#903: “I have to be very strict about food just now. How to tell family/friends?”

Dear Captain Awkward,

All my adult life, I’ve been an adventurous eater. My partner and I love to cook and try new dishes. We invite people over for dinner parties a lot, and our friends and family love to reciprocate. We also really enjoy trying new restaurants with them.

Unfortunately, I recently underwent allergy testing to find the source of a mysterious rash, and it turns out that I have a delayed-action sensitivity to some of my favorite foods and some common food preservatives. This is probably the cause of the rash. My doctors told me to eliminate these foods and preservatives from my diet. (This gets even more complicated because they told me I can slowly, eventually start to re-introduce them one at a time to see if some of them cause worse problems than others, or if they are OK in small quantities but not large ones.)

I hope this wouldn’t be true of the folks who love me, but I know some people are really, really weird about strong food preferences and allergies. They often take it personally when someone can’t eat food they have prepared. I have even heard of situations where a host secretly feeds a person whatever they have claimed to be allergic to, so that they can feel superior if that person does not have a bad reaction. Of course I won’t have a bad reaction right away — I’ll just get a horrible rash the next morning! On top of this, eating food prepared outside of my own kitchen will now require me to ask really specific questions of the person who prepared it (did you prepare this with bleached or unbleached flour? did you use a mix?) that I am worried will come off as judgmental. Plus, what will people think when I’ve made a big deal to them about not being able to eat a certain food, and two months later they see me happily chowing down on it for lunch the break room, as I re-introduce it to my diet? (This is especially concerning in cases where the person is a casual acquaintance or co-worker — good friends will get updates about all this stuff from me as it happens.)

What should I do? Send out a mass email? Inform people on a case-by-case basis? And how do I make myself feel better about suddenly having to be so careful about my diet?


Reluctantly Picky

(P.S. “She/her” pronouns are fine.)

Dear Reluctantly Picky:

I hope you and your doctor get to the bottom of things quickly!

In your shoes, I think I would:

a) Start bringing my own food to eating-type events as a matter of routine so there is always something I can safely eat. If that thing can be shared, so much the better.

b) Tell hosts of eating-type-events what’s going on on a case-by-case basis. Opt out of some eating-type events in favor of non-eating events, like, “Don’t count on me for dinner, but I will totally meet you for the play.”

c) Focus on the short-term and not worry about the re-introduction phase right now.

d) Be honest feelings, i.e., “This sucks but it’s what I need to do right now.” 

e) Be extremely sparing about the details. Make them boring. If you don’t tell people what you’re eliminating, you can avoid some of the “But I thought…” in the re-introduction phase.

f) Remember that anyone who is pushy and weird about this is breaking the social contract, not you.

How this works in script form:

Host: “Hi, we’re having a party on Friday, can you come?”

You: “That sounds great. Just so you know, my doctor has me on a very strict diet right now as we get to the bottom of some issues. I don’t want it to be weird when I bring my own food.”

Host: “OMG, if you want to tell me what you can eat, I can make sure to have that on hand!”

You: “I appreciate that! That list is very long and very boring and I’d just prefer to bring my own food to be on the safe side. See you Friday!”

Host: “Are you SURE you can’t tell me/that you must bring your own food/that we can’t accommodate you?”

You: “Very sure, thanks! Looking forward to seeing you, though.”

That should get you through the next few months, at least? Readers, what say you?

Moderator Note:  Health/diet/medical recommendations in the comments to this post are not being evaluated for soundness – I literally can’t keep up. Use caution before following a rec for any medical treatment or diet you read here.



262 thoughts on “#903: “I have to be very strict about food just now. How to tell family/friends?”

  1. Captain’s comments are probably the easiest way to handle it. I too, am in this situation now, for another medical reason, but still. Doctors are beginning to realize that what we eat affects our health in many ways, and I think in the future, many more people will be adjusting their diet like this. And there will always be tactless people around to tell us that our doctors are nuts. I just smile, say something like, “so, you don’t agree with my doctor, huh?” and change the subject. And walk away if they persist.

    1. I’ve taken to asking people when they got the PhD if they’re really annoying about health/diet stuff.

  2. I love to host dinners and I have a good friend who is frequently adjusting her food elimination to try to deal with all kinds of allergies and chronic illnesses. I have a general idea what they are, but before I host dinner, I always ask her for her current food list, and then let her know what she can eat and not eat of what I’ve prepared. I realize that doesn’t like the LW, but I find it’s a good way to approach these things as a host. No need to worry about what she has eaten in the past, or may eat in the future–just look at her current NO list and make plans based on that.

  3. My SIL is in the same boat! She prepared a one-page summary of what she can’t eat with a potted explanation:

    *Some people get immediate anaphylactic shock and carry Epi-Pens, others get a delayed reaction and suffer for days;
    *She has the second kind;
    *There may be hope for a more expanded diet, so if you see her trying a bite of something after you tell her it has an allergen in it, don’t freak;
    *Please let’s do potluck family events from now on.

    She always volunteered to bring a hot dish or a hearty salad that she knew was safe. After a long period of zero intake of all allergens, her doctor had her slowly phase in a few of them, so now eating safely is easier for her.

  4. Or you can offer a couple of simple recipes that work for the current situation. “IF you really want to cook for me, a Caprese salad, steamed broccoli or a frittata with the following 3 vegetables would be great.”

    1. Am still on a low-FODMAP diet and I generally just tell people “there’s a long boring list of things I can’t eat/can’t eat much of; the big ones are gluten and lactose, but I’ll bring something I can eat and you don’t have to worry about it.”

      If someone insists, you might find a stock explanation you like (“my doctor and I are working to nail down the source of my health issues right now so I have to be extra careful at the moment about eating things outside my own kitchen, but thank you for offering”) – but you don’t owe that to anyone.

