Tips for Eating Outside Your Home with Crohn's or Colitis
Advocating for Yourself when Eating Out
It's too easy in a flare to skip social engagements, especially when those activities revolve around food. Fortunately, it is possible to advocate for yourself while eating out or in a social setting with food, so you can continue to show up in your life with your friends, family, and colleagues. Here's how:
First and foremost, find menus that offer plentiful options that are flare-friendly, so you do not feel stuck with 1 or 2 bland options. Finding joy in eating and eliminating stressors when possible are important role-players in pleasant eating experiences. Stress surrounding food can contribute to increased symptoms, and social isolation can decrease one's health-related quality of life (1,2). A productive approach to minimize that stress to enjoy the experience of eating again happens through communication with safe people who are supportive and close to you. State your needs, and extend the same kindness to yourself as you would a friend. Research shows that through exercising self-kindness, one can experience positive psychological benefits, such as lowered perceived stress (3). A good way to practice self-kindness in this scenario is by reviewing menus online beforehand to ensure there are enjoyable and safe foods available for you. Alternatively, you and a friend can try take-out from local stops so that you’re in home and in a familiar environment if you do happen to experience symptoms.
Here’s an example of how the conversation with a friend can look like:
- I know we were talking about going to X restaurant, but I recently tried Y restaurant, and they have a lot of great options that better suit my food restrictions- would it be okay with you if we tried that place instead?
You can also navigate this conversation without making your own health a topic of conversation:
- I recently checked out the menu at X, Y, and Z restaurants. They all sound really good to me, but Restaurant Z down the street has a new pasta that I really enjoy- would you mind meeting me there for lunch one day this week?
Making a reservation? Ask if specific accommodations are possible when calling beforehand:
- I have a specific dietary request for health reasons. Will you please make sure that there are no onions cooked in my entree when I visit your business so that I can fully enjoy my time there?
Many restaurants are happily willing to make accommodations upon request given enough time beforehand to plan.
Here are similar approaches you can take when eating at a friend/family member’s house:
- I took the liberty of making my favorite side dish- I hope you enjoy it, too.
- Here’s a dessert that I’ve been excited to make- thank you for inviting me and giving me an excuse to bring it along!
- Thank you for hosting! I'd like to talk to you sometime this week about foods that are safe for me to eat- which day works best for you?
If you're traveling:
Look up local restaurants and search menus prior to travel, then save the restaurants with your favorite food options in the Notes app on your phone. Then, create a list of restaurants with safe foods. When someone in the group asks who's hungry, you can send them the list and ask if any of those work for the group. People appreciate when someone looks up restaurants before the hanger sets in...and it works out for you too, because it's a stress-free eating experience!
If you’re currently not in a place during your disease course where you feel ready to eat out in a group right now; that’s okay. Here are some resources that will help you keep you stay nourished even through exhaustion. Healing isn’t linear, and reaching out to a Registered Dietitian may help you navigate the peaks and valleys with professional support.
- Buret A. G. (2006). How stress induces intestinal hypersensitivity. The American journal of pathology, 168(1), 3–5. https://doi.org/10.2353/ajpath.2006.050958
- Argyriou, K., Kapsoritakis, A., Oikonomou, K., Manolakis, A., Tsakiridou, E., & Potamianos, S. (2017). Disability in Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Correlations with Quality of Life and Patient's Characteristics. Canadian journal of gastroenterology & hepatology, 2017, 6138105. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/6138105
- Homan, K. J., & Sirois, F. M. (2017). Self-compassion and physical health: Exploring the roles of perceived stress and health-promoting behaviors. Health psychology open, 4(2), 2055102917729542. https://doi.org/10.1177/2055102917729542
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