Restaurants, Meetings & Family Gatherings
Being Social Often Means Being With Food
When with friends, co-workers, fellow club members or the family, food is often an inherent part of most social activities. Whether attending a sports event, a church supper, going out with friends after work, playing cards, going to a Super Bowl party, attending any family gathering and going to many meetings, there is usually a beverage, a snack or a whole meal. This article will focus on the challenges that social activities present for those on SCD. See Travel for tips for how to handle overnight stays on SCD.
Unlike other diets, there are no days off and no time off on SCD. On a typical weight loss diet, if you stray off the menu and eat that big dessert, the consequences are that you just will not lose the pound you had hoped for and your weight loss goal will be delayed.
However, wandering off the menu on SCD, means that you are feeding the bad, hostile bacteria that contributed to making you sick in the first place. Crohn's and ulcerative colitis are auto-immune diseases. That means that a small misstep can trigger a big reaction that can last for a week or more. So, what should you to do?
When you were acutely sick, feeling bad, bloated, cramped and running to the bathroom all the time, you probably did not feel like being very social. You were tired, depressed and not up to being with people. Now that being on SCD has made you feel better, you want to get back with your friends. By all means do plan to do just that. A good social life with family and friends and doing the things you like to do is very, very important.
You can do all these things and still maintain the diet. For those on SCD, here are the three keys to a successful social life:
1. Be proactive. Obtain knowledge of the food situation well in advance of the event.
2. Plan how you are going to handle every aspect of the food and beverage situation.
3. Be prepared to BYO (bring you own) for all or some of the event, even if only s a back up left in the car.
This sounds hard to do at first. Most of us do not like to make a fuss and our first reaction is the natural social instinct, to go along to get along. That is the one thing you should not do on SCD. You have a medical condition that needs attention. You are on an important long term program and your body needs you to stand your ground so it can heal.
The first time that you go through any situation is stressful but keep in mind that repetitive situations become routine and easy to manage. For example, if your friends at the office go to the same place for lunch everyday, take the time to talk to the owner (preferably at a non-meal time) and arrange to work with him to modify a few things you can eat. Example of possibilities, the hamburger plate or grilled chicken or steak tips with extra vegetables or salad instead of starches.
Below are examples of different situations with some suggestions from our veteran SCD'ers to inspire your creativity in dealing with your own situations. You will soon see that with a little practice you can easily handle the food and beverage aspect of any type of social event. Go out and have fun! Focus on the camaraderie and the activity of the event which is the most important part. Just be prepared.
Hooray for the internet. It is so handy for SCD. If you are thinking of going to a particular restaurant, get on-line, Google the place and check out the menu. Almost all restaurants have their menus posted on line. Looking at the menu can give you some idea of what dishes might be okay for you.
One of the most common (and delicious) dishes that can be okay is a plain broiled steak. Plain (not breaded) fish broiled in a dry wine and/or butter is okay. Generally speaking, broiling in an oven or grilling over an open fame is safer than grilling on a large, hot, flat metal surface because there may have bits of breading or other things that are left over on the cooking surface from preparing a previous meal.
Different parts of the country and different styles of restaurants use different cooking methods. Marilyn, in the south, always insists that they use a clean grill for her food. If you are getting baked fish, be sure to specify that they are not to sprinkle it with bread crumbs which can be an automatic garnish.
Some restaurants, especially the major restaurant chains, have a section of their website called "allergy" tucked away in the corner. This section has a wealth of useful information for those on SCD as the ingredients are listed for each dish (for the big chains, this can include the mustard, catsup and salad dressings.) Looking at the allergy section can avoid making mistakes by making assumptions.
For example, on the MacDonald's website, the broiled beef patty for the regular hamburger patty is still 100% beef; however, this is not true for the angus sirloin. Conclusion, the patty is probably okay but the angus sirloin is definitely not, even though it is marketed as a more premium product. While the grilled or flame broiled chicken (MacDonald's or Burger King) sounds plain and simple, you will read that the chicken meat has been marinated in a bunch of problematic ingredients containing corn, sugar and other items.
Another problem with the chain restaurants as they sometimes have food that is preprepared making the ingredients inflexible. All restaurants tend towards fancier food and that usually means there are problem ingredients for SCDieters. It may be as hard to find something that you can eat in a "gourmet" restaurant as in an ethnic restaurant. With ethnic restaurants, there may also be a communications problem over the ingredients if the wait staff has a problem speaking and understanding English. A misunderstanding here could be a problem for you if the wrong ingredient gets in.
In an Indian restaurant, focus on meats from the tandoor (high temperature clay oven) -lamb chunks, chicken, kabobs (served without the rice). For Chinese food - order the steamed vegetables and steamed or grilled fish. Do not use their soy sauce. Bring your own seasoning. Ask if there is breading as it may not be listed.
