Sympathy, not Snootery, Please

“Excuse me,” I asked the server at a private event at a posh Seattle restaurant, “Can you tell me what you have here at the buffet that’s gluten-free?”

“The vegan table is over there.” The server waved his pointing hand.

I walked away, furrowing my brow. Doesn’t he understand that vegan is not the same thing as gluten-free?

Afterward, I spoke with a friend who had worked for years as a server for a fancy restaurant, and she said basically, high end restaurants look down on their customers with dietary restrictions, because they think we deliberately choose to avoid delicious food in favor of unsavory alternatives, because we are, idunno, uncouth people who love to be miserable?

Well, yes, I have made a choice. I have made a choice to feel as well as I can, rather than feel sick, out of it, or tired all the time. I know there may be some people in this world who can continue eating deep fried stuff, spicy foods and alcohol up until the day of their death, but I am not likely to be one of them, unless those foods end up being the things that kill me.

Here are some of the choices I have had to make over the years:

  • A few years ago, I discovered that wheat (including the wheat in soy sauce) and barley malt both caused me to feel hungry, tired, and out of it. I prefer not to live my life like a starving zombie, so I avoid gluten containing foods as much as I can. I guess that makes me one of those gluten-avoiding bandwagon-jumping people everyone makes fun of now, eh?
  • When I was in my third trimester of pregnancy, I couldn’t eat deep fried foods without getting heartburn. If you have ever had heartburn, you know it sucks and Tums can only do so much. Luckily, this period of my life was brief and people are usually sympathetic to pregnant women. Unfortunately, deep fried foods in any quantity beyond a few french fries are still likely to make me sick (I’m unsure if its from cross-contamination with wheat, gallbladder issues or what), so visiting fairs and carnivals isn’t as much fun now that I have to pack my own food.
  • In recent years, alcohol has begun to not agree with me, especially sugary cocktails and white wine. I can handle a glass of red wine sometimes, but not always. I never quite know for sure if the wine is going to make me feel like a hungry crazy person, so generally I just avoid it. I guess that makes me one of those party pooper types.
  • Last month after a colonoscopy I learned I really am at risk for colon cancer. It’s no longer just a mythical maybe due to family history. So now, in addition to colonoscopies every three years, I have to be judicious about consuming foods and drinks known to increase the risk of colon cancer, like red meat, processed meat, and alcohol. If I choose to be smart and care about my health, that is.
  • The latest bit of news is that I’ve got bile sludge, which is painful and nausea-inducing for me. Fatty foods make it worse, spicy is scary, seeds are now the devil, and dairy products are super bad news for me at the moment. So trying to plan a night out to eat with my husband, I realized I was limited to…sushi. Which is fine, I like sushi, but there are so many awesome restaurants in Seattle and I am afraid to try most of them, because trying to find a restaurant that can serve me gluten-free, dairy-free, low-fat food is next to impossible. The alternative is to eat what I want, then feel like someone kicked me under the rib cage, and risk a trip to the ER if I get a fever along with the pain.

Having a limited diet is like being alone in a hot air balloon that is slowly lifting off into the air. As it gets higher, you can see all the people around you enjoying awesome foods and drinks you used to love, before you discovered how sick they were making you. It’s a very lonely feeling.

I would never have deliberately chosen to have a diet so different from that of the people around me. It is not fun to make a separate meal for myself when my husband and daughter are eating foods I used to like. It sucks to avoid events and activities because packing my own food can be such a hassle. I would never have chosen this for myself and I do not wish it on anyone. I do not enjoy feeling like some kind of diva when people look at me funny for packing my own food instead of eating what everyone else is eating. It saddens me to turn down your potluck item because it contains something I can’t have. However, the alternative…sickness and death…are truly not much of an alternative.

Have your own stories to share? Feel free to comment.

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3 thoughts on “Sympathy, not Snootery, Please

  1. Wow, you and I have reached a very similar place, dietwise. I can’t do any gluten at all. Given my genetics and since I already have several other autoimmune diseases, I suspect I may have celiac. I haven’t bothered with the test because why bother? I’m not going to eat something that makes me violently ill with exposure to even small amounts.

    I can eat a bit of dairy if I’m careful, but I don’t tolerate it very well any longer and several of my doctors have recommended I avoid it. Can’t do eggs either now, which breaks my heart. And I seem increasingly intolerant of spicy foods lately, too. My father’s family is cajun, and I grew up bonding over food and particularly loving spicy foods, so this feels like losing a part of my identity. So frustrating!

    It is difficult to eat out, although it’s easier here in Seattle than many other places. Most of the restaurants I’ve tried have at least made some effort to be accommodating, but many of them don’t really understand which items do and don’t have gluten or they’re just not set up to serve truly gluten-free options, and when you have more than one dietary restriction, it makes things that much harder for them. I don’t really hold it against them if they can’t accommodate, as long as they are polite about it. I don’t see any excuse for someone who’s rude and unresponse the way that one server was to you.

    I actually have a harder time with social gatherings, because friends or coworkers often don’t understand the way my diet has changed in recent years, and that it is for health reasons, not because I’m just being fussy. And who wants to bring down the mood at a social gathering trying to explain health challenges?

    If you want nice restaurants with high-quality foods that are respectful of dietary restrictions, try the Maria Hines restaurants. I’ve had really good luck at Tilth and Golden Beetle (haven’t tried Agrodolce).

  2. Thanks for your story. I’ve been allergic to dairy all my life but only avoiding dairy since my 20’s.

    Last November, we were watching “Wheat Belly” on PBS and wow! What a revelation! The symptoms he described fit me to a T!

    I became gluten free then and feel so much better! The main change I noticed was less nasal congestion!

    I’d like to commend the retreat center I just visited for their excellent menu! I went to a silent retreat sponsored by the Community of St. Mary convent at the Ayers Center for Spiritual Development in Sewanee, TN! I requested dairy and gluten free food and was pleasantly surprised! One night, we had the most delicious DF and GF veggie lasagna made without a recipe! She just put it together! What an angel! The butternut squash soup was also wonderful!

    • Thanks for your comment! I’m so glad you are feeling better on your new diet, and that the Ayers Center was willing and able to accommodate you. I’ve been afraid to visit the south for years ’cause I have heard it’s mostly deep friend and gluten-y stuff on most menus. I think as more and more people listen to their bodies and find a diet that works better for them, there will be more options for folks like us.

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