Sunday, July 11, 2010

the "D" word

Have you ever noticed how many social events are tied to food? When a friend wants to get together, it's usually something along the lines of "let's grab a drink," or "let's go get happy hour." We go out for lunch, grab a coffee, or meet for dinner/dessert/brunch. This didn't used to bother me, but now that I have so many dietary restrictions, eating out can be a tad complicated. When I first started the diet I was worried I wouldn't be able to eat out at all, and I wondered when I would get to feel normal again.

Walking into a restaurant and explaining I'm on a diet is definitely not my favorite thing, and it only gets worse if I say my doctor put me on a diet. Once you drop the "D" word people automatically look at you to see if you're the "F" word - fat. And if you're someone like me with, shall we say, a little extra junk in the trunk, this can be about as uncomfortable of a situation as walking into a beauty salon and announcing you need to have your upper lip waxed. Umm, about that. There's a chance I might be one of those women who wax their upper lip... Here's the deal: I have ever since high school when I was getting ready for prom and my dad asked if I needed a couple extra bucks so I could go "wax my mustache." True story. (Dad if you're reading this, while the delivery was a bit awkward I do appreciate your concern for my grooming habits. You've probably spared me some embarrassment.) Tangent aside, let's just say that the trepidation I felt about dining out when I was first put on the diet was almost as nerve racking as when I first tried waxing as an adolescent.

To try to explain my current eating regimen in simple ways, I found myself fudging the truth a bit. When dining out I've said I have food allergies, that I'm on an elimination diet, that I can't eat gluten, and that I'm avoiding foods that make me nauseous. Luckily Seattle is home to a wide array of restaurants, foodies, and sympathetic waitresses, so I've found that most people are willing to answer my questions and make substitutions when I ask. Also, the more I talk about my current diet, the more comfortable it gets.

Once again, planning ahead is usually a good idea if you're trying to keep your diet. A friend of mine who is in weight watchers will try to plan ahead where she wants to go out to eat, and look up the menus online. I've adopted this idea as well. Also I've found that some restaurants even have their ingredients posted online. For example, Thrive ( is a Seattle raw foods restaurant that lists all of the ingredients to their dishes both on their website and on their menus. They were also very accommodating in making substitutions when I asked.

In addition to looking up menus online and asking waitstaff at the restaurants about their products, I've found it's helpful when dining out with friends if you keep them in the loop with your dietary needs. My friends have been incredibly supportive and have helped me find places to eat that will accommodate my needs. Additionally, I've gone to a few weddings while being on this meal plan. I've talked to my friends in advance to figure out what foods would be safe for me to eat, so that I don't feel stressed the day of the event. I've also found that smaller restaurants typically know more about their products and even suggest substitutions for me. Additionally, when in doubt it's safer to stick with simple foods. For example, if you're eating a salad choose olive oil and vinegar rather than a premixed dressing. Choose whole foods whenever possible, such as sliced avocado over pre-made guacamole, and chicken breast over a patty made of "mechanically separated rib meat." Starch and sugar lurk in many surprising places, such as seasoning mixes, lunch meats, and crumbled cheeses. I've never read so many ingredient labels in my life, and it's been very enlightening.

Here's the good news: eating out while on a diet is definitely possible. Good restaurants care about their products and their customers, and they will be willing to help you out if you ask. While it can be a bit awkward and more time consuming to ask lots of questions and explain my current eating regimen, it's something I've had to get used to. And in a strange way, I feel a bit empowered now. Instead if feeling like a victim of a tricky diet and focusing on everything I can't eat, I've tried to rise to the challenge and be assertive, creative, and experimental. And you know what? It's been fun to try new foods and modify old favorites.

Here's some foods I've enjoyed while dining out:
-Mexican food is easy to modify by skipping the tortillas and making a fajita or taco salad. Usually the cheese, avocado, and pico de gallo all are starch and sugar free. Sour cream is typically free of starch if it is full fat, but not if it's reduced fat.
-Burgers and sandwiches are still delicious without the sauce and without the bun. I've had them wrapped in lettuce, and they taste great! Regular mayo and mustard are ok as far as condiments go. However, sugar and modified food starch often lurk in BBQ sauce, ketchup, honey mustard, ranch dressing, relish, tartar sauce, and soy sauce, so I typically avoid these.
-When eating Greek food I chose chicken souvlaki skewers with tzatziki sauce and salad with herb vinaigrette.
-Breakfast is an especially easy meal to do without starch and sugar. I had an omelette with mushrooms, onions, peppers,cheese, and green onion, topped with sliced avocado.

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