As we head towards holiday celebrations that often include sharing meals with family, friends, and possibly those we don’t know, I thought it would be timely to do a post about my thoughts on navigating social situations and shared meals on a restricted diet such as the autoimmune protocol. Here are some tips I have come up with in my experience struggling with these issues on my own.
Don’t feel the need to explain the autoimmune protocol to everyone
I have been here many times. I try to quickly explain my dietary restrictions to someone so they understand why I am picky about food, and it backfires and makes me look like a crazy person. The rest of the meal everyone is afraid to talk to me about anything else because I just blabbed on about intestinal permeability and autoimmunity. This is especially important for people that you don’t really know. If you feel the need to share with someone, do it before the meal/event, so that you can relax and talk about other things.
Avoid meals with those you don’t know well
I always decline meal invitations from people who do not know me well enough to know what they are in for when asking me to share a meal with them. This prevents having the awkward dietary restriction conversation with someone you may not want to share that with. The exception to this might be a friend who brings someone over to my house for dinner – in which case I hope they have been adequately warned!
Share meals at home instead of at restaurants
The best situation you can be in is sharing a meal in your own home where you are in charge of the menu. Obviously, this isn’t always practical, but if you can make it happen it should be your first choice. Sharing meals has long been one of my favorite ways to socialize with my close friends. Since I don’t eat at restaurants, the only way to do this is to host a meal at my house or go over to a friend’s. This can be problematic if the friend wants to host and cook the meal. As well-intentioned as the offer stands, I usually decline and tell them that I am much more comfortable with a meal cooked in my own house. What we usually end up doing is coming up with a menu together and make part of the hang-out cooking at my house. To my close friends, this is no bother; they know me well and it something they have come to accept about me. The best situation you can be in while on a restricted diet is one where you are relaxed and comfortable, and for me that is in my own home eating food that I have cooked.
Find alternate ways to socialize with those who want to “go out for a drink”
Most of my friends go out for drinks, which obviously doesn’t work for me on the autoimmune protocol. Personally, I don’t find it fun to go out past my bedtime and drink water in a loud, dark place while my friends have a great time. I do need an outlet to socialize and hang out with friends that is not as exhausting as having people over for dinner, however. This is something I have been struggling with for awhile now, and I have found that for me, the answer is tea and walks. Whenever I want to see a friend and they suggest drinks, I tell them that I would rather go to a cafe and share a cup of tea or go on a walk together. You might find that your connection with people is different in this sort of situation compared to that where everyone is drinking.
If someone else is in charge of preparing food for you, choose your battles wisely
This can be tricky when dealing with relatives who do not understand your dietary restrictions or think that they are ridiculous. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I offer to host or be in charge of food preparation, for the selfish reason of making sure everything is safe for me to eat. This is not realistic for all situations, however. Last summer I went to a family reunion where each family was responsible for cooking for the group one night of the stay. Every night I had to scope out the meal being cooked by someone I loved, who yet didn’t understand my concern with the details of what was in the food. I managed to get through the week thanks to good detective work and “wanting to be helpful in the kitchen” – but it was exhausting!
My advice if you are in this situation would be to not overwhelm the host and focus primarily on the meat – in the case of Thanksgiving it will be the turkey. Instead of asking your host to make a completely AIP-friendly meal, ask them to just focus on making the turkey suitable for you to eat. Then you can offer to bring a side dish (or two) of vegetables that are AIP-friendly. Another easy request would be to make a small separate salad. The best way to work with someone who does not understand would be to collaborate with them to make a meal suitable for you to eat, instead of forcing them to make everything acceptable to you. Expressing gratitude is a must, as they are facilitating a meal that would otherwise be very stressful.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you make a mistake
It happens – we all have cravings and it is never harder than when the most amazing meal of the year is in front of us and we may not be able to eat all of it. If you do decide to bend the rules a little bit, my advice would be to steer clear of anything that you know makes you very sick (gluten!) and go for items that have something you have toyed with reintroducing and know how they affect you – nuts, eggs, etc. Remember the guidelines of slow systematic reintroduction, and if possible work that into your meal.
Have I missed anything? I would like to know what you find helpful in navigating these potentially awkward situations with friends and family!