A woman running away from foods like tomatoes and cabbages

Why Dinner Invitations Are so Difficult

I don’t like eating out because of my IBS. Partly because I’m scared of a flare-up in public. And partly because I don’t like asking for special treatment. I get so uncomfortable when I need to ask waiters at a restaurant to prepare my meal without sauce, onions, or with fries instead of vegetables that might trigger my IBS.

But there is one thing that freaks me out even more than eating out at a restaurant: being invited to lunch or dinner at someone’s house. As an introvert, socializing is already a step out of my comfort zone. Add food into the mix and you can be pretty sure that I will not be at ease.

When someone prepares a meal for me, I feel pressured to eat it. I can’t really ask for substitutes or eliminations. As far as I see, I only have three options: ask them to make adjustments in advance, eat whatever they prepare while anxiously waiting for my gut to go crazy, or be picky about my meal and look like I don’t value their efforts.

Asking for adjustments

Whenever I know the people who invite me well enough, I tend to ask them to adjust the meal for me. That’s the case with my family, close friends, and my in-laws. However, there is a slight problem that I encounter way too often: you can’t expect people to remember all your trigger foods.

When it’s my family, I allow myself to request specific foods. I know that it’s fine for them and they won’t judge me. However, I don’t really dare to do that with anyone else. I just don’t feel comfortable telling people what to eat because of me!

Oftentimes, when I ask people to go light on dairy, onions, and garlic, they happily present me with a meal containing tomato sauce. Or quinoa. Or something else that I would never in a million years want to put into my mouth.

So what do I do in these situations? Well, I eat. And usually say that I can’t stay long, hoping to be home in time for my flare-up. At this point, I’m not even sure whether it’s the food or my anxiety that triggers my IBS. But it doesn’t make a difference anyway.

I’m still working on the way I handle these situations, trying to become more comfortable with asking for specific foods and being honest when I can’t have something. Because after all, if people care about me, they don't want me to be miserable, right?

Eating whatever you are given

I don’t believe that it’s necessary to eat my trigger foods just to be polite. Feeling terrible is not something that I usually strive for, and I very rarely think that’s it’s the best or only option.

However, I sometimes just don’t know how to get out of it. One example that comes into my mind is a birthday dinner at my in-laws’. My mother-in-law, who knows that I’m complicated with food due to IBS, proudly presented me with a plate of cabbage and beans. Dairy-free, onion-free, garlic-free and without tomato sauce! A nicely meant arrangement of trigger foods, as my anxious brain promptly reminded me.

What was I supposed to do? Tell her that despite her efforts, she did everything wrong? I couldn’t do that. And so I told myself that I would have no choice but to eat and deal with the consequences.

Being picky about your food

Sometimes you are invited to a large gathering and can’t possibly ask for a menu change, like a wedding dinner for example. My philosophy is that whenever there are enough people around, no one will notice whether I eat or not. So I pack a bunch of cereal bars and don’t worry too much about the food.

It's always best when these occasions have a buffet, or when you can serve yourself. Then you can just take whatever you like and leave the rest.

But when you’re served ready-prepared plates, it becomes more difficult. It’s nice to have someone next to you who can double up as a trash can. My boyfriend does that for me. He will eat double of everything that I can’t have, or at least agree to put half of the food on his plate so that it looks like we just weren’t very hungry.

It also helps to surround yourself with people who know about your IBS so you don’t have to explain anything. And if I do have to explain why I'm not eating, I find it easier to sum it up as a food intolerance if I don’t feel like talking about my IBS.

All in all, getting invited for lunch or dinner is not an easy situation when you have IBS, and there is no miracle solution for it. But I do find that you should be as honest and specific as possible about what you can eat. This way, you’ll still get to spend a nice time and won’t regret it afterward.

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