After a lifetime of being in and out of the hospital for unexplainable stomach pains, illnesses, and fun rectal exams, I discovered in 2014 the reasons behind all the issues I’d been tolerating my whole life. MTHFR gene mutation, PCOS, hypothyroidism, and gluten intolerance. While this means many things, and I won’t get into it here, it also means that I am sensitive to tolerating sugar. At the time, I had a toddler and was trying to breastfeed an infant. While the news was actually relieving to know that I could get more specified help and not live in constant pain anymore, it meant that I had to make some lifestyle changes to improve my quality of life. I chose to tackle it; it wasn’t fun or easy- especially with my life responsibilities. I became a health coach because it’s impossible to do it on your own with ease. A few of the things that I had to change in my diet to feel better were eliminating gluten, drinking less alcohol, and eating less sugar. Sure, no biggie, right?! Over the years, while going through these changes, I noticed that I had much more control over the food I consumed when I prepared it and ate in. But what’s the fun in that? And quite frankly, it’s exhausting to organize your meals every day. When I went to a friend’s house for dinner, was entertained at home, wanted to go out to eat, or went to a social event, many things came up for me. It’s normal! And here are some ways to get around it.
Feeling like a burden.
I get excited When I’m invited to someone’s house for dinner. Social time! And then I immediately think, can I eat what they are serving safely? What will they think if I show up and don’t eat the food because I can’t? What if I’m starving? I don’t want to be a burden, difficult, or ungrateful. I also don’t want to feel judged. Food and health challenges are not always obviously seen, yet they can be intense. I have learned to communicate clearly after giving myself self-compassion and empowering pep talk. The way that people respond also gives you information about your relationship. Things that I like to say. “I’m so excited to come! I have some foodstuff and can’t eat gluten. Would you mind telling me what you’re thinking of having? Please don’t be offended if I bring my dinner and warm it up. I would love to spend time with you and to feel well; sometimes, it is easier for me to bring my own.”
Learn to say no with ease.
I love a good dessert with a glass of wine. Sadly, it didn’t love me, and I paid for it for a few days. If the wine is passed around or the host brings cake, simply smile and say, “No thanks!” There may be judgment or disappointment. “I have been told- but you’re so skinny, this won’t hurt.” “Oh, right, I forgot you’re a health nut.” “Why don’t you drink?” “Oh c’mon, just a little.” “Well, gosh, I won’t have any if you’re not.” If you need to explain, do it in one sentence. “Looks delicious. I have health stuff, and it doesn’t agree with me. You do you.” Otherwise, our job is not to please others, explain ourselves, or rescue people from their emotional needs. We get to be who we are, set boundaries to feel well and enjoy the company of the people who support us. If we accept them without judgment, they can get us without judgment.
Eat ahead & BYOF.
If I don’t eat, I get hangry. If I’m going to a happy hour or social event that involves dinner, I might not be able to risk not eating if there is nothing I can have. So, I usually eat a small meal ahead of time and throw a protein bar in my hip pack. This will also help alleviate temptation if the croissants look fantastic; I won’t be starving and eat it anyway. Bring a large dish to share at dinners or bigger gatherings that you know you can eat and others will also enjoy.
Look at the menu & pick the restaurant.
Pull up the menu beforehand if you’re heading out to a restaurant. See if they have any options that could work for you, and it will likely be noted if they support food allergies. If you’re meeting friends, tell them you have ‘food challenges’ and ask if you can pick the restaurant. I love the app FindMeGlutenFree. Now, it searches for more things beyond gluten-free! It searches for restaurants within a specified area with menus to accommodate several needs. Then, share a few options with your friends and let them confirm if they are good with them. The reason we set these boundaries and lifestyle changes because we do feel better when we do and that’s what we deserve.
Remember your why- getting to feel your best.
After 10 years of dealing with these emotions and physical challenges, I still can throw myself a pity party. Why can’t I just be normal? It’s ok. We’re all human. Fortunately, we live in a day and age where there is so much support and options than before… that actually taste good! So when you’re feeling this way, offer yourself some self-compassion. This is hard. And then treat yourself to an indulgence that does agree with you. And you are not alone.
All in all, clear communication is kind. People will understand and be empathetic- or tell you; sorry, I already made the lasagna, and it’s not gluten-free! And then, you can be empowered to do what you need to do to feel your best. You deserve to enjoy life, too, and it looks different for everyone. If someone is curious or judgemental, you can give them time to understand and empathize with a short explanation or know this is not a safe place for you to hang with or without food challenges. We all deserve to feel accepted, like we belong, and are supported whether we eat or drink like “everyone else” or not.