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Special Diets and Meeting New People

I have to admit that I am probably one of those "special dieters" that irks those with celiac disease and food allergies. Basically as a result of a number of stomach issues my doctor put me on a dairy-free and gluten-free diet while issues were sorted, tests were run.

I have no specific diagnosis and the diet is largely "use this as long as it helps/until things are back to normal". The diet has truly helped - especially the dairy-free aspect - but I have never followed either aspect of the diet to true allergy level attentiveness. At home I'm probably like 99% there - but in a restaurant I don't ask about gluten free soy sauce or always ask for nothing to be cooked in butter. I am now also in a place where I can usually handle a "cheat meal" once a week.

Basically instead of having an diagnosis that comes with necessary care steps - I have just become an incredibly picky/fussy eater (that does impact my physical health - but not in a life/death way). And as someone who never was before, this now kind of embarrasses me and makes me uncomfortable when meeting new people. I hate having to over discuss these things, but I am also coming to terms that I can't just be a "go with the flow" girl. Cause while I can handle a cheat meal occasionally - even that has limits. And in a situation like being invited over to dinner, having a meal with new colleagues, going on a first date.....I know I need to disclose some of this, but I'm not sure how to without getting overly medical or presenting myself as having true allergies (which I don't).

Sorry for the long winded explanation - but any advice on this would be fantastic.

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  1. Sounds like a shorthand to describe the way you eat, cresyd, would be to say you eat Paleo, no? I think (and I could be showing CH bias!) that most people have heard of the paleo diet, and even chain restaurants are sensitive to dietary needs (eg...the office had a working lunch at a local NE red sauce Italian chain--The Chateau. They had a gluten free menu, with descriptions of all ingredients).

    Don't feel guilty or high maintenance. It's your health and your body. You don't have to give details or get into a debate---you eat what's right FOR YOU. ;-)

    6 Replies
    1. re: pinehurst

      Not quite - I don't think that rice or vegan (grumble grumble) polenta would qualify as Paleo. Which rice in particular I do eat a lot of, especially in restaurants. And it's been an easy code for some closer friends/family in picking out places (if they have more than one rice dish that's not risotto, I'll probably be ok)

      I'm really trying not to feel so high maintenance about this - but it's been a challenge. I also think because it'd be great to say "I have x which means abc" - but I feel like I too often end up talking about the exact last things folks want to talk about when thinking about food.

      1. re: cresyd

        Why are you high maintenance? Does your choice of dinner affect what others are having?

        1. re: fldhkybnva

          I think the point is that it can impact what other's are having - there are now restaurants where I can't really anything. And if someone invites me to their house for dinner, it can be a pretty connected decision.

          I guess where I get uncomfortable is the flex nature of how this all plays out.

          1. re: cresyd

            I guess I've accepted sometimes I have to decline if there's really absolutely nothing I can eat. Obviously you can't always dictate the restaurant but I think many would be understanding if you had other restaurant suggestions to try out.

            You'll probably have to figure out dinner parties but generally people ask if anyone has restrictions. If you offer options as to what you can eat I'm sure most would be willing to accommodate if possible.

            1. re: cresyd

              I agree with fldhkybnva.

              At dinner parties, I am usually proactive. If it's one of my relatives that serves only pasta and bread (yeah, it happens), I'll remind them that H can't eat that, and ask if I can bring, say, a tray of meatballs or an antipasto salad. People are usually very good about understanding. The way I narrow it down is "anything that's colorful veggies or meat/fowl/fish--or a mix--works for H". Not too bad to accommodate. In some cases, he's picked on olives and nuts and in a worst case scenario, we just eat when we get home. Same with eating out---unless it's stuff served family style, we've become not shy about ordering what we need. Even the family run diner knows that instead of hash browns or beans and toast (the usual sides to their eggs and ham), we get tomato slices. You'd be surprised how accommodating folks are. Don't feel self-conscious!

        2. re: pinehurst

          "Don't feel guilty or high maintenance. It's your health and your body. You don't have to give details or get into a debate---you eat what's right FOR YOU. ;-)"


          I don't have a specific disorder but have always had eating preferences different than others. I struggled for years to think of an excuse and now I just don't. I state my preferences and leave it at that.

