Managing socially with a limited diet

Not food to me

Sharing food with people is a huge part of culture and human social interaction

Since the beginning, celebrations and almost all social interaction has been centered around a meal shared together. People are easily offended when you decline they're offering. According to etiquette, the only acceptable reason to refuse food that is offered to you, is for medical reasons. The reason this is so is because, another rule of etiquette is that it is a great embarrassment for the host to serve something that makes a guest ill.

Many years ago when I was very ill, I accepted the invitation of my friend to join her, and a few of her other friends and family members, at a restaurant after her husbands’ funeral. They ordered from the menu and the waitress delivered to the table a variety of meats, breads, french fries, salads and other side dishes. I ordered nothing, and I didn’t even ask for water. As I sipped the homemade beverages I brought with me, I was offered some of their food. I thanked them for their generous offer and concern for me, but “That is not food to me”, I said. They looked puzzled. Their curiosity got the better of them, and so they asked me “what do you mean, this isn’t food?” I answered, “I can’t eat any of those things; not even the salad.” Still, they marveled, because they could tell that no willpower was required for me to pass on the meal. “It will make me very ill,” I explained.

Even during the holiday's there was and still is no temptation to go off my "diet", because I know what it will do to my body and my health. It simply isn't worth it. I remember how bad I felt for weeks, if I took just a small taste of something that offended my body. Pain is a great motivator. IBS and Inflammatory Bowel Disease forced me to be good. I couldn't taste something I was cooking for my family, to see if it needed anything, or even lick my fingers and I still don't. I was that sensitive and I don't want to go back to being sick. If I do the things I used to do that made me sick, I will get the same results. This is a lifestyle that honors my body and values health above all. Every day I meet many other people have similar problems with food.

In a social setting, I really don’t like to talk about my digestive illness, except with the hope that by doing so, it will encourage others to open up and tell me about their digestive complaints. If I can help them to understand their symptoms, and give them thought provoking suggestions and offer them hope, then I have had a good day. For that purpose, I am willing to be an open book.

Everywhere I go, I meet many people with digestive complaints and health problems that the doctors just can’t seem to figure out. I listen to them, and it doesn’t take long before I understand what they are experiencing and why. It is no mystery to me, because in many cases I have already lived it or studied it in my search to find answers for someone else.

The list of what I could not eat was so long, it made people wonder what I ate. I could not have tomato products, eggs, gluten grains; including oats and barley, all dairy, pork, poultry, all red meat, most seafood, anything made from corn; including artificial sweeteners and corn starch, anything potato; including sweet potato and potato starch, soy, most oils, flax, any form of dairy, coconut, chocolate, cocoa and carob, coffee, most spices, baking soda, baking powder, most nuts, all legumes, all dried fruits, most fresh fruits, olives, vinegar, citrus, vinegar, anything that contains sulfur - including vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, collards, radish, turnips, leeks, garlic and onions, sugar, commercial beverages, herb and green teas, and anything processed or preserved.

Back then my diet consisted of six non-gluten grains, and only the following fresh organic vegetables; Portobello mushrooms, carrots, parsnips, beets, cucumber, all squash, celery, avocado, globe artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, lettuce, chard, parsley, green beans, okra, asparagus, spinach, only almonds, a very limited amount of olive oil for coating a baking sheet, only the following fresh fish; grouper, tilapia, salmon, sardines, cod and tuna, only these fresh fruits; cherry, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, blueberries, cranberries, pineapple and fresh figs. Plus, as if things are not difficult enough, everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING I consumed had to be pureed finer than baby food. No exceptions! Obviously, it was impossible for someone else to prepare what I eat.

Even though a guest may have a very good reason for not partaking of a hosts generosity, the interaction is still awkward and uncomfortable. Often times, it is mostly a subconscious thing. Few people are relaxed enough about sharing a meal together to accept the suggestion that, “I will bring my food and we can enjoy each-other’s company.” When people value you more than ritual or custom, you can feel the love.

So, where did I find recipes? How did I get the nutrition I need with such a limited menu? I discovered, “You don’t know how to, until you have to”. I learned about foods I never knew existed before, and found ways to bake without using any of the ingredients you would typically require for baking. Soaked flax seed became an egg substitute. Cream of tartar and arrowroot held breads and cookies together.

