Social Eating: Can I Go Out to Eat?

Last night some coworkers invited me out for a social dinner, which is not a big deal for me now (it used to be), even though I cannot eat most things on a normal restaurant menu. Later, after I got home, my wife encouraged me to write about the softer side of living on the SCD. Details only get you so far, she reminded me. The thing that turns us from merely existing on the SCD, to purely thriving is feeling normal, included, accepted–i.e., not feeling weird, or singled (left) out in social situations (which almost always involve food). See, being able to enjoy food at social events has been one of the 3 keys to allowing me to happily stick to such a non-culturally normal diet. For reason’s I can’t quite explain, being able to eat at social gatherings has helped me to be able to feel like one of the group, and given me the freedom to un-occupy (is that a word?) myself with my condition and to LIVE in those moments, engage and have fun!

So how do we do that on the SCD?

I didn’t– for the first 3-4 months on the diet, and I was miserable. I’m writing this post so that you won’t make that mistake. If the SCD can really help people with Crohn’s and/or Colitis, but folks are too miserable to keep it up, then what? Back to medicine? That didn’t work. Surgery? Not unless they tie me down. That’s not to minimize the benefits of medicine or surgery to those it has helped. Colectomy has saved lives, but I’m not there yet, and I don’t want you to be there either if you don’t have to. So here’s how you can avoid my mistakes in handling social eating. I’ll give you what I do, and you can adapt it however you like.

1. Remember 3 essential principles:
a. Culinary fulfilment is your key to a sustainable and happy journey on the SCD. So make up your mind that cooking will be a normal part of life. Then enjoy it. Cook lots of yummy, exotic, flavorful food. It will open a new world to you. It has for me.
b. People are going to ask about your diet, and by association, your condition. So, come to peace with talking about both. Don’t dump your problems; potlucks aren’t group therapy sessions. But be able to talk about both freely. This may take some time and practice. I used my family and closest friends as guinea pigs.
c. You are not Colitis. You are not Crohn’s. Your condition is just a small part of the grander you. It doesn’t define you; It doesn’t control you. I don’t use the word disease. I think it invokes pity and implies a claustrophobic permanence to my condition that did nothing positive for my morale.

Now to the practical(s)…
I know that enjoying my food is essential to my overall happiness on the SCD, so when my coworkers told me they wanted to go out to eat, I prepared. Here are some options, things I like to do:

1. I let them know I’m on a special diet. I let them know right away. This allows me the freedom to do what I need to do and avoids the mystery about why I eat so differently. Most of my coworkers are too timid to ask why I eat this way (and that’s fine with me, I’d often rather talk about things other than me), but for those who do, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the connections I’ve made with them. For example, I told one of my colleagues about my diet (we were going for lunch), and she asked all about it. Turns out she loved the idea, and went about incorporating lots of the SCD principles into her daily diet! We bonded over it, and still discuss her culinary (SCD-like) explorations today.

2. If you’ve let key folks know you’re on a special diet, you can help pick the place to go eat–some place with options for you (this will often take some research: a phone call to the restaurant, or browse menus beforehand). I’ve been surprised…The people who know about my diet will often speak up and say something like, “Where do you want to go?” Or “Do they have things here you can eat? If not we can go somewhere else?” It’s nice, and I let them do it.

3. Bring backup food. When I just don’t feel like doing the research, or calling the restaurant manager, I will bring food with me and bust it out in the restaurant. I’ve even read about people who have had the waiter warm their food for them in the microwave. I’ve never done that, but it’s worth a try… Lots of places don’t mind if you bring your own food, so long as they know why- so tell them up front. I’m in DC, so some of the restaurants here are snooty about bringing in food. If snooty happens to you, here’s what I’ve done to handle it. I’ve talked to the waiter (don’t go straight to the manager unless you have to) and told them that I have a life-long digestive disease (the only time I will use the word; sure it’s milking it a little, but hey…), and that I am on a medical diet. I have to eat this way. Most of the time that works and all is well. If it doesn’t work, consider reminding them that if you ate their food, you could get very very sick, and that your disease is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA] (gives us unrestricted access to restrooms both private and public, etc.). If they want to violate that, then ok. I would leave. But I’ve never had to do that. Most people and restaurants are wonderful, and I’ve never heard of anyone having to bust out the ADA card.

4. Pre-eat. Yup, I said it. Pre-eating isn’t just for first dates anymore. This is actually my favorite. Why? I get to eat what I want. I get to eat it hot, and I get to eat a lot of it. I’ll pre-eat at home, or at work usually and then saunter over to the restaurant, cravings sated, and order a salad with vinegar and salt. It takes some pre planning, but this option keeps me the happiest, and no one has ever bothered to ask why I just order a salad for dinner. Problem solved.

5. Copious amounts of decadent desert. I eat desert after breakfast (a SCD friendly yogurt smoothie, or scones with honey butter or homemade peach marmalade). I eat desert after lunch (baked apples with cinnamon, or blueberry muffins with SCD friendly apple butter). I eat desert after dinner (peanut butter brownies, apple or peach pie). Decadent treats (along with a wide variety of tastes in my every day meals) keep my cravings away, and keeps me content on the diet. I indulge often. You should too, so long as your system will take it. All of my food suggestions come with that caveat: Follow the diet flawlessly, and don’t eat it if it irritates your system.

