Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Annoying Side of Restaurants

People ask me all the time how I deal with having a lot of restrictions on what I can eat. A lot of people say "I would just eat cake anyway, even if it made me feel sick!" I personally think a lot of people think this but don't quite understand how *not* fun it is to feel really terrible all of the time. To be completely honest, a lot of good has come from me having IBS. I have got SO much healthier about what I eat. I have tried so many new foods I probably never would've bothered to try. I have learned to cook for myself. I have learned so much more about nutrition and what is really healthy. I would say 90 % of the time, if not more, I don't even miss most of the stuff I can't eat and when I do it's often the healthy things that I miss the most.

However, there are 2 times that my stomach issues REALLY piss me off. #1- when I eat out, #2- when I travel (directly related to #1). When I cook for myself, I add only ingredients I know I can eat, and there is very rarely a problem. After about 2 years, I finally have figured out where and what I can eat and eating out is relatively successful now. BUT, when I travel things get a lot more complicated. Suddenly I am faced with all new restaurants, and eating out almost every single meal. Immediately my stomach usually rebels against this and I end up feeling horrible the rest of the trip and considering how much I enjoy traveling, this puts a major damper on the whole idea.

The NUMBER ONE reason why eating out is such a problem is because of the overall inflexibility and lack of understanding among restaurants. My family trip to California was a great example of this. I thought Northern California was practically KNOWN for being healthy, so I thought I'd be all set. Except that when I got there I found out that a "dry" sandwich apparently means lather the bread in butter, and it is considered perfectly acceptable to list something on the menu and not list MAJOR ingredients so I get a surprise cheese stuffed in my chicken or fish dripping in gravy. It became a joke in the family how often I had to send back my food. And I HATE to send back food, so most of the time I ended up just eating whatever I was served and then feeling horrible afterwards.

At one restaurant near my house I asked for chicken and veggie rolls steamed instead of fried. The chef actually came out to ask me if I realized "how that was going to look." Honestly buddy, I could care LESS how that looks as long as it tastes good and does not make my stomach hurt. And frankly, even people without IBS should probably steer clear of fried food so I don't see why we don't all order food steamed instead of fried. I realize I am not a chef. I cook only to feed myself budget-friendly and healthy food. I know that to chef's food is an art and you want it to present well. But in my opinion, this should not be at the expense of health.

One of my good friends has troubles with her stomach as well (and with that, lots of food restrictions). She told me a long time ago that she tells restaurants she is "allergic" to things she shouldn't be eating because that's the only way people seem to get it. I agree with her completely, as I've found people immediately start to care when I mention allergy. However, I have a lot of trouble this because my troubles are NOT an allergy and I will not have any serious health problems if I get a tiny piece of cheese mixed in my pasta. Also, I find it annoying that restaurants cannot just accommodate whether it's an allergy or a preference! Some people do not WANT unhealthy foods (or even healthy ones) mixed into their food and they are paying good money to have it how they want!

Oddly enough, I have found that the most helpful restaurants are often chain restaurants. I wonder if it's because they have chefs that may not be as into creating a special product? Just a thought...One of the BEST restaurants for allergies and intolerances is Outback Steakhouse. They shock me with how helpful they are, and after I did some research I read that the owner of Outback has a wife with Celiacs! Yay for him (and her) for taking one step towards making eating out a better experience for those of us with tummy troubles. I love going out to eat too much to give it up, so I will continue to plow through and hopefully get a bit better at advocating for myself.

What has your experience at restaurants been? Have you ever tried to change or alter your order to make it more healthy for you?


  1. I have A LOT of food allergies and I have such a hard time eating out that we only go to:
    outback (they are great for vegans)
    California Pizza Kitchen (they are AMAZING)
    and a few local places where they will make me a salad with no dressing (yes even for breakfast)

    I feel your pain!

  2. I can totally relate. I have never been actually diagnosed with any stomach issues (of course, I've never really approached a doctor about it)... My prolbem was isolated when I went about 3 months without eating out and only eating food cooked by me--and never felt miserable during that time!

    Now when I try to order at restaurants catered to my stomach--the waitress often rolls her eyes at me in irritation thinking I'm "just being a picky health nut".

    That is really interesting about Outback! I will have to check that out!

