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Tips for eating out with Crohn's or colitis

Written by
Stacey Collins, MA RDN
July 11, 2022

When you're in a flare, it's too easy to skip social engagements, especially when those activities revolve around food. Fortunately, it is possible to enjoy those gatherings with a little preparation and self-advocacy while eating outside the house. In this post, we share some tips you can use to make sure you enjoy food-focused social events with your friends, family, and colleagues. Here's how:

1. Choose restaurants with foods you like and can tolerate.

Identifying restaurants that offer multiple options that you can tolerate and will actually enjoy will help you find joy in eating and eliminating stressors when possible. Stress surrounding food can contribute to increased symptoms, and social isolation can decrease one's health-related quality of life (1,2).

2. State your needs when dining out with others.

It's okay (and encouraged!) to state your needs and request to eat at restaurants that can accommodate your preferences. Communicating your preferences to people you trust and who are supportive is an effective way to reduce stress around eating in social situations and make the experience more enjoyable.

In most circumstances, your friends or family will respect your request and be happy to choose a restaurant option that works for you. Advocating for yourself is an act of self-kindness and research shows that through exercising self-kindness, one can experience positive psychological benefits, such as lowered perceived stress (3).

3. Review menus in advance and suggest where to eat.

A good way to be kind to yourself is by reviewing menus online beforehand to ensure there are enjoyable and safe foods available for you. You can then make recommendations to your friends or family about where you prefer to eat and avoid the classic "where should we eat" discussion.

If you're unable to find something you can tolerate on the menu or you can't choose the restaurant, you can ask the restaurant to customize something off of the menu for you to meet your needs. If you call in advance or ask your server, most restaurants will be happy to accommodate you if it means you'll have a better time dining with them. You can also always suggest doing takeout instead so that you're eating at home and in a familiar environment in case you do happen to experience symptoms. 

Sample Scripts to Use

When choosing where to eat:

"I know we were talking about going to X restaurant, but I recently tried Y restaurant, and they have a lot of great options that better suit my food preferences - would it be okay with you if we tried that place instead?"

When choosing where to eat without making your own health a topic of conversation:

"I recently checked out the menu at X, Y, and Z restaurants. They all sound really good to me, but Restaurant Z down the street has a new pasta that I really enjoy- would you mind meeting me there for lunch one day this week?"

When making a reservation:

Ask if specific accommodations are possible by calling beforehand: "I have a specific dietary request for health reasons. Will you please make sure that there are no onions cooked in my entree when I visit your business so that I can fully enjoy my time there?" Many restaurants are happily willing to make accommodations upon request given enough time beforehand to plan.

When eating at a friend or family member's house:

  • "I brought my favorite side dish to share - I hope you enjoy it, too."
  • "Here’s a dessert that I’ve been excited to make - thank you for inviting me and giving me an excuse to bring it along!"
  • "Thank you for hosting! I'd like to talk to you sometime this week about foods that are safe for me to eat - which day works best for you?"

Tips when Traveling

Look up local restaurants and search menus prior to travel, then save the restaurants with your favorite food options that won't trigger your symptoms in the Notes app on your phone. When someone in the group asks who's hungry, you can send them the list and ask if any of those work for the group. People appreciate when someone looks up restaurants ahead of time rather than waiting until the last minute when everyone's hungry...and it works out for you too, because it'll make for a stress-free eating experience! 

Summary

Advocating for yourself when eating out is a great way to ensure you enjoy the experience of being with friends and family without stressing about what you'll eat and whether it will cause symptoms. Preparation is key: review menus ahead of time if possible, make recommendations to your friends or family about where to eat, and ask the restaurant to accommodate your dietary needs to make sure you enjoy your time there - you are their customer after all.

If you're at a phase in your IBD journey where you don't feel quite ready to eat out in a group, that’s okay. Here are some resources that can help you keep you stay nourished. The path to feeling better isn’t linear but with the right guidance and support you can enjoy dining out without stress or fear of triggering symptoms. If you'd like to build your confidence when dining out and are looking for some support, we're here to help. Schedule a complimentary call with us to learn how our IBD dietitians can help you achieve your health goals.

References

  1. Buret A. G. (2006). How stress induces intestinal hypersensitivity. The American journal of pathology, 168(1), 3–5. https://doi.org/10.2353/ajpath.2006.050958
  2. Argyriou, K., Kapsoritakis, A., Oikonomou, K., Manolakis, A., Tsakiridou, E., & Potamianos, S. (2017). Disability in Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Correlations with Quality of Life and Patient's Characteristics. Canadian journal of gastroenterology & hepatology, 2017, 6138105. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/6138105
  3. Homan, K. J., & Sirois, F. M. (2017). Self-compassion and physical health: Exploring the roles of perceived stress and health-promoting behaviors. Health psychology open, 4(2), 2055102917729542. https://doi.org/10.1177/2055102917729542
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