So, whether you pre-eat, bring your own, or sift through menus for SCD friendly options, try not to deprive yourself of the social edification that comes with being able (and willing) to attend events centered around food. Will it still be hard sometimes? Sure. Sometimes I have to walk away for a minute during ice cream (especially if I finished my desert on the walk over to dinner), but hopefully these things above will help you thrive on the SCD.

I’ll continue this thread in future posts with more details on: how I deal with family (explaining the diet, and letting them cook for you), potlucks, handling cravings (I craved cigarettes once–I don’t smoke), dinner at a friend’s house (explaining how to cook for you), and traveling on the SCD.

Onward to health.

The Diet part 1, ABC’s of the SCD

I’ve outlined, blog-length, the theory behind the SCD, and some steps to getting started. Now I’d like to pause here, and take a look at some of the details of the diet.

If you haven’t already, get a copy of the book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle. It describes the diet in much more detail than I could in a blog. That said, I decided to outline the diet here, because I wasn’t completely satisfied with the organization of the information in the book. So let’s get started…my way.
Remember the principles:
1. Intake nothing that will feed the ‘harmful’ bacteria; sugars that will remain partially undigested when they get to the colon.
2. Focus on what you CAN eat, not what you can’t. It’ll help your attitude.
3. Here are broad categories of what you can eat:

Lean meat
Watch for additives. Stay away from things ‘enhanced’ with things like broth, natural flavors, etc. Even organic meats can have this. In the ingredients, you want the label to say, just ‘chicken’ or ‘cod’ or whatever meat you’re buying.

Aged Cheese
Block cheeses aged more than 6 months have negligible lactose content.

SCD friendly Yogurt
What’s this? It’s homemade, fermented for 24+ hours to get rid of the lactose. The link below has instructions, but to be honest, they weren’t detailed enough for me, so I will post my own soon. Look for them.

Most vegetables
Refer to the list I linked below. I had to cook all of my vegetables for 4 months before I could start eating raw, for example, lettuce. Steaming vegetables may lose some of the phytochemicals, but most of the vitamins remain intact, and it breaks down the fiber matrix, making it easier for your injured digestive system to handle.

Most fruits
Same with the fruits. I had to cook them for about 3 months (vegetables were harder for me) before I could eat raw. Stay away from fruits with seeds (berries are a good example) until all your symptoms have been gone for at least 3 months. Stay away from fruits with lots of insoluble fiber, it’s hard on your injured system. So, peel your apples, your pears, even your grapes; those skins represent the insoluble fiber I’m referring to. A note on canned fruit: It’s nearly impossible to find canned fruit that’s in it’s own juice (which is what you want), where that juice is not from concentrate. Concentrated juice is a no-no because when companies reconstitute they often add sugar. Just be careful with canned fruit and the quantity of fruit in general. There’s a lot of sugar in fruit…

Undoctored nuts
I love Trader’s Joe’s ‘raw’ nuts, undoctored. You can do nut butter too, but NO ADDITIVES. Ingredients: nut, salt. Anything else in it? Don’t buy it. Remember, fudging a little, can set you back.

Honey as your ONLY sweetener
Your ONLY sweetener. ONLY…ONLY honey.

Real butter
No spreads, no additives, no, no.

Olive Oil and a couple of other select oils)
Refer to the list below for ‘legal’ oils.

Here is a more detailed list of ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ foods

My suggestion? Print the list and put it on your fridge. Consult it each time you cook or go to put something in your mouth. But remember, just because something is legal, doesn’t mean you can handle it. My mistake was eating LARGE quantities of whatever legal food was on the list. BIG mistake. It kept me sicker longer. I became bewildered at my system, and frustrated. Don’t follow my footsteps here. Track your symptoms, track what you eat daily (we’ll get to that tomorrow). It’s the only way. Elaine, in her book, outlines the first few weeks on the diet. I will try and do the same as it relates to my experience.

Onward to health.

The decision to start, Family

Last time, I proposed 2 steps to getting started on the SCD: Make the decision (for real), and loop in your doctor. But I forgot the most important–involve your family or those with whom you live. Why? Without their help, your bound to fail and then it’s back to medicine…

It took about two and a half months for my wife and I to come to the decision to do the SCD. I decided in a week, but she took longer. We wrestled with seemingly mundane questions like, “will we ever get to go out to eat together?” Actually she wrestled with them mostly, I didn’t really care. I thought we’d just find other things to do (and we have). But eating out wasn’t what she was really dealing with. She was wrestling with the question of whether, if I started the SCD, would the rest of the family have to too? She didn’t want to give up bread and pasta, eating rice or putting sugar in her coffee. It took the better part of 2.5 months for her to feel like this was her decision too, but it was worth it.

Our family is pretty traditional on the surface, in that my wife does much of the cooking, I’m gone ~12-13 hours of the day for work. This meant that if I went on the SCD, she would be my primary care-giver, my pharmacy so to speak. We (but primarily, she) would have to learn to cook all over again. You can see that buy-in from my family was essential. When I craved ice cream or real bread, oatmeal or pasta, she encouaged me. We made peanut butter brownies, or blueberry muffins, frozen yogurt or some other tasty treat that kept me on the narrow road. Who will help you stay focused when it gets hard?

Make no mistake, no matter what your living situation, buy-in from those you love and those you live with is essential. They will keep you going when “you can’t go another day without sourdough”.

Onward to Health.

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