      LW, I feel you. I used to be a very adventurous eater, and was raised in a family in which the cardinal sin is Causing A Fuss or attracting attention to yourself because of special needs or sensitivities, so adjusting to being The Person With The Dietary Restrictions has been rough. I’ve found that downplaying it to others who don’t need to know (“it’s a long list but I can usually find something to eat, and it’s made me feel so much better”) and focusing on how many things I can/do still eat and enjoy have both helped.

      If/when it comes time to reintroduce certain foods into your diet, and you’re with someone who’s confused, you could have a casual explanation ready (“Hurray! I’m allowed to eat ____ again! I missed it!”) to make the situation easier for you. Sometimes whe I’m fretting about what an eating companion might think, I feel better if I just bring it up. But again, you don’t owe anyone that explanation.

      1. Yeah, that first paragraph is basically what I do – usually it comes up in the context of eating out, so I don’t have food with me, but I’ll say I need to check the menu, say ‘ok, I can definitely eat X, so don’t worry about me’ and then Things Go Back To Normal (ish).

        1. X is usually chips. “Which restaurant shall we go to?” “I don’t care, I’ll just be ordering chips anyway ;D ” is a very common conversation.

          But then we get the evil cafes that decide to fry their chips in batter. WHY.

          1. I so feel your pain. I have very mild allergies to wheat and corn – I’m fine with chips that have been in the same fryer as battered things, but not with chips that have batter on them WHYYYYY.

  5. I think it really depends on the specific food stuff one can eat. If there are some easily available things you can eat, I’d tell hosts that would be options if they want to make something for you. But bringing food is probably easier for all involved.

    It seems that food allergies are more and more common (or more things turn out to be caused by food). So telling your friends/hosts that you have some food related problems and you are in the process of finding out the specific food that causes it might trigger lots of “oh, my friend can’t eat X/ only eats Y/ uses this very specific diet and it helped them loads/made everything worse”. This means you might get a lot of sympathy but it might also mean that you are talking a lot more about what you eat /don’t eat and general food related illnesses than you want. Proceed with caution, but telling them you are on a diet where you slowly re-introduce food you have no problems with will probably get you more sympathy than strange looks or remarks.

  6. BT! DT! Did not get most of my eliminated foods back. Like the LW, I have delayed reactions rather than immediate anaphylaxis, but certain foods cause me a week’s worth of issues. To be completely honest, when I first got my elimination diet, I just didn’t do food-related events for a while. My elimination diet was open-ended (as in “start this, and we’ll decide together (me and my doctor) when you seem to be recovered enough to try re-introduction”) and lasted about 6 months, and it took another few months to do reintros (and I never finished them. I have three foods I avoid just because I never got around to testing them).

    I would say that until you’re really comfortable with what your elimination diet means, either don’t attend food-centric events or bring your own food. It’s your health, and only you have to live in the body that gets that rash. Don’t let other people make you feel guilty about it. Avoid the people who try to make you feel guilty about it. Elimination diets are a pain, and screwing them up means they last longer.

    IF some of these issues become permanent, you’ll adapt to handling them in social situations. People who know you will adapt. People who don’t know you might think you’re weird (like the people in a Meetup group who got really cranky at me for dropping out of meetups they moved to restaurants where I couldn’t eat anything on the menu), but do you really want to hang out with them?

    Other people’s food hangups are on them, not you. I’m sorry you’re going through this. It’s not fun. But then, neither is being sick. Once you know what you can’t eat, it’s just a new template for being adventurous.

  7. This is the most relevant-to-my-life question I think I’ve ever seen anywhere.

    LW, I feel for you. As a fellow adventurous eater who developed several delayed-action allergies and sensitivities in my early twenties, I feel you so hard. Here are a few things I have done.
    1) I tell people that I will bring my own food because of allergies, and if they ask about preparing food for me, I tell them not to bother. If they are insistent (I come from a culture where feeding people equals love much of the time) I refer them to The Spreadsheet.
    2) I created The Spreadsheet. It’s a Google Doc that outlines what I’m allergic to and lists brands/foods that I CAN eat. This was created for my own convenience when grocery shopping, but after being asked so many times what I could eat I just made it available to friends and family. I recommend making something similar, at least for yourself, because grocery shopping becomes so much longer and harder when you have to read the boxes and cans every time.
    3) I keep foods on hand in my house that are easy to eat, require little to no preparation, and are allergen free. This is surprisingly difficult in my case, but necessary. Otherwise I end up eating things that aren’t good for me if I’m too hungry to prepare a meal. I also periodically go on witch hunts, going through all the food in my pantry/fridge/freezer and donating things that have sneaked into my house (it happens weirdly often) to friends/family/the food shelf.

    1. The spreadsheet seems really smart. If you have a smartphone, you can use the google drive app, and then you can carry it with you when you shop, and can add additional items that you find!

      1. Sometimes when I have time to kill I go around to product websites to read labels and add them to the sheet. Everybody needs a hobby, right?

    2. I have a friend who also has a version of The Spreadsheet. We’re part of a religious community with a strong culture of shared meals and potlucks and hosting one another, so the first time you share a meal with this friend and will be doing any part of the cooking, said friend shares The Spreadsheet with you. She (and her husband) keep it fully up-to-date, so each time you eat with her going forward, you can just check The Spreadsheet and all is well. This became especially important over the past two years or so – pregnancy and breast feeding changed her dietary restrictions yet again!

      OP, something like The Spreadsheet might not be viable until your dietary options have settled a little, once you’ve reached your reintroduction phase, but I know that in my food-centric community, it’s considered a great thing. We’d all prefer to be able to feed our friend safely and cook around her dietary needs!

    3. I love that you have a spreadsheet. I wish that was a common thing, because lord knows I have screwed up food for other people who had to be picky so many times because I don’t really know or get say, all the secret words that mean “animal product” or whatever.

