We just finished a ten day vacation.
You call it “eating out”? Mmph. For those of us on nutritional intervention, it’s more like eating “without.”
Although I suppose…
“Yes, waiter, well, I–uh–brought my $20 glass bottle of cold-pressed extra virgin organic olive oil here–I’m sure the chef won’t mind using it, will he? Along with some of these chopped organic vegetables and this lovely filet of grass-fed beef –and this is some Celtic sea salt…I can’t have gluten, dairy, soy, any of those “naughty oils,” artificial colors, artificial preservatives, sugar, and I’m trying to avoid eggs and nuts, too.” All spoken as you pull a couple of skillets out of your stylish backpack to make sure there’s no dairy or gluten cross-contamination when your food is cooked.
…then maybe, just maybe, dinner could be escaped unscathed. But as it is, eating out can be a real headache and stomach ache. Literally. Is it worth it? Sometimes. But mostly I’ve found I’d rather clean the kitchen than eat out. (Sad, considering eating out used to be one of our most favorite things to do.)
I’ve been following this diet called GAPS for just about a year now. It has helped A LOT. I’ve had to take out certain GAPS-allowed foods which brings me pretty much in-line with Paleo. Sometimes I try to take it a bit further by combining autoimmune Paleo with GAPS (emphasis on homemade broths, fermented foods, certain supplements, and some hate stares at “toxins”) to see if I can achieve complete success. If you know what in the heck I’m talking about, good for you. If you don’t, well, let’s trade places, please. Anyhow, eating out is challenging to navigate with dietary restrictions.
On eating (with) out:
First Question: “How am I doing?” or “What am I on this diet for?”
- If I’m in the clutches of a cloudy head, headache, bloating, and diarrhea, I don’t eat out–my anniversary, my birthday, my mom’s birthday, or God’s birthday. I stick close to home and re-establish a safe zone.
- If I’m feeling great and have been for a while, maybe it’s time to rock the boat and take that chance.
- Bottom line here is–I’m working very hard to see if I can get rid of some health issues I have. I work very hard to keep moving forward, and I don’t want to destroy that progress. However, I have found that I can now go out to eat with few, if any, setbacks, as long as I am cautious.
Second Question: “Where am I at in this food journey?”
- GAPS and SCD have introduction diets, and really, there’s just not anything from a restaurant allowed in that interval. I didn’t chance it on stage 1 and 2 of GAPS. Once I got to roasted meats, I felt more secure with a steak and steamed veggies.
- On the initiation of Paleo, Primal, Whole 30 or any other dietary overhaul, it really is not the time to eat out unless you have the will-power of Helen Keller and the stamina of Job. You deserve success on these nutritional undertakings, and to eat out early on may be more than you can handle. “Know thyself.” Maybe you can do it. I couldn’t back then.
Third Question: “How strict do I want to be?”
- If you’re an absolutist regarding oil, grass-fed, organic, preservatives, sugar, and “spices”–best stay home awhile longer until/if you can branch out a bit. It is YOUR HEALTH and you know best how compromising you should be. Listen to yourself.
Fourth Question: “Where do you want to go?”
- Not even a question. Steak. Next choice, seafood and sushi. Third choice, Thai food with its use of coconut milk and minimal gluten.
- I found Indian food very challenging because they use so much dairy, but I did manage to get a chicken and tomato based sauce at an Indian food once after a long discussion with our waitress. Tandoori chicken is marinated in yoghurt.
- At a Mexican restaurant, I ordered steak and grilled fajita vegetables topped with guacamole. I avoid all sauces except guacamole and salsa, which I ask about.
- At a local favorite pizza joint, after a conversation with the owner, I ordered 3 sides (totalling 6) of meatballs (only composed of ground beef, onion, and “spices”–no breadcrumbs or eggs) covered with tomato sauce (which unfortunately had soybean oil and “spices”) and toppings of my choice. Delicious.
- For breakfast, I go for the bacon (3 sides of 2 pieces), knowing it has trace sugar and some preservatives. A cheat. I used to do eggs before I cut them out.
- Up-scale, eclectic restaurants are great. But they cost about two weeks worth of groceries. However, they always make things exactly to order and very safe. Plus delicious and exotic. An absolute, real treat.
- We’ve found some great things at a Spanish tapas bar and also at genuine Italian restaurants.
- Many “finer” restaurants are beginning to appeal to nutritional rehabbers like us. Charleston, SC had several. They key on advertising as gluten-free/dairy-free. If I can get a restaurant to guarantee “gluten-free/dairy-free”, I’m usually pretty comfortable ordering after a few questions.
- Fast food and chains are troublesome. Whip out your phone and pull up the allergen/nutrition pages for the restaurants. Here’s a few to get you started.
