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How to Eat Out When You Have IBS-D

Although simply avoiding the temptation of cheeseburgers, ice cream, and other IBS-trigger foods seems like a no-brainer, people with IBS sometimes get lulled into the magic of a party or an evening out at your family's favorite restaurant and feel like the stomach gods simply won’t let them have an attack.

But the stress and excitement can also put your body on high alert, actually making you more susceptible to an attack.

Here are some steps you can take at restaurant shindigs to avoid goading your guts into turning on you:

  • Consult your safe food list as a reminder of the reality of your current safe food choices. If you haven’t compiled a safe food list yet, do so. A food list is a great way to remind yourself of which foods work for you and which ones you’ve already challenged and dismissed from your diet.

    Because IBS triggers vary so widely from person to person, there isn't a one-size-fits-all crib sheet of foods to avoid. Making your own is entirely worthwhile and in fact could be a huge key to staying in the attack-free zone.

  • Pick a restaurant that has a lot of variety on the menu. The more variety a menu offers, the more likely you are to find something that works for you. Plus, many restaurants these days are more conscious of the healthy choices their customers are making and have adjusted their menus to reflect that.

  • Review restaurant menus online. This way, you can have some idea ahead of time of what food choices seem safer than others. When searching for a new restaurant, always be conscious of words like creamy, crispy (may mean fried), and rich in the menu descriptions; these terms mean to lure in folks craving a decadent treat, but they may serve as a trigger warning to you.

  • Call the restaurant ahead of time and ask whether the chef can prepare specific ingredients in a safer way for you. For example, many restaurants have items like chicken strips that they may be able to grill for you instead of breading and frying.

    Get the chef’s name and her permission to tell the waiter that she’s confirmed the kitchen can prepare your dish according to your request. Although chain restaurants often have staff trained to deal with special requests, smaller family-owned restaurants are also often happy to oblige when you make specific requests.

  • Write down what you plan to order and stick to that decision. Don’t be tempted by those visions of chicken fries dancing in your head when you see what all your friends are ordering. If you have to, close your eyes when the waiter wheels the dessert tray to your table. And don’t sample from your friends’ plates. Just because you didn’t order it doesn’t make it safe!

  • Order takeout to take a practice run with the food. Of course, the conditions and environment are different from a dinner out with friends, but at least you can test the food in the safety of your own dining room.

  • Let your companions know what’s up ahead of time. Sure, admitting to friends that you have IBS is embarrassing (although IBS affects about 20 percent of the population, so you may find that someone else in the group suffers too).

    But telling friends upfront that you have some stomach sensitivities and may be making special requests of the kitchen is less embarrassing than telling them through the wall of the washroom stall in the restaurant.

  • Don’t eat and drive! If being the group’s driver adds extra stress to your evening, meet your friends at the restaurant. That way, if a bathroom emergency comes up, you can make your apologies and leave rather than strand everybody else at the table while you take care of business.

  • Instead of BYOB, try BYOR (bring your own rice). Having a soluble-fiber side on hand can help you diffuse a less-than-ideal restaurant meal. If rice isn’t on the menu of the restaurant you’re visiting, call ahead and ask if you can BYOR because you have food sensitivities. Some kitchens will even heat it up for you.

  • Learn the art of substituting. As you get into a natural rhythm of eating for IBS and get used to your safe food list, you’ll discover uses for food that you didn’t think about before. Think about the job you need a food to do in your meal.

    For example, a bun typically holds a hamburger and fixings, but if you’re avoiding bread, then you need a substitute. So if you’re craving a burger, ask the restaurant to wrap it in romaine lettuce (if that’s on your safe food list) rather than a wheat bun.

    If lettuce isn’t on your list, ask for a burger without the bun and transfer it to a thin rice cake at your table. If that isn’t appealing, just eat your burger with a knife and fork.

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