      1. Yes, it can be surprisingly difficult to keep track of where ingredients are “hiding” if its not a diet you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about yourself! I am generally pretty good at accommodating dietary restrictions, but I will always remember the time that I made a dish especially for a vegan friend… only to realize too late that the sauce I’d mixed with the stir fry was made with a little store-brand cane sugar, which was incompatible with her diet. (I did not at the time realize that some vegans do not eat most commercial cane sugar.) And it was a one dish meal so she really couldn’t just eat sides. Oops.

        Fortunately she was very nice about it and we found her something else to eat, but it really brought home to me how careful you have to be.

        1. oh I found out about this recently! american sugar is refined using charred bones! it sounds creepy but I guess I use bone china, so it’s just what you’re used to

          1. Yeah, and complicating matters further, not all sugar, either! Beet sugar isn’t refined with bone char, and some cane sugar brands aren’t either. So it wasn’t even “she can’t have sugar” or even “she can’t have refined granulated sugar.” It was “she can’t have most commercial white or brown cane sugars, but X and Y and Z brands would be okay, and beet sugar would be okay, and most semi-refined sugars (like turbinado) are okay.” And here I was, not even knowing that a lot of commercial cane sugars were refined with bone char.

            I had a similar “wait, I never would have guessed” moment when I found out that some kinds of beer are filtered with isinglass, aka fish swim bladders, including my beloved Guinness. And a lot of wines are processed using filtering with animal proteins (often things like egg white, or gelatin, or, again, isinglass). And some fruit juices have their colors enhanced with cochineal, which is derived from, I think, a kind of beetle. And so on and so on. Many of my vegan friends draw the line somewhere that allows them to get a bottle of commercial cranapple juice in a pinch even though it might have some animal products in it, or will eat mushrooms in red wine reduction without checking the bottle to see if the red wine was refined with animal proteins, but this particular friend wouldn’t (which is a decision that I certainly respect), so it was a real education in how often we use animal products in things that you might not guess. I mean, I would not have thought twice about offering her cranberry juice or a glass of white wine, and yet.

            (On the plus side, I now know a LOT more about the production of a variety of foods….)

      2. I hope there is no Jewish hell, because if so, I accidentally damned a conservative friend of mine when I made a jambalaya with chicken sausage…which turned out to have pork casing. I didn’t read that until I was putting the unused sausage away after dinner.

        1. There isn’t! I’m far from an expert on Judaism, but from what a Jewish friend has told me there’s a “heaven” and then there’s a sort of “purgatory” where all the sinners go… but they’ll only be there for a short time (a year I think? Or something like that?), after which everyone gets into “heaven” on an even footing.

          Thus, you have an abrahamic religion whose followers have to come up with a better reason for behaving morally than “I GUESS, but only because I’ll burn in hell for eternity if I DON’T”. And, it also has a less manipulative recruitment strategy than “join/stay with us, just in case doing otherwise leads to eternal torture”.


          I know this is a bit OT and I’ll totally understand if it gets deleted, I’m just learning all sorts of very cool things about Jewish theology lately and keen to share them with strangers on the internet ❤

        2. Conveniently for your friend, if they didn’t know about the error, it’s on your shoulders, not theirs anyway. (From a Jewish legal perspective.) ANd if you’re sorry about it and won’t do it again, you’re likely okay too.

        3. Also, we (Jews) kind of don’t have hell. Like, opinions vary, but it’s not on the short list of things we think about / argue about. (The long list is a Very Long List indeed.)

        4. Also Judaism is very sensible about things you can’t help. If your friend had no reason to suspect the sausage wasn’t kosher, s/he is in no way culpable for having eaten it.

        5. Basically what everyone else said. There are a lot of different opinions about the afterlife in Judaism, some of which do include a kind of hell (but usually that hell is more equivalent to the Christian idea of purgatory than to what most people think of when they think of hell). However, even among the theologies that include this idea, none has a strict “eat a pork sausage -> go directly to hell” causal link. And in any case, if an observant Jew eats pork by mistake, it doesn’t count against them.

          Also, as Ms. Lemonade pointed out, for many Jews the afterlife is just not one of the things we think about very much. We tend to focus more on actions in this world.

          1. (You may notice, by the way, that I’ve done a lot of hedging in my comment, with all the “many”s and “lot”s and “usually”s. That’s deliberate – Jews are an incredibly diverse bunch in just about every way, including theologically, and I doubt you could come up with a single philosophical statement that every single Jew in the world would agree with.)

        6. I’m Jewish and I was told that anything a non-Jewish person cooks for a Jewish person is kosher if they have tried to make it kosher – even if they get it completely wrong. Even if they serve you pork or shellfish.

          Opinions vary, of course but that’s what I was taught.

    4. when you have to read the boxes and cans every time

      Unfortunately, listing things that are safe does not mean that you no longer need to do that. I’ve been stung several times by manufacturers changing the formula (but not the packaging), and food that used to be safe for me became unsafe. Sadly, I usually find out the next day when I start to itch…

      1. One of the many reasons that I have a strong preference for short ingredients lists, and ingredient labels printed large enough for me to read.

      2. This is definitely true! I do a periodic check to make sure the things on the list should still be there. My least favorite is when they change the formula and I can still eat it, but it doesn’t taste as good anymore. I always feel slightly cheated when that happens.

      3. Yes, we’ve been burned by stuff that was perfectly safe for celiac disease a month ago, but suddenly the manufacturer decided it needed more wheat flour!

