Living With Dietary Restrictions: a.k.a. How to cope with a therapeutic diet.
This is one of the most common issues that surfaces for my patients: how to actually live, day in and day out, on a therapeutic diet. For so many of my patients, it seems like a dream to learn that some chronic, nagging health concern can be addressed simply by changing how they eat. Hallelujah! Until, that is, they realize how challenging it can be to adhere to their dietary prescription in many real-life situations. Allergens, blood sugar issues, detox, whatever…I speak from experience when I say that therapeutic diets can be tough! This series will share the best of what I’ve learned from the experiences of myself and my patients to help make your therapeutic diet a viable long-term option.
Tactic #6 : Acknowledge the inconvenience.
Maintaining one’s social graces while adhering to a therapeutic diet is a major sticking point for many people. They want to feel better but…how are they going to navigate eating outside the house? Let’s face it: eating is a communal activity (which is a good thing), but that means that sometimes we don’t have complete control over what’s prepared for us. We want to eat right for our bodies; we just don’t want to be jerks!
While you do deserve to have your body’s needs honored, there is some etiquette to dealing with your therapeutic diet as it affects those who prepare food for you or eat with you. A mainstay—perhaps THE mainstay—of the etiquette around this issue is to simply acknowledge that your needs may be putting people out a little bit.
It really never hurts to use this tactic. Whether you’re eating at someone’s home or at a restaurant, you can always lay this foundation. Starting with this acknowledgement can go a very long way in helping people not to get ruffled feathers over working around your dietary needs.
It can be difficult to talk to people about your dietary needs. None of us thinks of ourselves as unreasonable, but the fear is that we’ll be perceived that way, and a difficult interaction will ensue. But sometimes the difficulty arises not so much from people’s complete unwillingness to make an extra effort to help you, but from the desire to have that effort acknowledged. Rather than finding out that someone feels under-appreciated by having your conversation about your meal veer into tense territory, you might be able to head that detour off at the pass by starting with that acknowledgement. Enter the conversation with something like “I know this is a little bit more work for you guys, but…”
Here’s a note: acknowledging the inconvenience is NOT apologizing for having special needs. Saying “sorry” a zillion times throughout the interaction does not make it nicer for the person who’s making an extra effort on your behalf. In fact, it actually can be more irritating to the person than if you didn’t say anything. Apologizing puts the other person in the position of having to comfort you (“it’s okay”), which is decidedly not the person’s job. Imagine: if you’re in a position where you have to go out of your way for someone, and you do feel a little put out by it, isn’t it all the more annoying to also have to take care of them emotionally? If it seems appropriate, you can offer a brief, honest “sorry” one time up front, and then go on to proactively, assertively, politely communicate what you need.
When you’re dealing with eating at someone’s home, you do need to play up your acknowledgement than if you’re eating at a restaurant. After all, your home cooking hosts are more than likely not making their livelihood off of feeding you. Stating that you understand the inconvenience of your needs shows your appreciation for their intent, which is a great way to start any conversation—even before you’re sure if you can accept an invite. I often respond to a home meal invite by saying something like “I’d love to accept, but I have to say, I am kind of a pain to feed!”
Depending on how they respond, I can proceed stepwise from there, talking about the general issue I have (allergies) and what that means (how many things I can’t eat). If at any step I meet too much resistance or hesitance from the person, or it just seems like it’s going to be too difficult, then I can re-route the conversation.
No matter how willing your host is to accommodate you, it’s almost always prudent to pair this tactic with the tactic of giving the person an out. Alternatively, you can suggest another non-food activity that you CAN do. And if all goes swimmingly? Then succinctly communicate what your needs are and briefly outline some things you CAN eat. And then, once you’ve communicated the best you can, don’t belabor the point. You don’t, after all, want to be a jerk.