Going Out To Eat

By Allison Jonergin

There’s always risk. Risk of contamination. Risk that there won’t be anything on the menu I can eat. Risk that the only items I’m able to eat will come with ingredients I’m not.

“Why don’t you tell the server you have an allergy?”

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I don’t have food allergies. I have irritable bowel syndrome. As a result, I have pain, cramping, gas, diarrhea and sometimes constipation. My symptoms are aggravated after consuming certain foods or beverages. Which foods? Everyone with IBS has a different answer.

My food in intolerancees include meat and poultry, dairy products, tomato sauce, raw vegetables, caffeine, coffee, black tea, some alcoholic beverages, sodas, juices, hot sauce, rice, seeds, certain nuts and many others.

There’s no way I can ask a server to keep up. It’s easier to find something on the menu I can eat, even if I have to ask that some ingredients be left out.

Also, I don’t want to out myself to everyone at the table that I have health issues. Besides, no one wants to hear about explosive diarrhea at the dinner table.

I’ve had the same food intolerancees over the years, save for a few additions. Still, it’s hard to keep track of all of my triggers. My mind spins into motion when I look at a menu. I’m calculating how much time I have in my schedule to get sick and whether I’ll be around people the rest of the evening. I’m determining how bad of a day I’m having – as a bad day will cause increased symptoms no matter what I eat.

Sometimes I’ll eat clean (a term I use to mean I eat only foods that are proven not to cause painful reactions) and still get sick. I’m left poring over everything I’ve eaten, wondering what I could’ve missed. Had I been too optimistic when I left the skin on the sweet potatoes? Was the food I bought contaminated with a food I can’t tolerate? Lord have mercy, I don’t want to have to go on another elimination diet to determine whether I have a new trigger. My diet is strict enough as it is, and it is always changing due to fluctuating symptoms. Sometimes I’ll enjoy a food for months until suddenly my body rejects it. Other foods cause varying reactions, like beans. Sometimes I can tolerate them, and other times I cannot.

Are you lost yet? It’s a lot to absorb. It’s even more to keep track of on a daily, even hourly basis.

What helps? Choosing a restaurant in advance so I can look at the menu and decide what I can order. Eating at home most of the time where I can create my own concoctions. Understanding friends and family members who are willing to eat at restaurants where I know there will be something I can order. These things make a huge difference in not only my symptoms, but the anxiety that comes along with them.

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