        1. Ah yes. My friend recently had to cancel a dinner party she was hosting after she ate a re-formulated quinoa biscuit, sparking a digestive disaster she referred to as The Glutening

      4. Not to say this is a practical option for everyone, but this is part of why I went to making almost everything from scratch, especially when cooking for others (lots of people with various food issues [allergies, sensitivities, etc.]). If I take a meal to a potluck and I handpicked every single ingredient in the dish then I know it’s safe! (My favorite fail for this was one time when I was so exhausted that I forgot that the co-worker with the most restrictive dietary issues couldn’t do vinegar and went to put it in my recipe…. but then was so exhausted I ended up forgetting it altogether, so the co-worker could still eat it. Consistency in exhaustion for the win!)

        1. That gave me an idea… maybe the internet knows if it’s possible to make deodorant from scratch!

          At least with deodorants they usually have a “new improved formula!” sticker so I know it’s time to go hunting for alternate brands again… 😛

          And yeah, that One Last Ingredient issue… one time I made a whole meal safe for someone with soy allergies, and at the end… I put soy sauce on the beans. >.< thankfully it was just one of 3-4 dishes.

          1. Ugh yes, I’ve done that myself. Cooked for a coeliac friend, made sure that all surfaces and dishes had been thoroughly washed with new sponges and everything. Only to forget and accidentally add some flour to mixture to thicken it up, despite having already flagged that as a problem in the recipe earlier and making the mental note not to add it =_=

          2. I have friends who swear by coconut oil and baking soda with some essential oil for fragrance (though they also enjoy smelling of coconut, I am told). They keep it in the fridge so it doesn’t go liquidy if it gets hot.

          3. I have friends who use a mixture of coconut oil and baking soda, molded into an old deodorant tube and kept in the fridge. I think they add essentials oils for additional scent. Decent as long as you don’t mind smelling of coconut.

          4. Yes, you’ll find lots of recipes for DIY deodorant on the internet. From a variety of single-ingredient methods to complicated mixtures, ones the claim to be “chemical free” or “nontoxic” or otherwise allegedly better for you than mass-produced ones, odorless ones or ones that add odors the maker finds agreeable, all kinds.

            Antiperspirant, there are fewer options –the ingredients most commonly objected to are the ones that encourage the pores to close and reduce sweating, so there’s kind of an antperspirant-free-antiperspirant catch-22.

            Since the funky-used-human smell comes from bacteria reproducing in warm oily/moist body areas, my favorite no-problem-ingredients deodorant is regular cleansing with any cleanser that doesn’t cause me difficulty, and thorough drying. In hot/humid weather or when I’m sweating a lot, a quick wipedown with baby wipes or paper towels, and change out of sweaty clothes into clean dry ones, gets me through the time between baths/showers.

          5. Out of interest, on what grounds are you avoiding commercial deodorant?

            I ask because I’m a strict vegetarian. I was then asked to product test one of those smaller size compact cans. And along the way I found that gelatine is used as a stabiliser as part of the method to get the smaller cans to work. So I immediately withdrew from the test.

            However, if I’d just picked the can up in a supermarket, I’d never have known that the deodorant contained a non vegetarian ingredient. Makes me wonder what else I’m unwittingly using or eating.

            I’m particularly cross that my essential pain medication only comes in gelatinised capsules.

            (Also to whoever mentioned cochineal, it’s in far more things than just juice, particularly sweets, but it’s usually mentioned by its E number – E120).

      5. And then there are those fun manufacturers who mis-label their food products, or use up their old labels after an ingredient change, or accidentally print the pre-2007 labels, and so forth. I once triggered a food recall because the manufacturer listed shoyu sauce as an ingredient, but did not say that the product contained soy. Shoyu sauce = soy sauce. My friend caught it for me and saved me a stomach ache, so I then had the energy to send a scathing email to the manufacturer. They never responded directly to me, but did end up recalling the product since they were violating FDA rules.

        Long story short, don’t trust the food companies!

    5. I know someone who carries around a 3 ring binder to check, because she can’t have casein (a milk-related product). The spreadsheet sounds much easier. 🙂

    6. +1 on “The Spreadsheet” in Google Docs (or your favorite cloud storage), which is shareable with family and close members of Team You.

    7. The Spreadsheet is a great idea! There are some barcode scanning apps, but they are still unable to process allergy warnings like “may contain peanuts,” “processed in a facility that also processes peanuts,” etc. http://allergence.com/site/welcome is working with manufacturers for transparency on certain allergens, but I don’t know if it would be helpful for you or the letter writer.

    8. Huh. I buy a lot of produce and other raw goods so I actually don’t have a lot of ingredient reading to do. My allergy (dairy) is also one of the common ones that is labeled at the bottom. There are also brands and products that are specifically made dairy free. Sometimes the lactose free products are in the same area, so I’ve got to watch out for those, but otherwise it works well now.

  8. For now it’s temporary, but there may be things that end up being off the table. The Captain has great advice for temporary solutions, especially the part about how to handle the hostess. My daughter has a food allergy to an unusual ingredient, coconut. The problem is that two of the derivatives of it are being increasingly added to products. So, there is a pool of items she just doesn’t have unless she can read the package first. No one ever has the package, so she falls back on a simple statement, “I can’t have that.”. It seems to work on people. Maybe it’s because it’s “can’t” rather than “won’t”? Maybe it’s because we offer no further explanation of it that they can contest. I’m not sure, but I’m grateful. It’s so tricky with processed foods because companies change their formulas, and if you really must avoid a substance, that puts on a huge burden to always check the package every time. Luckily for us, we only have to contend with items that are usually sweets, but we still care about cross contamination in kitchens, such as when someone is serving coconut-crusted seafood or side dishes. It’s really hard to disentangle being social from eating, but eating separate food or eating apart from the outing is sometimes your only line of defense. Whatever you had to do to take care of yourself is worth it. The thing is, these people would do the same if it happened to them. They just have the luxury of not knowing that at this time.

    1. Oooh, that’s a tough one because so many people are cooking with coconut oil now. Good idea to give her such a simple script.

