I always get asked the question “How do you go out to eat at restaurants with your diet?”. I never really know what to answer, because I honestly never really know what to expect at restaurants. Every time I go out to eat, it’s like rolling the dice and hoping for the best. One restaurant can be kindly accommodating, while another can bring out my meal three different times, each plate with something on it that I had previously said I can’t eat.
The thing is, I’ve always hated making it a big deal. That’s probably the most frustrating part of it all. I never want the attention to be on me and what I can and cannot have. If it is, I get super uncomfortable. My go-to line has always been “I’ll figure it out”, because it immediately shuts down all of the attempts from the people I’m with to try and help me find something to eat. My diet is wildly complicated and not easily understood. I know that, and I know my friends and family just want to help and have nothing but good intentions, but it’s often easier for me to just quietly scan the menu myself than to continuously say “No, I really can’t eat that. It has X ingredient in it. Thank you, though”.
As much as I’m learning to be patient with the fact that others cannot fully comprehend the extensivity of all of my restrictions, I’m also learning to be an advocate for myself. When it comes time to place an order, I usually try to preface what's about to come with a lighthearted joke to the waiter, like “Okay, this is going to be complicated and you’re probably going to hate me afterward.” Then, I proceed to tell the waiter the changes I need to make to my meal, removing all of the items that I can’t eat and stressing that I have an intolerance to gluten, dairy, sugar, garlic, and onion. Like I said, at least I warned them that they were probably going to hate me.
More often than not, a lot of modifications cannot be made to a certain dish if the ingredients are already prepped and marinated beforehand. If that roast chicken I want is brined with garlic or onion, even just in the powder form, the whole dish is a no-go. So, I have to roll with the punches and do my best not to get flustered. A lot of the time, I’ll end up ordering something that wasn’t at all what I wanted to begin with, but, it’s food, and it’ll do. I used to think that every meal needed to be the greatest meal of my life. Every meal had to be amazing and exactly what I wanted. As a self-proclaimed foodie, even though I’m sure others would probably proclaim me as one too, you always want to be able to enjoy food in all its glory. Sometimes, and especially with such a restrictive diet, that’s just not realistic or practical. And that’s something I’ve had to come to terms with.
In becoming a greater advocate for myself at restaurants, I’ve also had to learn that its okay to send an order back if it’s not what I asked for. It’s not rude and it’s not bitchy, it’s necessary for my health. I was recently at an Italian restaurant, like hello absolutely everything I cannot eat, and ordered plain, grilled shrimp on a bed of sautéed spinach. I asked for only salt, pepper, and asked for everything to be cooked with a little bit of olive oil rather than butter. I made my intolerances clear and specifically said NO GARLIC. It’s an Italian restaurant, after all. I knew what I was getting myself into, so I had no other choice but to be vocal. I figured that would be enough. Despite my best efforts, when my food was placed in front of me, my eyes were instantly drawn to what seemed like hundreds of massive chunks of garlic on top of my spinach. I wanted to cry. I panicked, turned to my boyfriend, and asked what I should do. He told me what I already knew, that I had to send the food back. I made it painfully clear that I’m ‘allergic’, that’s often just what I say to make it easier, to garlic, and they had used it all throughout my food. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t what I ordered, and I wasn’t going to eat it and make myself sick.
When you apparently already have RBF (if you know, you know), having to be so picky about what you order at restaurants can make you feel as if you’re an inconvenience to both the people who work there and the people who are there at the table with you. Getting out of your head and realizing that you have to do what’s best for you is the most difficult yet most important step. That’s not called being selfish, that’s called prioritizing your health. And that’s what I have to do.