        3. Totally related to your feelings about this as I have changed my diet over the past year for health reasons where before I ate a wide variety of foods.

          Concerns I'm dealing with are:
          - Food sensitivities (gluten, dairy, corn, peanut butter, soy). Like you I can handle some, not a lot.
          - Acid. Was diagnosed with larygneal reflux. Low acid diet means eating things with pH less than 5.5. And some things are iffy.
          - Severe reactive hypoglycemia. Have avoided sugar for many years after passing out from a blood sugar crash.

          I try to make light of the situation in restaurants by saying, "If I told you what I can't eat, we'd be here all day." Before going to a restaurant, I do preview the menu.

          For family and friends, I let them know and assure them I'll find something to eat. I don't want anyone to make a special meal for me.

          For potlucks, I bring something I know I can eat. At a recent "Winter-Be-Damned" Party in my neighborhood, I found that another neighbor also has a recent diagnosis of laryngeal reflux which gave us two dishes to eat.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Seeker19104

            Great tip for potlucks. For any work events, I always bring a dish I know I will/can eat.

          2. I think using the phrase "food sensitivities" is a legitimate description. Just be matter of fact about it, say that there are some things you have to avoid for now. you don't have to disclose anything you don't want to. As someone mentioned earlier, planning ahead is always helpful! I'm an avid menu reader. I like to determine before I go to a new place what safe options there are for me. I like to have a couple ideas in mind - ya know - I can eat x if I ask for ingredient y to be left out. if that isn't possible, I can eat entree z...

            1. "Never complain and never explain"

              (Disraeli I believe).

              I've found that most people don't care what I put in my mouth. My dietary restrictions are medical; the three people who are aware of them are:
              1. My MD
              2. My SO
              3. My walking partner (mostly because we talk about everything under the sun to pass the time).

              Go out, be charming, learn to push stuff around on your plate. No one will notice.

              2 Replies
              1. re: pedalfaster

                I see this for work functions.....but for going on dates/meeting new people in friendly situations this seems awfully against my nature and overly reserved. If I was planning a social event for a few friends I'd recently met to be a wine tasting and found out after the fact that one of the people doesn't like/drink wine - I'd want to know why it wasn't mentioned earlier so another choice could have been found. Also, if I invited someone to go out to a meal and found out later they were kosher and therefore wouldn't eat anything - I'd want to know why they hadn't mentioned anything earlier.

                I may not like talking about the exact medical issues - but agreeing to go to an all mac n cheese place isn't really part of my personality.

                1. re: cresyd

                  I think you may be making too big of a deal about that though. So one person doesn't like wine? Then they can decline politely and say they'll join in the next outing or they can join you because they still want to experience the social aspects of the outing and are willing to take a chance that maybe there is one wine out there they will find that they may like even though they haven't found one to date. Their happiness and inclusion into the group and what information they decide is a big enough deal for them to share with you/the group is their choice and responsibility, not yours. Now, once you know information and have learned it in a comfortable, organic manner that they shared with you on their own terms, it would be polite to take their limitations into consideration - or at least not overtly violate them. Likewise with the kosher individual - it's not necessary for you to grill people about their choices so that you are always inclusive of them. If you invite them to a restaurant, not knowing they are kosher, then all they have to say is "You know, I keep kosher. I would really like to spend time with you though, so how would you feel about X restaurant instead or Y option that doesn't involve food?"

                  Either that, or if these are people you don't know well enough to know what they like and their food preferences really are that important to you, then maybe you shouldn't organize events around food until you know them better? Go to an art gallery instead of a wine tasting and then as a group if you all decide you're hungry and want to go somewhere you can all discuss your preferences in an organic manner. Instead of a restaurant, go to the zoo or a movie or a coffee shop or go to a driving range and hit a few golf balls, etc.

                  I am gluten-free (not celiac, but through an elimination diet discovered that a chronic medical condition DRASTICALLY improved once I eliminated gluten in my diet). I recently ran into someone that I know very casually around lunch time and we decided to get lunch together. Turns out they are a very picky eater. It was a 90 second conversation.

