergy is not the same thing as a nut allergy, and it sounds like your SO needs to be much more specific.

                                  1. re: sailrox

                                    Susan is correct. jfood is allergic to all nuts, and eats a peanut butter sandwich almost every day. two separate allergies. some people have very bad luck, others just bad luck.

                              2. re: LNG212

                                I get the 'it's too bad you don't eat meat' regularly as well. Variations include 'You can eat that- it just has a little chicken in it,' 'Why can't you eat lobster? Lobsters are ugly,' and 'This was a vegetarian pig. heh heh heh.'

                                Some people can't let anything out of the ordinary (though unless they live under a rock, they must be aware some people exist who have dietary restrictions) go by without a comment. Ignore 'em and do what you have to do.

                                1. re: marmite

                                  marmite &sailrox You must have encountered my in-laws.Lots of folks get sooooooo stuck and never "get" the risk involved.Restrictions
                                  are not on their radar.They subsist/exist off the frozen and canned aisle
                                  It is what Mother in Law did,hated to cook.All health scare industry
                                  ancient history is still revered,"margerine"etc.If it is in the recipe file 3x5,can or frozen dinner MOM or they use,must be OK.Zero interest in
                                  sensativities,allergies,convictions or medical restrictions.Oh you must
                                  so fussy absolves all responsibility.
                                  Enter my house,lecture snidely about our food standards,eating habits
                                  and shopping.Fresh fruit $$$,butter,BACON,etc.You get a picture of the problem.Yet they eat all of this like sea gulls at a cannery when I
                                  serve it.Sad,these folks spend a lot of time in empty houses.
                                  They simply will off my food allergy,their Dad's diabetes etc.A total label disconnect.Wonder why my spouse the oldest is so healthy with
                                  none of their severe weight problems or medical conditions.

                                  ALL adult food choices,restrictions and allergies MUST be respected
                                  Someones health is more important.

                                  1. re: lcool

                                    "Yet they eat all of this like sea gulls at a cannery "
                                    I LOVE that comparison.

                                2. re: LNG212

                                  Hi LNG212, I was at a dinner party recently where the opposite took place, and I'm not sure it was an improvement! One of the women present was Hindu and doesn't eat meat, fish or eggs for religious reasons. So the well-meaning hostess made her a totally separate meal for each course, and put it in front of her with such flourish, and made such a big deal out of 'this doesn't contain EGGS' and "don't eat THAT. It has BACON in it' that I actually felt uncomfortable. The hostess thought she was being accomodating, but really, why couldn't we all have had egg-free pasta with our mains, or sorbet instead of ice cream for dessert? It felt like table segregation. Although the guest in question was charming and took it all in her stride.

                                  1. re: Gooseberry

                                    I don't know...you were there and in a better position than me to judge whether she was really being accomodating, but I've seen that type of behavior carried to the extreme, and it really seems like a form of passive-aggressiveness: a way to make the guest feel uncomfortable.

                                    What I do when I have some guests with restrictions is either cook to the restriction for the entire group or make two versions of the same dish (ie I might make one vegetarian lasagna and one with meat) and just offer both versions to everyone: "Hey gang, this casserole is lasagna with meat sauce; that one is grilled veggie lasagna, please help yourself to whichever or both, whatever you prefer."

                                    It just seems rude to single out one diner, and if it makes guests uncomfortable, it shouldn't be done, imo.

                                    1. re: Gooseberry

                                      I hear you on that one. My MIL has done that on occasion. And I've always gotten the feeling it's more about *her* and a look-how-great-I-am to be accommodating you attitude. It certainly does make a person feel on the spot. I try to be one of those people who will find something to eat (salad- fine; rolls- fine; don't worry about me); after all, it's only one meal and I can always eat something when I get home. I do appreciate those who go to any extra trouble but I don't want them to, don't ask them to, and certainly don't want to be made to feel like I'm causing everyone a fuss.

                                      As for Vaya Con Carne's situation - asking a few polite questions of a server or stating a preference to colleagues should never invite a host of personal questions, accusations, harrumphs, or whatever.

                                      1. re: LNG212

                                        You know, sometimes when I read the boards and people's searing accounts of the bad behaviour of others, the devil's advocate in me pops out. So please forgive me in advance:

                                        Like Susanc, I'd need to be there to see what is happening. What if someone was really anxious about a person eating forbidden foods (watch out, this has bacon, etc.)? What is that same person was really anxious about serving only vegetarian fare, and having the guests grousing about the lack of options or running to chowhound to post their 'VEGETARIAN ETIQUETTE!!!!' complaint about that horrible hostess who forced everyone to eat the same restricted diet? What if the hostess didn't feel comfortable enough with her vegetarian cooking skills to make the entire meal for everyone, and was also worried that she had not made anything good enough for the one guest?

                                        I'm not saying this woman wasn't the way Gooseberry describes, but wonder at the alternatives. It seems sometimes, when I read these boards, that people are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Darn Interweb!

                                        1. re: Lizard

                                          Hi lizard. I think it was less about passive-aggressiveness, more like LNG212's M-I-L. The hostess thought she was being very impressive by catering for a dietary restriction with an entirely different menu; I think she lost sight of the bigger picture, of being inclusive rather than segregating the lone lacto-vegetarian.

                                          I agree with you about the damned if they do, damned if they don't attitude. So much of it boils down to which side you're on in any given issue. In this case, I can only judge by my own ethics, which if I was the hostess would have lead me to choose a menu which didn't have egg in every course (which isn't impossible by any means).

                                    2. re: LNG212

                                      this is also my experience, to the point that unless i really have to, i don't like to tell people that I don't eat meat, because for one i don't want to have to explain all the reasons people immediatly ask for, but also because of those reactions. People freak out when i'm coming over to dinner, not realizing that i'm not a picky eater, and can and will be quite happy with a slice of bread, in the right company. And nope, i don't criticize anyone else for what they're eating, and have been known to cook it for them, including meat. I don't use the dinner table to launch a campaign against the eating of meat, or cruelty towards animals.

                                      And yep, I get the "OMG don't you ever crave a steak? ", "you don't know what you're missing", and "but you eat chicken right?" but i'm lucky that my family does understand this, and doesn't do the "oh well, nothing for you to eat here then!". My Mom and Dad even tailored some of my local dishes to omit the meat when i visit, and might I add, do a fine job of it!! That didn't happen overnight though, in the beginning i got a lot of lectures over how "thats what animals were put on earth for" and so forth.

                                      No one ever says a word to the "ewww onions" crowd, but i'm sometimes left blushing at the attention this choice gets me.

                                  2. VCC, I'm prone to reactive hypoglycemia, not nearly as serious - I try to avoid white flour and refined sugar. I went through tons of explanations before discovering that "I don't metabolize white flour or refined sugar properly" usually works. Not sure if it's too scientific and makes people's minds shut down, or if it just sounds authoratative, but it works for me.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Cowprintrabbit

                                      Cowprintrabbit, reactive hypo was the first sign for me that something was seriously amiss. That's so great that you were able to figure out the white flour/sugar trigger and do something about it!

                                      I'm going to try that approach. "Can't metabolize something" sounds a lot more clinical than "restricted diet" - and it's the absolute truth :)