      1. We have never tried it, but she is able to eat things that contain palm oil. It’s the solids that set her off, and “palm kernel solids” are in every baking chip that isn’t pure chocolate–even carob.

        1. Take a look at Enjoy Life brand if you haven’t already! I just looked at the package of chips in my pantry and there don’t appear to be any palm kernel solids (plus they’re really good about stating potential cross -contact on the label)

    2. I feel for your daughter. I’m not, as far as I know, legitimately ALLERGIC to coconut, but I find it vile in most forms (Certain candles, car air fresheners and Hawaiian Tropic sun protection products stink of coconut and all make me want to gag) and often feel out-of-sorts after eating things with coconut in them. It can be really hard to explain that no, you won’t die, yes, you’re sure that the [food with coconut in it] is great but you’ll pass on it even though yes, you did eat a [food with coconut something in it] that didn’t make you die, all because “I do not want that [food], because I will spent the rest of the night feeling bloated, nauseated and slightly headachey” and “Well, I might get diarrhea if I eat that [food] or I might not, who knows?” and “No, I cannot go to [ethnic] restaurant with you, because the last dozen [ethnic] places I went to absolutely reeked of coconut when I walked in and I couldn’t deal” and “It all depends on the amount of coconut in there and how obvious it is when you eat it, because enough to be obvious is always enough to cause problems, but a little coconut oil used in preparation which is waaaaaaaay down on the list of ingredients may not bother me enough to fret about” are not exactly popular small talk topics.

      I vote that we stop grilling people about their food needs and preferences, because, frankly, even though “might die if my meal gets near [food]” obviously ranks higher in importance to “just don’t care for that [food] much,” it is none of our business WHY someone doesn’t want to eat a certain thing.

      If you say “no [food] for me, thanks,” that’s all the info I need. Sure, if you have a severe allergy rather than a mere distaste, then definitely emphasize “I will probably actually die if I eat this [food]” so I know not to ever serve you [food] in the future, but simply saying “no [food] for me” should, in an ideal situation, be enough info for everyone.

      1. I’ve learned that coconut can cause a lot of issues from topical products, but luckily we aren’t dealing with that–coconut derivatives are in most personal care products and finding alternatives is not easy or fun. It’s kind of insane. Her issues are that her lips and tongue will itch, turn red, and swell. It’s terrifying because it’s too close to the airway for comfort. Benadryl can reverse it, but our allergist has warned us that this can change without warning and she would need to use an EpiPen. So, avoidance is just really key to keep things from getting worse due to exposure. I honestly never knew this was a thing before, but I’ve since learned that it happens with tree nuts, too. I have utter respect now for any measures a person has to take to avoid allergens. I never want to make someone’s life harder for them than it already is.

        1. I have the exact same problem with almost all fresh fruits. I have a list of about 5 that I can eat. Just had to have the conversation today “Nope, sorry I’m allergic to watermelon. Yes, I know it’s mostly water. No, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m allergic…”

        2. I used to get a really bad reaction to rosemary – to the point that my husband couldn’t have a meal containing even a little rosemary, because we’d forget, and he’d invariably peck me on the lips at some point later that day.

          Having to restrict what other people eat (“or you can’t kiss me”) is tough. Luckily, my husband was very understanding about it.

          (for some reason, years later, I can now tolerate rosemary again, although I’m not fond of it.)

    3. I just want to second the magic of “can’t.” Casually mentioning to a family member that “I wish I could still eat ice cream but I can’t any more” seemed to finally get them to understand that my food needs aren’t a casual or arbitrary choice.

    4. I sympathize greatly with your daughter, Celeste. I’m also allergic to coconut – and you’re right, it’s very hard to find things that don’t have coconut in!

      Keep an eye on your bath and body products; I’ve been burnt by a few I forgot to read labels on because they had coconut.

      1. I feel like it’s getting worse all the time! It also turns out that her natural picky eating is a blessing–I really don’t have to worry about her wanting to try everything new. She also doesn’t have a sweet tooth, and that cuts out a lot labels to read. I predict she will get good at making her own food so she can always know what’s in it.

  9. I really strongly agree with what the Captain said.
    1) Bringing food you can eat is the best way to take care of you. If cross-contamination is an issue, do not feel like you have to share your food.
    1b) Generally your host will appreciate it. Even if they are perfectly willing, cooking for someone with allergies is stressful, and you taking it off of them will make everything better.
    1c) You actually know how to cook for your restrictions. The results of me accommodating allergy needs have occasionally been less than appetizing.
    2) Not oversharing, detailing your allergies (and then taking care of your own food) is, for better or worse (mostly worse), a great way to make some people more open to cooking for you and/or accepting your allergies are real.
    3) “It’s private”, “It’s complicated”, etc will be GREAT friends. Food allergies (all allergies, really) quickly become highly visible and people are curious/nosy/obnoxious. In this, any of the posts here about people being rude or obnoxious about disabilities, particularly less visible ones, may become useful.

    I wish you all the best with this! Restrictive food things are difficult, and I wish I had advice about feeling better about the restrictions. The only thing that doesn’t approach medical advice is to make this into adventurous eating.

    1. I’ll echo the cooking and bringing your own food. I have a friend (with allergies) who does this when we have get-togethers at my place, and frankly I’m grateful. I would love to cook for her, but I would feel AWFUL if I accidentally contaminated her dish, or cooked something wholly inedible for her while everyone else is happily noshing.

      It sounds like from your letter your friends are foodies like you, I’m sure they will understand. And you can introduce new dishes to the group!

  10. I think that what the Captain says is great – however with an eye to the holidays and possibly challenging relatives – I have a few suggestions.

