Living with a digestive condition like SIBO-IBS is already frustrating enough. It can be even more frustrating when you just want to go out with your friends and not have to worry about being “that person”. You know, the one who has to watch what they eat and is rather picky about what they put into their body.
I’m here to tell you that being “that person” is ok. You should feel good about caring for your gut. You shouldn’t be put down because you have a health condition that is affected by the food you put into your body. Like a lot of people who struggle with digestive diseases I’ve been in those situations. You want to maintain a healthy social life but also stay on track with your SIBO friendly diet so that you can avoid unnecessary stomach troubles from eating foods that make you feel like crap. In this article, I want to break down the mindset, strategies, and tips I have learned dealing with these tricky situations.
1. Check out Menus Beforehand and Suggest Ideas
When deciding on a restaurant to eat at with friends most of the time your group isn’t decisive about where they want to go. One of the strategies I use is to scope out the menus of different restaurant options you think everyone would like, and to see what places would have dishes that are suitable for you. For example, if someone asks you to get dinner suggest a restaurant that has healthy dishes which don’t contain a ton of problematic ingredients.
Another tip when checking out menus is to see what dishes you could easily substitute sides. Most of the time a decent restaurant will be glad to substitute certain sides or omit certain allergens like dairy for something else. For example, if I’m checking out a menu and see that there is a chicken, rice, and vegetable dish with a sauce that I can tolerate and the vegetables included are broccoli and cauliflower I know that I can ask the waiter to substitute different vegetables which are FODMAP friendly.
Sides are key. Since a healthy protein portion like chicken or fish is great for a SIBO diet most of the time it comes down to the spice, sauce, and sides that come with the dish. I always check out the sides on each menu option to see if they would be healthy for my gut or not to help make my suggestions.
Be decisive. It takes time to develop this habit but you must learn to be decisive. Recommend places to your friends that would be good for all of you. Be the first one to say that you know of a place that is awesome. If someone recommends a pizza or grilled cheese joint speak up. Since I don’t eat cheese pizza I tell my friends that I can’t do pizza. Suggest an alternate option. If you aren’t decisive you can end up somewhere that is not good for you.
2. Don’t Stress About Perfection
When I first started sticking to a healthy SIBO diet I would constantly worry about every single bite of food I put into my body. Over time, I have learned that this disease is not just about diet. There are many different factors that come into play for you to develop a digestive disease and most people need medical help as well as watching what they eat. My point here is that you should definitely stick to a SIBO diet but you don’t need to be a perfectionist. A tiny bit of wheat or sugar in your dish usually doesn’t kill you. It’s only when you eat large amounts and often. I have learned to stick to the basics but also enjoy myself when eating out. I think it is healthy psychologically for others to do the same.
Think of the 80/20 rule. 20 percent of the things you eat will cause 80 percent of your symptoms. Figure out which foods you have to avoid completely and don’t be insanely particular about the rest. For me, these 20 percent of foods would be dairy, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli/cauliflower, and fruit. Once you take away your most problematic foods you will find that small amounts of other foods won’t kill you. Therefore, you won’t have to stress as much about every single ingredient.
3. Keep It Simple
I have found that a majority of restaurants have low-fodmap options if you substitute side dishes or let your waiter know that you cannot have dairy. For example, I usually find a healthy dish with a protein, starch like rice or potatoes, and vegetable. If you keep your menu picks and restaurants simple you will find that you can eat at the majority of places around. It’s only when you start dealing with extravagant menu choices and super unhealthy places that you run into trouble.
Stay away from the 20 percent of foods that you cannot tolerate and keep it simple after that.
4. Offer to Cook
An easy way to create healthy SIBO friendly recipes that everyone can enjoy is to offer to cook. Find a tasty recipe and tell your friends that you can make dinner. This way you can go to the store and select the meat you will be eating and any other ingredients that go with your dish. You will be able to select each ingredient for the meal this way and customize it to your liking. You can ask friends to chip in for costs and help out with the cooking.
This is a fun and easy way to share a meal with friends and also work on your cooking skills. Your friends will probably think it is super cool that you can create a tasty dish that is also super healthy!
5. Exaggerate Your Reason
This is a tactic I use when hanging out with anyone who wants to nag about why you aren’t drinking or wanting to eat at a certain place. It takes a sense of humor and a little bit of courage to do this but it can be very effective. What I mean by exaggerating your reason is telling a friend who is pestering you that you will literally be on the toilet all day tomorrow if you eat at the place he is suggesting. Sometimes in order to get the point across to people you have to embellish your story and make it dramatic so they understand why you can’t eat a certain way.
Another example is when I want to hangout with friends but don’t want to partake in drinking. When people are peer pressuring me I will tell them a story about how alcoholism runs in my family. By combining that story with the fact that it is not good for my digestive condition they usually stop the madness.
Lastly, find out who your friends are. Someone who actually cares about you and wants the best for you won’t continue to pressure you into doing things that are bad for your health. They will understand if you talk to them.
In summary, eating out with a digestive condition like SIBO can be challenging at times. I think if you learn some of these strategies and continue to stick up for your health you will find that eating out can be very enjoyable. You will learn to stop worrying what other people think about you and become more comfortable with yourself. It takes time and courage to develop consistent healthy gut habits but you can do it. Also, take it easy on yourself. You don’t have to be a perfectionist all the time!