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 to help make your therapeutic diet a viable long-term option.
Tactic #5 : Inform thyself.
This should have been first in the series, because it really is the fundamental thing that needs to be in place in order to succeed at a therapeutic diet. (It didn’t happen that way because…it just didn’t. But that doesn’t undermine its importance.) You have to understand the principles of what you’re doing and why in order to be able to prep food for yourself, ask appropriate questions, read labels, avoid common pitfalls, and ultimately do anything else required to stick to it.
Of course, I think your first resource is a qualified, nutrition-literate health professional who knows the details of your health history well. But in practice, you’re going to need some other resources. When I’m in session with someone starting a therapeutic diet, my goal is to arm them with basic knowledge of their dietary prescription, how it is going to benefit them, and what, if any, are more or less important aspects of the overall plan for them. And still, no matter how great a job I do, an hour-long session probably isn’t going to cover every eventuality that will surface. I can’t anticipate every unique circumstance in your life, and you can’t think of every question you might ever have regarding what to eat.
Depending on what kind of therapeutic diet you’re doing and your specific background and lifestyle, your needs for reference materials will vary drastically. You may find that you favor specific books, handouts, websites, or apps, or maybe it happens that you just Google things as they arise. I do advise that if there’s some aspect of your diet that comes up a lot or is otherwise extra tricky, you have an offline resource available that can help you with that particular issue. I’ve learned that the combination of no internet + not having answers + being REALLY hungry is a powder keg of frustration that makes EVERYBODY hate your special diet.
One important favor you can do for yourself in the information realm, especially when you’re first starting, is to check out restaurant menus ahead of time. Most restaurants, even independent ones, post menus online. If you know you’re going somewhere ahead of time, take a few minutes to review the menu ahead of time. There is something really liberating about having the ability to peruse a menu with a pre-alcohol brain in a conversation-free environment while having easy ability to Google (What is loup de mer anyway?).
Yes, sometimes the menu is different when you get there, but usually not 100% different, so it’s unlikely you’ll be starting from scratch in figuring out what you can have. This is a way of turning down the aggravation dial for your future self. Yes, you can and should always feel okay having a conversation with restaurant staff, but it always goes better if you can be specific in your requests, which is easier if you have an idea of what you want. A little recon work now is worth the worry and annoyance saved for your future self.