Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year but eating out with Crohn’s, IBS or a food allergy/intolerance can also be so tricky. I will talk about Christmas day dinner later in the week but at this time of year, social invitations are non-stop and they usually take the form of eating out!
Although it’s so lovely to spend time with friends and family, it can be hard to make sure you eat well (especially for occasions like your first Xmas work party where you don’t want to announce your trigger foods to the whole table!) With that in mind, today’s post is a guide to eating out this Christmas season. I know everybody’s different but I think most my readers are looking for ways to deal with a digestive condition or food intolerance.
1.Before you eat out, do your research. Look up the menu online and if it’s not clear give them a call. It is a bit of a spontaneity killer but it can help ease any worries about eating out (when eating out with Crohn’s, many people become really anxious). I’ve found that most places don’t bat an eyelid if I call, tell them what trigger foods I have/diet I’m following and ask if they can recommend something.
2. Offer to organise the get-together yourself. If you find super awkward chatting about diet, then offer to organise the outing, then you can sneakily direct people to places with suitable options. Good places to try are usually seafood/fish restaurants and Indian restaurants or big chains that are used to dealing with allergens such as: Pizza Express, Zizzi’s, Bella Italian, Ask and Las Iguanas (all these chains offer a detailed allergen menu with good awareness of gluten/dairy free)
3. Know your deal breakers. I don’t want to be a bore as it’s Christmas time but the excuse of ‘It’s Christmas’ doesn’t always cut it with your body! Despite this, there might be foods that you feel you can tolerate in small doses (Putting aside Coeliacs and allergies for a second). For example my IBD does not respond well to gluten/dairy so they’re off the table because it’s just not worth ruining my night by being in pain (especially if you’ve avoided this food for a while, the reaction when eating it again can be worse!) Yet although it’s not remotely healthy, I do well with some sugar and a glass of Champers!
4. When in doubt, stick to (non-coated) chicken or fish based dishes.Most pub grub or the average ‘burger/diner’ type places offer gluten-free menus but can still be very fatty/ greasy if offering red meat and fried dishes. I find these types of foods wreak havoc on my digestion even if they’re gluten/dairy free. Again pub grub fries can also be mega greasy so better sides might be roasted veg, rice or baked potato (without spread if dairy if an issue for you). These are a little stodgier and contain less insoluble fibre than things like raw or steamed veg (Insoluble fibre can irritate a sensitive gut)
5. You don’t need to skip the Christmas Curry!
Most Indian food is traditionally gluten, dairy free and packed with soothing spices. I’ve actually found Indian restaurants the most free-from savvy of them all and a great trick with eating out with Crohn’s. Again, I’ve learnt to stick to chicken, prawn and fish based dishes with plain rice (Avoid oily egg-fried rice). Many restaurants offer these chargrilled and that can be delicious by themselves!
Otherwise try sticking to dry tomato based dishes such as Bhunas or Biraynis. These tend to be a mixture of herbs and spices rather than yoghurt based (like Tandoori and Tikka dishes)or cream based (Like Kormas). If you are just gluten-free, there will be plenty of options once you’ve excluded Naans (in most places you can even get lentil based papadums) .
6. Start with a main.
My biggest issue with eating out is actually starters. They’re either deep fried or consist of lots of salad leaves! I don’t do with raw veg at the best of the times, particularly on an empty stomach. So I tend to shrug off a starter and head straight to the main!
7. Be Portion-Savvy.
Skipping starters can also really help with the sheer amount of food we eat at these kinds of things. If you have any kind of sensitive digestion, huge portions can make things awkward even if it’s truly healthy. I am a bit of a comfort eater by nature but I’ve found even if I’m snacking on gluten/dairy free things, if I binge I still feel terrible. It’s much easier said than done but try to space your food out. If you know you’re overeating carry a digestive enzyme with you to help your gut out.
8. Haters Gonna Hate. By haters, I mean those people who roll their eyes when you ask for the allergen menu or snigger when your speaking to the waiter. When I first started keeping track of my diet, I’d get so embarrassed I just wouldn’t ask or would cave in (cue kicking myself a few hours later when in agony!) I then wrote this article on Healthy Shaming and realised that I needed to be more confident. Now I either make a joke of it or just shrug it off. If nothing else, these things teach you who your friends really are!
I hope you find these tips helpful! Do you have any more tips for staying well over the festive season?