                  Them: I was planning to go to X restaurant.
                  Me: What are the options like there?
                  Them: Well, I get the same sandwich every time because I'm kind of a picky eater, so I'm not sure what else they have.
                  Me: Oh, well, as long as there is a salad on the menu, I'm good. Let's check it out.
                  *We go, order, get our food*
                  Them: I'm glad you found something to eat. You don't do sandwiches?
                  Me: No, I'm gluten-free. You don't do salads?
                  Them: No, I've always been a picky eater.

                  And that was that. We've had lunch numerous times since then. We still don't know all of the food rules of the other person, but that will come in time as it comes up. At one point during another lunch we did have another 90 second conversation about what "gluten-free" meant and I gave a short explanation that I'm not celiac, but discovered that it really helped with a medical condition - and I only offered that up because they weren't really sure what gluten-free really meant and wanted to know more.

              2. For eating out at restaurants with very limited options i have had a 98% success rate with calling ahead to the restaurant, explaining my dietary needs, and requesting that they add a notation to my resevation. After i (we) arrive i tell the server i called previous and spoke to (whatever their name was) about a special meal request, they confirm that i need a whatever-free meal and i get an awesome surprise from the kitchen.

                Don't feel like you have to explain anything to anyone about your medical situation. "Right now i cannot have dairy or gluten in my diet" is sufficient. Any further probing by nosy people can be answered with "its for medical reasons i would rather not elaborate on"

                Or you could say you're a lactose intolerant gluten free flexitarian. (LOL!)

                1. Ahh, the un-fun food sensitivity land. . . My daughter has a confirmed peanut allergy, as in she broke out in hives all over in her 2 exposures. So we did the skin and blood tests for other nuts, including peanuts, and everything was negative. Including the peanuts which her body clearly did not like. So I don't know if she allergic to tree nuts or not, or maybe just some, or who knows?

                  If we are going to a new place, I research the heck out of them online. Most places have at least part of a menu out there these days, which gives me a pretty clear picture of what works for us. Fortunately you have a buffer zone, which is very lucky for you. And if people ask, just politely say you and your "plumbing" are happier avoiding gluten and dairy, then change the subject.

                  1. In most cases, if you don't make a big deal out of it, neither will anyone else. Most people understand that different people eat different ways.

                    1. Smile, be pleasant and relax! The only time I find food sensitives in others "high maintenance", "awkward", "uncomfortable", etc is how they present it.

                      When someone I don't know well falls all over themselves, apologizing profusely over and over while explaining that *is* awkward. Ie: a new woman in the office kept apologizing at least 20 times over our cafeteria meal about not eating wheat. I learned in great detail how all the docs didn't believe her, how it took multiple elimination diets for her to figure it out, etc. She was clearly uncomfortable and embarrassed and made us all feel the same. By the end of the meal I wish I had never ordered my whole wheat wrap!

                      For dining out , dates, etc I agree that being proactive is best. Most places have online menus so you can check out your options. If not a quick call should work.

                      If you are on a date and they suggest sharing something you can't eat a simple "I can't eat X but how about Y" should do.

                      Dinner parties being upfront is the best. Most hosts will either ask or offer what they will be serving. If they don't I know that as a host I would prefer the guest tell me upfront rather than risk their health by eating it anyway or by pushing the food around the plate.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: foodieX2

                        "The only time I find food sensitives in others 'high maintenance', 'awkward', 'uncomfortable', etc is how they present it."

                        Agree with this. And also what pedalfaster said: "Never complain and never explain."

                        As someone with the most ridiculous list of "bad" foods ever, I've tried every possible approach to dates, dinners with friends/colleagues, work functions, pot lucks, BBQs, dinner parties, family functions, etc.

                        I have a gastrointestinal disorder called gastroparesis. I've been fed and hydrated through an IV for just over a year now. I still eat what I can, but not much at one time, and I only have a handful of safe foods (bread, crackers, plain pasta, potatoes, boiled carrots).

                        What I've found is that people really generally don't want to hear about it, and I don't blame them. At least not up front. And that's no fault of their own. They're busy planning dinner, and then there's this one person going "Yeah I'll come, but I can't eat x, y, z, q, a, r, s..." It's just a buzzkill.