So, how did I get through the day when I couldn't just “grab a bite to eat”

I can't just go to any one of many convenient fast food establishments and restaurants, at the home of friends or family, while traveling, on vacation or anywhere at all really. A lot of people are intimidated when they are in this situation. They either don’t go anywhere, or they don’t eat when they do go out. This may be your story also, or perhaps you know someone with similar lifestyle struggles. I lived with this situation for more than 20 years, so I had to be creative and become experienced at making “life” manageable.

My body is healed and I still pack everything I need to consume in a day, but when I travel now I am able to find acceptable meals. With a little research I am usually able to locate a vendor at the airport who sells a simple salad. I admit it's still tough, because they include cheeses, luncheon meats, tomatoes and things I don't eat, but I learned where to go and frequent those places whenever I am in O'Hare airport, for example. There is a Whole Foods Market in just about every large city nation wide and I can purchase the foods I need to prepare for myself during my trip. I know what brands and varieties of certain boxed soups I can consume and I travel with a small crockpot.

It is always good to receive suggestions and have experiences that stimulate my creativity and help me to think of new ways that I can adapt my lifestyle to accommodate my unique situation, and better manage my distinctive challenges. Perhaps you like to find those same kinds of things too. Like best friends, let’s start the next phase of your journey toward restored health together.

Many people think it is a lot of work to pack everything I will consume in a day, every time I leave my home, but it has become part of who I am and my routine is not burdensome. Being sick is a burden. Yes, it requires planning, preparation and time. At first, it can seem like such a burden, but in my mind - there is no choice. After a while, it becomes normal and routine.

I begin by deciding what I will eat. I have a menu plan that I repeat on certain days of the week. For example, every Monday I have Tuna steak with two vegetables. The time and energy it take to prepare one meal, I am able to make one month of that meal. I cook 4 tuna steaks and enough spaghetti squash and spinach for 4 meals. I pre-package and freeze enough Monday dinners for one month. I do the same thing for every day of the week. For years my family ate completely different then I do and I had to prepare their meals separately anyway. If we were planning to attend a social function on a Saturday evening, I just thawed out my meal the night before, heated it up before we departed from home and took it with me. I had to do the same thing with my lunches for work. On Sunday afternoon, I put together 5 garden salads, cooked 5 artichokes in a slow cooker over night, and pureed my almonds. This took me about 45 minutes. This preparation made it easy for me to just grab what I needed in the morning for lunch and go. If I knew I would be out at dinner time, I grabbed a dinner from the freezer and take it too. The frozen dinner kept my lunch cold and it was thawed by the end of the day, just in time for dinner. I had a small crockpot that I could plug into the cigarette lighter of my car or wherever I was and enjoy a hot meal.

How do I go to a restaurant with my own food?

Most establishments don’t mind if you bring your own food, as long as you are with at least one paying customer. When necessary, I call ahead and give them a heads up, so they are expecting me. I take my food in a small cooler and do so discreetly, but not so much so that I appear to be shy or embarrassed about eating differently. I have run into much opposition, however, at movie theaters, airports and amusement parks. For those situations I have a letter from my doctor explaining my situation. Any place that say's “No outside food,” is usually a real hassle. Sometimes I must leave the park to consume my meal, and that just should not be, because then I can’t enjoy eating with my family. We generally don’t want to pay the ridiculous prices for food from vendors, and I don’t want my family to consume certain things, so we usually just pack a picnic basket, leave it in the car and enjoy our meals together outside the park.

How do I enter a large venue like an amusement park, stadium or arena with my days provisions, where “no outside food is allowed”?

Calling ahead and talking to management about their “outside food policies,” and explaining my situation is the key to having a good interaction when we arrive. I make sure to get that persons name, so when I get to the “bag inspection” at the front gate, I can tell the staff who I talked to. They don’t want people to bring glass containers into their facility, for obvious reasons, so I make sure to pack food and beverages in plastic containers. Disposable is even better so I don't have to carry so much weight the entire time I am there. When I explain to them my health issues and very restricted diet, they usually let me bring my food in. When necessary, I show them the letter from my doctor.