5 Tips For Managing Your Food Restrictions During The Holidays
On my recent trip back to Sweden, I had the opportunity to visit with family a lot. Every time we would get together, other than talking about childhood memories, food was the next important thing. Food can be a very important aspect of a person’s social life. What we eat provides us with energy, nutrients and minerals, but it can also provide us with a sense of belonging. Our choice of food can also become a sensitive topic and at times even some form of a political discussion. My sister who loves cooking, hosted several dinner parties, while I visited them. She tried so hard to be mindful of every person’s diet needs and wants. At one dinner party, there were 19 of us and we had 4-5 different request for variety of diet restrictions. There were the vegans, the vegetarians, those that are on diet and then there was those of us who have sensitivities and one young man with severe nut allergy. My sister did amazing job at seeing to every person’s needs and wants. She managed to have a smorgasbord, a variety of healthy amazing dishes. These are my 5 tips for managing your food restrictions during the holidays.
But it is not always that simple. I can’t expect every host or restaurant owner to cook according to my needs every time. Although I have some amazing friends and some family members who have bend backwards to make sure there is something I can eat while in their homes, majority of the time that is not the case. Most of the time, I know that I am the one that has to be proactive before I head out, to the many events and dinner parties that take place, specially right around the holidays. The last thing I want is to create anxiety to my host or hostess. But at the same time, I have to be mindful of my guests too. Not everyone likes lentils and chard. The good news is that I know I am not the only one that has special food restrictions or wishes.
Here are five ways that I have discovered has helped me to better cope with my food limitations.
1. Know your battle field and let people know.
Know where you are going and what will be served there. That is not always the easiest thing, but a lot of times we have some kind of an idea. This is especially true if you are going to a restaurant, whether it be an event or a date. Google the menu ahead of time. It is amazing what tools there are out there that makes life so much easier for us. If the restaurant does not have anything on the internet, just call ahead. So much less pressure while you are on the phone than having dozen people staring at you, wondering what you are going to order. I know the feeling, when you have zero options and that’s when you have to become creative and the server looks at you like “why the heck did you even bother to come here, if you can’t eat anything!!”. Then there are the places where you can’t google the menu, like at a friend’s house or another form of private event. Be bold and just ask. I have been surprised many times on how people (even if they don’t know you) are willing to accommodate special request. Most often letting people around us become aware of our needs without feeling bad or embarrassed is half the battle.
2. Be respectful.
What do I mean with to be respectful? Four years ago when my doctor gave me the long list of foods that I was intolerant to, I felt really frustrated and sad. I felt like nothing would ever be the same, at least not with the social aspect of eating out. I went thru a period of feeling sorry for myself. Then I wanted to convert the whole world to make them eat like me. Once that was over, I started feeling angry and thinking that no one understood what it was like not to be able to eat whatever I wanted without feeling sick. I had a dozen of these emotions of frustrations, stress and self pity. This led to total awkward dinner table conversations and judgments. It seemed as the more I or my surrounding talked about my eating, the more uncomfortable it got. Suddenly instead of just enjoying the food, it became more about, who is right and wrong. Which medical professional was better or not. Then there were the discussions on different conspiracy theories, on why more people are having more intolerance and allergies against food and so on. Here is the thing, my situation was not unique at all! What about every one else that have restricted diets because of other reasons, such as perhaps weight control or avoiding animal products. I learned that regardless of our reasons, whether it be that we have chosen a certain lifestyle or because of our health, we all have to respect each others wishes and needs. Let’s eat and keep judgments and politics off the table!
3. Eat a little before hand.
Some may think that totally defeats the purpose of going out to eat. Yes, I have to admit, at times I do wonder why I even bother going out to eat. But eating a little before hand has been a great way for me to not get desperate while I am out. Who likes to feel real hungry and not be able to eat, even though there are plenty of choices on the table? I get less “hangry” if my belly is half full and I am walking down a long table of dishes to choose from, and every single one of them have dairy and gluten in them. Anymore, even if I am going to a place where I know there should be pretty good options for me, I still have a bite of something right before I leave home.
4. Bring a Potluck.
This is not always an option, but when there is, by all means offer to bring a dish with you. I love when we are invited to potluck dinners. This is the only way my husband’s family does dinners anymore. After all, they are trying to feed over 100 people each time. Even at other social gatherings I always offer to bring a side dish or two. What better way than to bring the food with you, that you can eat and share with others. Double the reward in my perspective. Not to long ago our oldest grand child had a grandparent’s day at her elementary school. I got to spend few hours there with her and part of the deal was that grandparents would stick around for lunch. Lucky for me, my granddaughter asked me to bring our lunch with me from home. Well, little girly and I had a blast even with a homemade lunch. Sometimes, when all else fails, I just pack my own food and I take it with me. I have even done that on airplane rides and other trips.
5. Understanding the Emotional Aspect Of It.
Back in June, 2015 Jeanne Herzog, PhD published a paper on “Managing the Emotional Impact of Living with a Food Allergy“. She writes about the importance of knowing how to deal with the emotional health of a child as well as adults that are living with food allergies. I feel her conclusions and research are spot on. I may not have food allergies, and someone who is reading this may have totally different reasons why they have a restricted diet, but I believe that Dr. Jeanne Herzog’s theories can be true for many of us regardless of our condition or situation. She says, we need to accept the challenge bravely and take care of ourselves. She goes on to say, that knowledge is power and that we need to create our own normal lifestyle. Dr. Herzog also reminds us that we need to…
“Create optimism in your thinking.
Change your perspective.
Focus on what you can do, instead of what you can’t.
Get to know your courageous side.
Remind yourself of the control, choices and consistency in your life.
Ask advice from others who understand and care.”
– Jeanne Herzog, PhD
Life can be bitter as lemons and limes at times, but it can also be as sweet as gala apples or raspberries. We can’t always know what is coming our way, but we can choose to be a little better prepared and proactive for the different situations we may be placed in. Regardless of the reasons why you have diet restrictions, judgment is definitely not served at my dinner table.