When you order, be proactive and ask about the ingredients. Double check, "There are no breadcrumbs on the broiled trout, right?" Saying that you have an allergy is the best code word. All restaurants are used to it and all waiters are trained to be alert for and respect allergies. They may respond by asking about gluten free. I usually say, "Something like that but stricter."
The last thing I want to do is get into a digestive discussion at the table. Stick with allergies - You have a medical problem - That is true.
Note that some items on the menu can often be modified at the time that you order, especially in the better restaurants. For example - Diner "What is the vegetable of the day?"
Reply "Glazed carrots."
Your response, "Can I get carrots without glaze?"
Waiter, "You want just steamed carrots?"
Waiter, as he writes on his pad, "No problem, steamed carrots no glaze."
They may say the vegetables are sauteed and some people find that sauteing is not cooked well enough for them. Just ask if the vegetables can be steamed instead. In the better restaurants, this is usually no problem.
If dinner comes with a starch and a side vegetable, order double vegetables instead of the starch. Sometime they have a vegetable that is not on the menu that they will make for you. Most restaurants will not charge for this but if be prepared that they want an extra dollar or two.
For those whose healing is sufficiently advanced to tolerate raw foods, ordering a salad seems like a good restaurant choice. Most salad dressings are not permissible as they have ingredients with sugar or lactose, etc. Sticking with an oil and vinegar dressing should be okay. Marilyn posts that she brings her own home made salad dressing.
The problem is every restaurant has a different idea of what a salad is. Some places automatically sprinkle shredded American cheese on top or lace the salad with croutons, or candied walnuts or dried (sugared) cranberries.
Sometimes, it is simpler to say the you want a salad with only: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, celery or carrots, etc. versus saying, "I'll have the garden salad, no cheese, no croutons, no candied nuts, etc.
If you are gathering after work at a Pub or microbrewery style eatery, know in advance that there is probably nothing on the typical Pub menu that is suitable. Breaded items, starches, spice mixtures that may include unallowable ingredients, meats such as ham and bacon cured with sugar and unsuitable cheeses such as mozzarella and American predominate.
Checking the menu beforehand and talking with the manager may help, but in the end, be prepared to bring your own food. Maybe they have an all beef burger, aged swiss cheese, and maybe you can get with a plain salad. If you are going to the Pub directly from the office, bring an insulated lunch pack to work with you with your Pub food. Suggestions: SCD crackers, slices of allowable cheese, meats, nut breads, a packet of plain almonds, etc. Some people eat beforehand and just being some almonds or sliced cheese with them.
Keep away from the bowls of roasted nuts or those mixed with little pretzels or cereal. Roasted nuts may be roasted in things that will be a problem. You are going there to have fun and have that fun but take your SCD program seriously.
Also, check the beverages menu beforehand because if it is featuring 40 kinds of beer plus soda, you may have to bring you own beverages too because other than plain seltzer and water there is nothing you can have. Get these drinks with a twist of lemon or lime and it looks like a drink. If you are with a group, the establishment will not particularly care that you are not ordering. If you go there regularly, chances are good that you can arrange something beforehand.
In some states, a Pub may not have a full liquor license and can only serve drink mixes with a lower alcohol content. This is a problem as these mixes have things we cannot have, especially sugar. For example, at a full bar, you can order a shot of vodka in a tall glass with ice, pour in your own can of permissible tomato juice and now you have a Bloody Mary. However, if the lower alcohol drink comes in a premixed bottle or can, you cannot be sure what is in that mixture.
You friends may make a joke or two about what you are doing but if you do not get upset and simply stand your ground, they will get used to it. Joke back at them or say you are on a modified Paleo Diet (this diet overlaps the SCD menu) and are working on building your athletic performance and stamina. Always keep the conversation away from illness or negative digestive issues. Change the subject as quickly as you can. Point to what is showing on the big screen TV's.
It is not a good idea to plan to just tough it out and go with nothing you can eat. Our brain sees others eating and wants to participate - normal social behavior. Also, especially in the first year of SCD, one can have frequent, random hunger attacks. Enjoy your friends but be prepared.
If this typical meeting of an organization held at a local restaurant with a lunch or dinner and a speaker to follow, look at the menu beforehand on line or in the announcement for the event. Call a few days before hand (at a non meal time) and talk to the catering manager about the fact that you have allergies and need plain food. Often they can arrange a special dish for you.
This is true even if it is a buffet. They can make up a plate for you. Restaurant managers will cater to and respect allergies.
If you have the typical office meeting in the conference room where there is a pot of coffee and someone brought in a box of donuts, come with a packet of almonds, a few slices of permissible cheese and/or a banana. You do not have to eat them, but you do not have to be stuck either. Again, it is not a good idea to have nothing with you that you can eat. Who knows how long the meeting will last.
If it is your turn to bring the snacks, bring slices of permissible cheese, sliced apples, chunks of pineapple or melon or some of your SCD cookies or nut bread. You will find that everyone will appreciate some better quality nibbles. They eat the donuts because they are the only thing there.