                        If I'm invited out, I say "Sure!" just like anyone else. And when we get there, I'll look at the menu and see if I can figure something out. And I always can. If waitresses look at me weird, I just say "I'm sorry, I have a bad stomach" when explaining about substitutions. Nobody needs to know more than that. Typically people don't bat an eye. Sometimes during the meal, they'll say "So you just eat plain pasta?" And I'll say "Yes." If they ask why, I also say to them "I have a bad stomach" and leave it at that.

                        I've also become perfectly comfortable with not eating ANYTHING on occasion. If it weirds people out, that's their problem, not mine. I tell people not to fuss over me if they try to, and I think the biggest tip is to stay engaged in conversation, enjoy your drink, and deflect questions about your health issues over dinner. Dinner is not the time nor place to talk about everything wrong with your digestive system.

                        When I go to friends' houses for dinner, I make due. They know I don't want to be fussed over or singled out, so they'll make baked potatoes as a side to dinner, or grill me up some hamburger buns with just a bit of cheese, or make steamed rice in the rice cooker, leave sauce off the pasta on a separate plate, etc.

                        My friends and family all know my limitations. I let them ask me about it all to begin with, I didn't push it on them. If people want to know, they'll ask. And they'll ask when they're ready.

                        As for dating: I met and dated someone for 3.5 years after getting sick. I was terrified of dating with this disease, but he totally brushed it off like a champ. On our first real date, I told him I had a bad stomach when he asked why I was only having a damn potato. Before our second date, he wanted to know what else I could eat, and I gave him the "list," and told him our first date had been wonderful and I wouldn't change a thing. So for the first 6 months we dated, he took me to that same restaurant near my house almost nightly because he knew I'd be able to eat and not get sick. And half the time he'd forego a burger or pasta and get a baked potato too. He thought it was funny! As things progressed, he would take the initiative to call around and see if restaurants had foods I could eat before taking me there. Not everyone might be so understanding or interested in catering to your condition, but my point is, it isn't such a big deal unless you make it one. It didn't hinder our relationship in that sense, and it didn't make him think twice about dating me (or that I was high maintenance, etc.).

                        I personally hate people fussing over me, and I found it embarrassing when my ex and I would get seated at a restaurant only to find out they were out of the food/s I could eat, and he'd insist on us going somewhere else. My eating trouble is nobody's problem but mine, and while I appreciate the sentiment, I have no problem with occasionally just having a soda. Give me a bread basket and some butter, and I'll eat the whole thing and not feel like I'm missing out.

                        Anyway, I agree you're thinking too much about this. Just tell people you have "food sensitivities" or "a bad stomach" and don't worry much about it. If they want to know more, say you'll tell them at an appropriate time, and let them ask you about it then. If you're not a drama queen about it, nobody else will think twice.

                      2. If you were eating out with me, you'd get nothing but understanding and sympathy. Just so you know that not everyone will judge you for this. :)

                        I have multiple allergies/sensitivities, as does my husband. My list is really long, though, and has some weird things in it - like cloves, cassia (that's sold as cinnamon in most of the world), and star anise. And my husband is Muslim, so all food must be Halal.

                        If we're with other people and there's no socially good way to steer the group to a Halal restaurant, if the husband can't find anything that looks acceptable (ie seafood only, no alcohol), then he just won't eat. Me, I'll find something on the menu that's okay, even if it's just a soup or salad. In other words, we make do as best we can and get other food later if necessary.

                        If there is a socially acceptable way to steer people towards a Halal restaurant, then we do that. "Would you mind checking out this place instead? It's Halal." Most people are okay, although a few have been jerks about it. The jerks don't stay in our life long.

                        We honestly don't get invited out much. We're hermits to a large degree. When we do, it's usually to things where we have no control at all on what's on the menu, so we make do as best we can. Put more of the stuff we can eat on our plates and ignore the rest. Not everyone understands, but that's really beside the point. We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and our health and that takes precedence over making sure other people understand what's going on or living up to their expectations of what is socially acceptable.