    In addition to bringing your own food and offering to bring a large dish to share, if there are any ‘whole’ items that you can eat – like whole fruits – telling a host that if those are available you really like apples/pears/bananas/etc. that can be a way for a host to somewhat participate in feeding you. I’ve gone in and out of having food issues, and for my mom at least being able to feed me and have that inclusive in a holiday meal is always important for her. So something like putting out a large fruit arrangement that she could do for me helped address her issues of hosting.

    In general, I think that setting more firm boundaries is easier – because then it avoids having to ask “hey, this one item that you added to the fruit salad, is it XYZ?” However, if it’s a case of going to grandma’s for Thanksgiving or another situation where you know a relative will really want to push food on you, that has been helpful in my experience. If there’s one thing that’s relatively easy – like fruit or raw veggies – I find that a really pushy host will appreciate that.

  11. I totally agree with the Captain’s suggestions. I’ve been on an elimination diet for the last few months for overall health and weight loss reasons, but for the last month or so have been having ‘cheat’ meals where I eat whatever I want for a couple of meals a week. Early in the process I went on vacation with my family who are used to me being ‘Palliser who will eat literally anything’ and I was anxious about it for weeks beforehand. I went to the supermarket on the first day of the vacation and bought things I could eat for breakfast and lunch, and when we went to dinner I ordered mostly according to the diet. My mom was a bit weirded out, but it turned out that instead of negatively influencing each other’s food choices (‘Here, I brought you Swedish Fish!’), we all ended up eating a bit healthier than usual. You don’t mention anybody in particular you are worried about, so hopefully your experience will be equally positive. One other thing that helped was sometimes actively rolling my eyes at what I was doing so others couldn’t. To a possibly judgy acquaintance, I might say something like, ‘Man, all I want is a giant cupcake, this cleanse shake stuff is killing me’ and then keep on doing what I’m doing. If the person had further issues, I’d say, ‘Yeah, I know some cleanses are BS but I worked this plan out with my doctor so I feel pretty good about it’.

    I hope you figure out the allergies quickly, rashes are the worst!

    1. I’m big on the self-eye-rolling thing, too. I turn out to have a ridiculous number of food allergies of varying levels of importance and the line, “Yeah, it’s a PITA. On the other hand, I really like feeling great/not having joint pain/not itching/getting out of bed in the morning/breathing,” has been very helpful to me.

  12. I don’t know if this will help in the short term, but I can offer this:

    I have a friend who is both gluten- and lactose-intolerant, as well as not one to eat meat or chicken for ethical reasons. I’ve known her from 2009 when it was, “Ugh, my stomach is always in knots, wonder what’s up with that?”, to now when it’s all diagnosed and under control.

    One issue she ran into was folks being all, But how do you get enough protein?, What you’re a rabbit/fruit bat/tree hugger now?, etc. It was hard for her at first, but being the awesome chick she is, this is how she approached it:

    She assumes good intentions from every question regardless of its delivery, and never gets her back up. “Actually, I get plenty of protein from X, you’d be surprised!” “Not rabbit-like yet, but the restrictions are really helping me get healthy.” “My doc and I haven’t solved it all yet, so fruit for the win for now!” “Yeah it’s a challenge but hopefully brie is in my future again someday.” And the universal, “It’s working for me so far.”

    I guess my suggestion is, take it as it comes, concentrate on your health, and decide not to take random comments (if in fact you do get random comments) personally.

    I know it’s going to be hard (being a food lover myself) but it’ll all sort. Good luck and cheers to you for being proactive on your health!

    1. Oh, man, semi-off-topic, but can I just give sincere second-hand sympathy to your friend? I have issues with wheat (rash of doom) and meat (I’m pregnant again, and apparently meat while pregnant makes me throw up every time…) and gluten-free vegetarian food that is appetizing is super hard to find. Add lactose intolerance? There go, like, 1/2 of my major meal plans. Much, much sympathy.

      1. yeah – I was vegetarian and allergic to dairy, which I just rounded up to “vegan” because people grok that. When I developed a wheat intolerance as well, I had an emotional breakdown and decided I couldn’t handle the cognitive load. Now I eat paleo for the same reason I used to eat vegan: I know if something’s labelled paleo, it won’t have dairy or wheat, without having to put too much thought into it. I comfort myself with the fact that they tend to be grass-fed, free range animals but… well, maybe one day I’ll figure out a way to go back to vegetarian

      2. Yeah, it’s been hard for her – I mean, no bread, pasta or cheese? Like you, that’s a huge chunk of my (admittedly poor!) diet.

      3. I have a casein allergy, and Amy’s Rice Mac n Cheeze (rice flour Mac, fake cheese) is super comfort food for me.

    2. I think of myself as being pretty awesome too, and those concern-troll questions get my back up every. single. time. “What CAN you eat then?” people wail, on a consistent basis, as though they have forgotten how to imagine foods. “Other things.” Turn, walk away, continue my existence somewhere without those jerks. Especially from vague acquaintances (and I count most coworkers in this), this shit does not deserve a patient answer. They can get over themselves while I’m off doing things that aren’t detailing my food restrictions.

      (My favorite, though, was quite recently when a coworker asked me what I was allergic to. I didn’t feel like giving them the laundry list in the middle of the work event we were at, so I said lightly, “Oh, pretty much everything,” and they said, aghast, “Then what do you eat?” as though I had meant I was…literally…allergic to every food…um.)

      1. Ha! “Yes, Co-Worker, I exist much as tropical air plants do. It’s both a gift and a curse, what can you do?”

        I can totally see why the incessant questions would get your back up. I imagine, if anything, it gets OLD. My friend’s attitude is, “I have plenty of things to get upset about, and these clowns’ attitudes just aren’t going to be one of them.”

  13. Expect everyone ever to talk about any weird food-related thing that has happened to them. Also be prepared for some extremely insensitive comments, like “I’d die if I couldn’t eat (food you can’t eat)!”. (My response, in the flattest tone I can manage: No, you wouldn’t.)