  3. Oh boy, here comes a long comment....
    I was in Denver last week (as you know) and I found it SHOCKING how difficult it was for me to find healthy foods. I mean, there were thousands of RDs in town and yet it was STILL hard to find something healthy. The airports were the worst. All I wanted was some yogurt or a fresh veg or fruit, but it was so hard to find! Pathetic.

    When it comes to restaurants I have many thoughts. I like to make a lot of modificaitons to my food because, like you, I have a lot of GI issues and have to be careful with what I put in my mouth. However, I have also been a server before and I know how annoying it can be on the other end. But, all in all the client is number one and they should get what they ask for. If restaurants would start making healthier options maybe it wouldn't be an issue in the first place!

  4. Yep, eating out SUCKS when you have eating restrictions. So I don't eat out very often or I go to the places I know I can eat at easily. But when you travel, there's no avoiding eating out. Some places are great, others are downright terrible.

    And yah, I hate it when people say - oh, just eat gluten, it's not like it's going to kill you. No, it won't, but it's not worth feeling terrible.

  5. I think chain restaurants are easier to accomodate you because they are essentially short order cooks. Chefs at nicer more unique places aren't really. The menu is what you get as part of the experience. I think they don't really care because you are essentially one customer to them and if you don't like it, don't come back.

  6. I usually find something I want and can eat. I can not even imagine how difficult it must be to go out in your situation. Stomach issues are the WORST THING EVER to me when I get sick, so I can only guess how awful it must be on a regular basis.

  7. I'm always surprised how The Cheesecake Factory is one of the easiest places for me to eat! (I don't eat sugar in any form, wheat or any form of flour.)

  8. Ugh - that sucks, girl!! I know how unaccomodating restaurants can be, I've worked in the service industry LOTS and honestly, when you're a busy waitress it does get annoying when someone is listing off all the changes they want to their food.

    BUT I'm not saying that is ANY excuse for restaurants to not give you what you want. You are SOOO right, you are paying good money for that food and you deserve to get it made the way you WANT and NEED it! It would suck to have that problem, especially when traveling I'm sure.

  9. Hey Kelly!

    I have something for you over at my blog.

    Also I ran yesterday (ok not for long) but I didn't have any knee pain!!

    <3 KT

  10. Boy that does sound annoying. I definitely hate that I have no control over the food that I eat in restaurants - if I ask for no oil are they still going to put it in? The story about the chef coming out made me laugh! (not in a good way of course)

  11. I have to be honest with you, there are times I have almost WISHED for a condition that would cause me to be more aware of my diet. :\

    I imagine it would be difficult at times, but good for yo ustanding up for yourself and taking care of yourself.

  12. yay for sticking up for yourself! i dont like going out to eat for the same reason, i always end up feeling like shit afterwards so its just not worth it..
    i do have to agree though the only way to get them to pay attention is to say you are allergic to something- its annoying yes- but for me it gets the job done. usually i try to pick something on the menu that doesnt need to be modified too much anyway- like i'll get a chicken sandwich minus the bread? but still- sometimes they sneak stuff in there!
    but i also second the chain resturants- maybe its the egos of the big time chefs in these fancy places, but when i go to TGI Fridays, i get a table visit when i say i am allergic to cheese.. whatever works! lol

  13. yeah i totally agree that I find it so frustrating how unaccomodating places can be...i cannot believe the chef came out and said "how is that going to look; i mean who cares!? you are the customer you pay for what you ask for!!

    i do think chain restaurants do a great job accomodating! i went to cheesecake factory the other week and so didn't want to go bc i know the menu but i ended up making a few small tweaks and it was great and healthy!

  14. Amen, amen, and amen sister!! I almost hate going out to eat bc ofmy food allergies :( I have to worry about cross-contamination and it's not easy to trust that food is safe if you don't see it through preparation and read every ingredient list. Not to mention the FDA isn't as strict as they ought to be on food-labeling guidelines. Because of my soy allergy and the fact that soy is in everything... I usually have to get a boring salad with no dressing. I rarely go to the classy restaurants with real chefs who might take offense, and I don't have the faith in college-student cooks at "normal" restaurants and whether they know what every ingredient is and if it contains an allergy... I've heard about people having success with calling ahead and having special meals made but I've yet to try this. I consider your food troubles allergies too--your body still has a reaction/rejection to them. Just bc it's not anaphylactic shock doesnt mean it's no big deal!! Good luck-keep us informed on any successes/failures with restaurants!