The Super Bowl Party
The American sports tradition that is probably the most ardently observed is the Super Bowl party. So as not to miss a moment of the game or the specially formulated commercials, the tradition is to not sit down to a formal dinner but having a series of snacks in front of the TV set instead. The party starts before the pre-game warm up and lasts well after the end of the game, creating an annual marathon of noshing on junk food, fast food, pub style food, finger food, Super Bowl cake and a wide variety of chips with dip.
For those on SCD, this event lasts way too long to just eat beforehand. There are several solutions.
Host the party as a pot luck. Have everyone bring their favorite Superbowl snacks. Then you make a few dishes for the group that you can also eat. You can adapt many popular football foods to be SCD compatible, make SCD crackers, breads, SCD nut flour cakes, meatball casseroles, etc. Set up a big "help yourself" buffet on a side table in the room with the TV, on the kitchen counter or in the dining room. Most probably, no one will even notice that you are not eating the food they brought.
The same is true if it is a potluck but not in your home. Contribute generously and all will eat heartily. SCD food is delicious. You will be considered a welcome guest that brings great food. You can also leave some back up emergency bananas in the car.
If it is not pot luck and you must go elsewhere, either ask beforehand if you can contribute or just bring you own and that may include beverages. Suggestions: permissible tomato juice, SCD permissible juices, your own tea bags, SCD home-made lemonade or ginger ale. See Beverages
You can bring any drink in an insulated personal container probably without comment as many people show up these days with their own carryout Starbucks, Dunkin or Peat's coffee mixture in hand. Bring extra of everything as the Super Bowl is a long party.
This technique is good for any gathering with friends to watch sports on TV.
Every family is different, different branches of a family are different because people are different. SCD tends to bring out who really cares about you and who has another agenda. From the point of view of SCD, informal family gatherings can be wonderful or awful experiences depending almost entirely on the attitudes of various family members, especially the one who is cooking the meal or preparing the snacks.
Some of us are lucky to have relatives or friends who really understand and care. We cherish the cooks who check with us beforehand about a recipe. "I am planning on making a fish stew. Is it okay if I cook the potatoes in the stew and you just do not eat them or should I make the potatoes separately and serve them as a side dish?"
Those who care are the ones who discuss the menu with you beforehand to make sure that there are some suitable foods and snacks available when you or your SCD child comes to visit and will not get upset if you want to bring your own food. They respect your special diet as a medical problem. They respect that SCD is important to you and do not push you or your child to eat what they prepared.
They respect you and they value your friendship and love. Beyond the diet, they are probably wonderful people with a good sense of perspective. Their focus is on the gathering and the pleasure of your company, which is more important to them that the food.
Then there are the others, those who cannot believe or will not believe that a special diet is important. They do not take your situation seriously. They look at SCD as if it is a weight loss diet - everyone is always on one and it is meant to be broken. "Oh, do not be so stuffy and uptight. Take a break. Just this once will not hurt."
They appear to be or actually are offended if you bring your own food. They take it as a sign of distrust. These disbelievers can totally undermine you serving something that they profess to be okay and then you find out, "But dear, I only put in a tiny bit of sugar to pick up the taste a bit." When you protest, they might even get defensive and ridicule you.
Whether they have faulty memories or are jealous or just plain careless, this type of behavior can quickly ruin a relationship. Do not get angry but firmly stand your ground. Maybe they did not respect you, but it is key that you respect you. Some always take a few back up bananas in the car, just in case. Bringing your own tea bags or little honey packets can make all the difference.
Some SCDieters take the following approach to family gatherings. I like to be the hostess. Then I know there will be things I can safely eat. Yes, it is work to do cooking, but then I can relax and enjoy the party. I get a kick of how my extended family enjoys what I cook for them. I love that they are always surprised that my dishes are delicious even though they are SCD compliant. I make the main dish and the desert, SCD compliant. For the others, I usually cook a starch like potatoes or rice and serve it on the side.
Since bacteria never sleep, there are no diet holidays on SCD. SCD must be observed 100% for 100% of the time.
Just as traditional as the annual holiday celebrations are the early January posts on BTVC-SCD list serve that go something like this, "Help. I had forgotten that I could be so sick. It is lasting for days and I do not know what to do. I have been on SCD for three years and it was all going so well, I figured I was healed and it was safe to give some of the party food a try. I ate the fill in the holiday dish filled with impermissible ingredients). I felt okay so the next day, I had some more (fill in holiday dish). Then wham! My symptoms all came back, worse than before and now I cannot seem to get them under control. Help!"
The only solution for there poor souls is to go back to the Intro broth protocol Getting Started and start all over again. It may take a long time because the easier to kill bacteria are gone and only the hard core were left. They have been fed and now they are multiplying, throwing off toxins and having a ball at your expense.
Plan for the holidays just as you would plan for any family gathering (see above), office party Working - SCD at the Office or travel on SCD. See Travel. Attend and enjoy. Be prepared and you will have truly happy holidays. Your January post can be about how well you managed the holidays with SCD.