    Some people will be happy to cook to your needs. What I’ve always found easiest is for people to say “I’m planning to make x, will that work?” rather than asking me what I can or can’t eat (it’s a long, complicated list). Whether or not you want to deal with that is up to you; bringing your own food is definitely an option. I have a friend who will meet up at restaurants but not eat, or only get a drink, because there’s nothing he can or will eat at most restaurants. I tend to get the same two or three things over and over again because of a combination of intolerances and pickiness.

    Some people will forget/ignore your needs no matter how often you tell them. I had a ‘friend’ forget about my worst food intolerance after like 5 years of eating almost weekly meals together (which showed me how invested he was in our so-called friendship).

    If you have to go to a work lunch or pot luck or something like that, make sure you have your own food. I usually bring my own lunch even if they’re supposedly going to order something separate for me, because special orders sometimes get messed up or aren’t full meals.

    Good luck, LW, I hope this all works out for you!

    1. Oh yes, definitely bring your own. Being angry about people messing up when you’re already hangry (hungry + angry) is really not the best way to enjoy a get-together.

  14. Disclaimer: my allergies are immediate, life-threatening, multiple, and pervasive to the point that I’ve developed rashes and wheezing out of nowhere only to discover someone was eating peanuts unbeknownst to me ten feet away. This means I do not do food-related events, I do not go to restaurants, I absolutely, **absolutely** never do potlucks, I am very careful with which coffee shops I go to and what I consume at the ones I do (if they use soy milk that means no lattes of any kind because the trace left on the steamer can and has put me in the ER), I read labels at the supermarket like a hawk not just for ingredients and “may contain” warnings but also country of origin, and I know which products can most absolutely never be trusted (e.g. olive oil and “vegetable oil”).

    My advice is to find things to do with your friends that don’t involve eating and to temporarily divorce food from recreation. It’s so pervasive in our society that having fun must include eating food someone else made; I do not know why it is but it’s awfully exclusionary to anyone for which this is a death sentence.

  15. Well this letter hit me right at home. My daughter has a chronic GI disease, my husband has multiple allergies and an esophagus that doesn’t always cooperate, and I’m developing mid-life food sensitivities for some unknown reason. The things one or more of us can’t eat include:

    any and all dairy products
    any meat that is not finely ground
    cooked tomatoes
    raw fruits and vegetables
    fibrous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
    whole or chopped nuts
    several other things but this list is already sad enough

    Meal planning is a TREAT at our house.

    LW, I would advise assuming that your friends and family love you enough to try to help you, not give you a hard time or, God forbid, poison you. If you feel comfortable telling them about your food sensitivities, go for it: “I’ve been having some problems lately related to what I eat and I’m trying to figure out the cause, so forgive me if I don’t try everything. It all looks amazing, though!” Normal people will try to help! They may be over-eager to help, so be prepared to be insistent that you just can’t eat Aunt Delma’s favorite chicken dish even if she tells you there’s no dairy in it because Aunt Delma may not realize that sour cream is, in fact, dairy. So is the cream of mushroom soup and half stick of butter in there.

    Restaurants are pretty easy: you don’t have to explain why you’re ordering plain fish and rice if you don’t want to, you can just say it’s what you feel like eating today. If you’re invited to someone’s home, it gets a little trickier. What works for us is: (1) tell the host that we have multiple food sensitivities and ask if we can bring a dish to share; (2) eat a snack ahead of time just in case; (3) politely, effusively compliment how great the food looks and smells and only eat what we can. If someone gets hurt because you don’t eat their Spicy Rashy Casserole of Doom, that is on them.

    Good luck figuring it out!!! We have gone through a lot of trial and error in our diets but I can attest to how great it feels to eat a meal and know in advance you won’t be doubled over crying later.

  16. Since FODMAPs became better known I think a lot of people take “I can’t eat that at the moment” in their stride. The re-introduction stage is tough. My granddaughter has just about finished testing everything and found a couple of weird combinations of things which were fine on their own. I don’t think she’s too worried about reactions from friends as she’s just started at university so all the people are new to her anyway.

  17. I am so sorry. Food allergies make life difficult. The more kinds you have, the more the difficulty multiplies, too, so I hope your doctor can narrow things down for you.
    The Captain has good scripts for dealing with people.
    Most food restrictions get slightly easier as you find more things that fit within the restrictions. I’m celiac, and finding safe, portable snacks that aren’t popcorn or potato or tortilla chips is always cause for celebration. I like to carry something with me that I know that I can eat, because sometimes that’s what I have that’s safe.
    I also love food, and I miss the days when I could eat anything (or, thought that I could).
    I find that it’s easier for me to eat at restaurants that are not chains. The servers tend to know more, and if they don’t know something it is easy to go ask the chef. The food tends to have fewer additives in non-chain restaurants as well. For example, a made in house ranch dressing will have spices and buttermilk and the chef will know what they put in it. A chain restaurant’s ranch dressing may be made with preservatives and stabilizers, such as modified food starch(my nemesis). Modified food starch is roulette for me; it could be tapioca or potato, or it could be wheat, depending on what is cheapest that manufacturing cycle. Who knows! If a restaurant is making the dressing in-house and uses a starch(rare, but, possible) they will almost certainly be able to tell you whether it’s potato starch or corn starch or what.
    Something I have learned since my celiac diagnosis is that most restaurants with food worth eating also have servers who are happy to help you! They are used to being asked questions. Ask your questions without fear, because this is a normal part of their job! If they don’t know exactly what is in something, going to ask the chef is very normal. Many, many places will put the relevant food allergy on the food ticket so that it does not get missed. I tend to be very loyal to the places that I like these days, and they really want my return business; they are invested in not making me sick, because one episode of being glutened will completely destroy my trust and they won’t see me again. I used to think that I would go back to a place and talk to them, but, it turns out that I prefer to just move on and that there are places that are tasty and also won’t gluten me.

