Getting Family and Friends To Help With Your Special Diet
Last updated: March 2021
There’s nothing worse than having to follow a restricted diet when everyone else around you can eat whatever they want, while you sit there with a plate that’s got a tiny portion of the most boring and bland food because that’s all that’s safe for you to eat. If you’ve never experienced that, you’re lucky. But most of us with food intolerances experience it a little too often.
So how do you stop this from happening?
Explain your dietary needs to your family and close friends
The first step is making sure that other people understand your needs. You don’t have to tell everyone, but you do need to provide clear information to the people that you spend most of your time with and especially anyone who prepares meals for you.
Start out by explaining that your special diet is not a choice, but it’s something that you need to manage your IBS symptoms. It’s also helpful to say that your doctor or nutritionist put you on this diet, so that way they know for sure that you’re not just being picky.
Next, remember how complicated you found your dietary restrictions when you were first given them. While you get used to them, if your family and friends don’t follow the diet themselves, they’ll have trouble keeping track of the fine details. So you’ll have to remind them regularly of what you can and can’t eat. But please don’t think this means they don’t care. It doesn’t. It simply means that they’re normal and can’t keep track of everything that isn’t their major focus.
Lastly, don’t get resentful when they want to eat something that you can’t. Of course it’s important that there’s something safe for you to eat, but there’s no reason why other people should miss out on foods that don’t harm them.
Provide food lists and simple recipes to anyone who cooks for you
Keeping in mind that your family and friends don’t cook food to suit your dietary needs on a daily basis, the easiest way for them to cook for you is if they have cheat sheets available. Everyone has different dietary restrictions, so putting together a list of ‘YES’ foods and ‘NO’ foods will make their life a lot easier. Print them out and stick them on their fridge.
It’s also good to give them some simple recipes that they can use to make foods for you. Admittedly this will limit your meal choices when you visit them, but at least you’ll know that the food will be safe and doesn’t trigger your symptoms. For instance, my sister regularly makes burgers when I visit – I love burgers, my nephews will eat them, and we know how to make them safe for me.
And if you are especially sensitive to particular ingredients, e.g. onion or garlic, you need to explain that it’s not okay for them to add these ingredients during the cooking process and then take them out just before serving. Some people mistakenly think that this approach will make the meal safe for you, so take the time to patiently educate the cook if necessary.
Please be patient and try not to get angry with people who are trying to help you
I understand how hard it can be when people get your food wrong, but remember that your friends and family love you and do want to help. Cooking a different way to how they normally do is hard work and requires them to approach food preparation differently. Because of that, it’s easy for them to slip into auto-pilot mode part way through and accidentally use an ingredient that’s not safe. With practice, they’ll get better at it, but until then, be patient and understand that they’re trying.
Do you suffer from IBS-C, IBS-D, or IBS-Mixed/Alternating?