Restaurant Eating for the Dietarily Restricted
I hate the word foodie, because it brings to mind a really wealthy brunch addict who Instagrams pictures of their kale salads and smells their wine before they drink it.
So I’ll just say that I love food.
And more than loving food itself, I love going out to eat. The whole process has always been fun for me–– choosing a great restaurant, eating awesome food with the right company. And living in a city like Chicago, I could pretty much try a new restaurant every weekend and still never make a dent in all there is to be eaten here.
So imagine my struggle with new dietary restrictions.
“Dietary restrictions” is a kind term for my current eating situation. To me, dietary restrictions mean something simple that you could write on the RSVP card to a wedding: “I’m a vegetarian,” “I can’t eat gluten,” “I’m dairy free,” “I will be dining at the open bar.”
But with Crohn’s (and colitis, and a lot of other illnesses), dietary restrictions are a bit more complicated. Suffice it to say I can eat what my gut decides it can tolerate–– and it’s being pretty picky and changing its mind more than a college freshman deciding on a major. Lately, it’s been mainly fish, bread, and potatoes that have been going over okay–– what I like to sacrilegiously call my Jesus diet.
So how do you explain that to friends? Or a restaurant? Or a well-meaning aunt who just wants to cook you dinner? This is where eating out of your own home gets tricky and, often, un-fun. You can’t exactly sit there and go over the entire ingredient list with your server, lest they think you’re on some sort of Gwyneth Paltrow-inspired fad diet and spit in your food for being an immense pain in their ass on a busy night.
Last weekend I went out for a girls night with some friends from college. For everyone else, the prospect of picking a restaurant was probably just a normal group text. But for me, I sat on Yelp for a good hour, trying to come up with bars to suggest that were fun, cheap, and had stuff I could eat. I found a place! And ended up being able to order with minimal special instructions and just enjoy my night (and my tuna) with friends. Planning ahead, while not always the most fun! and spontaneous! thing to do can really help you relax and have a good time while you’re there–– no one wants to spend dinner stressing about whether the thing you just ate is going to make you need to pop a painkiller.
I also make pretty much all of my meals (down to breakfast and snacks, too) ahead of time to make life easier. That way, if I’m headed to an event where I don’t know the menu, I can eat my meal-prepped dinner beforehand or stuff some safe snacks in my purse. I have a reputation for getting hangry, so ending up somewhere with no Crohn’s friendly options is not an option for me (and is not advised for the people around me–– sorry for being mean when I’m hungry, friends!)
Having to plan your food ahead doesn’t have to be all bad, either–– it can make you look like an awesome party guest! I went to a barbecue recently and BYO-salmon for the grill, plus I brought a potato salad. It was great because the potato salad guaranteed there was something there I could eat (see ya, hanger) and it’s also just thoughtful to bring a dish to share when invited to a party. So take that, Crohn’s–– while I may be losing my spontaneous ability to go grab late night poutine after some aggressive dancing to Britney Spears, I am gaining in adulting points. And Barefoot Contessa recipes–– holler at that tarragon potato salad, folks.