- Qdoba (Applesauce, guacamole, fajita vegetables–marginal due to “spice”, and pico de gallo are my go-to foods here.)
- Subway (I didn’t do well with Subway.)
- McDonald’s (I guess if I have to eat here, it’ll be the 100% beef patty from a quarter pounder with lettuce and a side of apple slices. Make sure the burger never touches a bun. Better than starvation. Maybe.)
- Ruby Tuesday I have read good reviews on other blogs regarding this restaurant for nutritional rehab people. I looked at the allergen listings, and you have to go through it according to each “allergen.” Kind of painstaking.
- Outback They have their menu marked with gluten-free items, and they also offer sides prepared seasoned as desired.
- Red Robin I read to ask for it “protein style.”
- Panera’s hidden menu
Fifth Question: “What are you going to eat?”
- In addition to the choices I mention above, steak, chicken or fish that looks as if you can request them made by themselves with no risky seasonings are ideal. Even Italian restaurants usually offer grilled chicken or seafood.
- Don’t just look at the entrees. Peruse the whole menu, from appetizers to salads to entrees, looking for fresh cuts of meat. MIX AND MATCH!! At some restaurants, I see salmon on a salad but not as an entree. If I ask, they never seem to mind serving me a plain salmon filet with a couple of sides of vegetables. Or I see a meatball sandwich, which has meatballs just made out of ground beef and onion–so I ask if I can get some meatballs as a meal.
- If a salad looks good, order double the offered meat to fill you up. Request necessary changes to the salad (no cheese, croutons, nuts, etc).
- Ask for a “double order” of vegetables. Sometimes the waiter may look confused–just explain you want a side order of extra vegetables.
- Most places will usually swap out the starch (rice or potato) for vegetables.
Sixth Question: “Where are the hidden pitfalls?”
- Make it very clear you can’t have gluten, dairy, soy, and whatever else you think is a priority for you this time out. I hate to say I’m “allergic” (because I’m not), but I do say, “I have some questions…I can’t eat dairy, gluten, or soy because it makes me sick…I don’t want to get sick…I was thinking about the salmon filet–can it be made plain for me so I don’t have any reactions?” I want the waiter to make sure to ask questions back in the kitchen and to communicate with the cook staff. Often before they verify my order, they’ll go back and check things out. I always appreciate that if there seems to be a dot of uncertainty. And top words out of my mouth are usually, “Thank you, and I’m so sorry to be a pain. I just don’t want to get sick. Thank you so much for your help.”
- Steaks are often grilled with butter. Make sure and request no butter and no seasonings.
- Cheap chicken can be injected with all kinds of reaction-forming stuff. Try to verify it is a fresh breast, not frozen.
- Make sure meats are not breaded and not made with fillers (sometimes ground beef is made with fillers). Also, make sure eggs are only eggs–not a mix.
- Vegetables, even steamed ones, are often made with butter. Make it clear you can’t have butter. JUST OIL, preferably olive oil. No seasonings–unless they know exactly what they are.
- Many seasoning mixes (such as pre-mixed taco seasonings) may have whey (dairy), maltodextrin (gluten potential), cornstarch, sugar, and many other negative items. Here’s where you take the biggest gamble, I think. I do the best I can to tell them, “No seasonings. Just give it to me plain and boring.”
- Salad dressings–ask them to bring you vinegar/lemons to juice and oil. Better yet, bring your own mixture of favorite salad dressing or oil that you keep in a baby jar at home. It’s great over salad, veggies, and meats.
- Consider keeping/bringing your own baggie of sea salt, since the restaurant’s salt will likely contain dextrose.
- Sauces such as gaucomole and salsa are not always safe. Sometimes mixes (think–MSG, whey, sugar, and gums) are used to make these.
- Watch sautéed mushrooms and onions if you can’t do dairy. Always yummy if you can convince them to cook them up for you in olive oil!
- Ask lots of questions. This helps me to know how trusting I want to be. If it gets too scary when I ask questions (and sometimes it does), I just ask for a glass of wine and leave it at that.
- Skip gravy and sauces.
Last statement. If none of these will work and you don’t want to risk it:
- Eat well before you go.
- Order a drink: coffee, tea, or a glass of wine. Sip it and enjoy the conversation. Smile and laugh. Have a good time. That’s the most important thing anyway.
- Watch others eat and take pleasure in their enjoyment of foods that you know taste good–but will chew you up and spit you out without a casual glance backwards. Think of it like a Rick Steves or Anthony Bourdain travel episode. You can’t really partake in what they’re doing–but you like to watch it anyway. Does this sound strange? I really enjoy seeing how the food is plated. How it smells. And asking my dinner companion to tell me how it tastes.
Best wishes to you! Hope your health is moving to where you want it to be! Keep it up! You can do it!–Terri