Eating out has always been one of my favourite treats in life, and even before menu research became a must I have always been obsessed with reading reviews and conducting daily check on the menu to reconfirm my excitement for my chosen dish.
However, having IBS and food intolerances changes the vibe and it can be quite easy to let it take the fun out of eating out… How do you explain your needs to the waitress? How do you tell your friends that you can’t eat at their favourite place as there’s nothing safe on the menu? Should you just go with it and deal with the consequences later (definitely not) or should you just eat first.
The thought of it all used to give me such bad anxiety that I was close to throwing in the towel and abandoning my love for food, but over the past few years I’ve managed to master a bit of a strategy and have come up with a step-by-step guide that may help you too!
1. Do your research!
If you have a pre-planned dinner date and are able to influence the restaurant choice then invest some time in a bit of online research. I usually try and stick to small, independent restaurants as find they make everything fresh to order so are much more able to adapt. I start by looking for menus with gluten free options and clearly marked allergens as that’s always a good indication of their allergy awareness and menu transparency (I have also written a full blog post on how to research safe restaurants here).
2. Don’t guess!
When I first started following the low FODMAP diet I would rely quite a lot on guesswork. For example, if the menu said steak, chips and salad I would assume that’s exactly what it was. However, some of the biggest FODMAP triggers for me are garlic, onion and gluten – and these bad boys lurk about everywhere!
Rather than just choosing what looks safe, ask your server if your chosen dish contains any of your triggers. To make this a bit easier for myself I usually ask for a gluten free menu before I even start looking, as then my choices are more narrowed down and easier to adapt if needs be.
As I’m such a proud foodie I get rather embarrassed and almost offended at the thought of people thinking I’m fussy. On top of this, if they do, there’s always a risk that they wont take it seriously and I end up with something I can’t eat; so it’s really important to clearly explain your needs. Over the years I have tried a few different techniques, but found the best way is to keep it simple. Explaining the full science of low FODMAP would baffle most people so I now tend to stick to “I am intolerant/allergic to gluten, garlic and onion”. I have to admit, I sometimes tell a white lie and use the word “allergy” over “intolerance” for restaurants I’m not quite as trusting with as my symptoms are fairly severe in terms of the longevity of the aftermath that I think it’s the best way to get me the safest result.
Of course there are other high FODMAP triggers that I struggle with but as these are the main ones, once I have explained the “allergy situation” I usually then pick out a couple of dishes that look the safest and ask if they could be created without gluten, garlic or onion. The response is almost always very positive and I find that most places are very accommodating!
4. Double, and triple check!
Even though you have already informed your waiter about your intolerances by the time your food comes out, make sure you double check! It’s scary how many times I have said “just to check, is this garlic, gluten and onion free?” as the plate’s being handed to me, and you see the blank or worried look as they realise they forgot to relay the message. So don’t be afraid to ask again!
Do you have any advice or stories on eating out on a low FODMAP diet? If so I’d love to hear via the comments below.