    1. Oh, that depends! Chain restaurants often have an online allergy menu where they’ll list every menu item -including dressings – and each of the 8 major allergens it possesses (including wheat but not gluten.) There will be no or little variation from that no matter which location you’re at, and they’re more likely to have a corporate allergy policy for the kitchen as well as warnings for which allergens can’t be accommodated safely.
      Local places are more hit and miss – I’ve been to several that don’t know what gluten is or don’t realize that croutons shouldn’t go on a gf salad. (And don’t list them on the menu). But once I’ve found a safe chain, I’m pretty confident in its safety.

      Not so helpful if you’ve got a sneaky less common allergy, but very helpful for a common one.

    2. Me too, practically all the bad experiences I’ve had have been at chains. In my experience locally owned restaurants just seem to care more about training their staff. I even live in an area where eating a gluten free diet for whatever reason is very common and well understood and I’ve still had chains completely fail at feeding me.

      I do agree with Adventures with Rachel that chains are consistent, I just have to stress that if you have any dietary restrictions, you need to find a menu item that you can eat with absolutely NO modifications whatsoever. NONE. Learn from my mistakes, do not ask a chain to do anything even slightly out of the ordinary.

      1. It varies. The owner of a small café in Vancouver made me cry once by walking by and nastily commenting on how much of the salad that came with my main I’d eaten. (I had braces–my molars had been moving and that meal had been the first thing I’d had that wasn’t coffee, a soft cookie soaked in coffee, or cream of wheat in at least a month. I was so proud of myself for being able to eat even a little lettuce, and then she walked by and criticized me for wasting food.)

        Chain restaurants have never cared how much of my meal I’ve eaten. 🙂

        1. Holy crap, what a jerk! That’s a good point, sometimes all you want from someone is for them to not care about you at all. Come to think of it, that’s why I so strongly prefer cities to small towns – all I want from my neighbors is to be left alone.

  18. My extended social group has several people on team, “I can’t eat that”. It’s been a little rough for them, but we’re figuring it out, and now my seliac friend hosts a delightful thanksgiving where we all just go to her house and help her cook gluten-free food in her gluten-free kitchen. I think the Captain’s advice is solid and I would just echo that as hosts, we need to get over ourselves and take our guests’ word for it. They’re not eating “at us”, and if you don’t have the allergy, you *cannot* be as careful as someone who does. Show love by not offering them food they can’t eat and not making a fuss when they bring their own.

  19. I think there’s also space here for a difference between core people -the solidly team LW that are a big enough part of her life and will properly be helpful instead of more more – and less close acquaintances. Captain’s scripts are great for the second group. I love the idea presented of the spreadsheet for the first group. You don’t have to take the same approach for everyone.

    1. Agreed. When I was first start my restricted diet, I didn’t tell everyone the same way. My parents and grandmother got the full blown, “oh god why me this sucks, let me tell you allllllll the details” explanation. Siblings and in-laws got the “I know you love me and want me to be healthy, here’s some basic easy tips for feeding me” talk. Work people got “I’m sorry, I can’t eat pizza/Chinese/whatever with you, but I’m happy to just come along and order a drink non-explanation”. Once I realized I didn’t owe everyone and their dog the full, in depth discussion of My Food Issues, it took away a lot of the stress. Best of luck, having to give up food you love sucks big time.

    2. I was going to say the same thing; decide for yourself whether it’s going to be a bigger pain overall to just bring your own food and deal with whatever social/emotional fallout there may be, or to explain the intricacies of what you can and cannot eat at any given time.

      Also, even within your family or closest friends, don’t feel like you have to react the same to everyone. I’m sure you have an idea of who among your closest circle will be meticulous about following any guidelines you set forth, and who won’t. I have friends from a club I’m in who always bring their own food, except if I’m in charge of food, because they trust me to be diligent enough to not make them sick. (I worked at a camp and have seen almost any dietary restriction under the sun. Every year, we had a kid who was allergic to wheat, dairy, soy, and peanuts, and who also went through a vegetarian phase for a few of those years. Simple gluten-free is a piece of cake by comparison.) Everyone else in the club, not so much.

    3. Yes, my dad and my husband are the only people I trust to cook for me (more so my husband if only because out kitchen is allergen free wheras my dad keeps allergen nightmare powdered peanutbutter around). A lot of other family members and friends know the gist of my allergies enough that they will be able to reccomended restaurants. I’m lucky to live in an allergy friendly place (Portland), but I still keep it vague with more casual friends.

  20. In my experience with this kind of thing, the truth is that most people aren’t going to care–some people will be tools, but, especially if you are providing food for yourself/coming to the event after the fooding part is over/other things CA suggests, most people will just go, “Oh, okay,” and then forget about it. This is especially true if you’re pretty casual about it (which is, I think, a good tactic to take; people will take their cues from you as to how weird this is, and if you treat it as, eh, not so weird, most people will follow along).

    This has a good side and a bad side. The good side is that most people won’t make a huge deal out of it or make you feel like a freak about it, which is a definite plus in most cases. The bad side is that when I say “and then forget about it” I mean that some of them will literally forget about it, or at least forget the details. I have a lot of friends with various food allergies/intolerances/strong preferences, and I will be honest with you, I cannot always remember off the top of my head which one is the one who can’t eat gluten, which one is the one who can’t eat anything in the nightshade family, which is the one on the GAPS diet, who’s doing Whole30, etc. If I’m preparing a meal expressly for them, I obviously will just ask in advance, but in more casual situations it’s entirely possible that I’ll just not remember–I’m not living with the restriction on a daily basis, myself, so I do not have it as front-and-center in my mind. So if you tell someone (for example) “I can’t eat walnuts” and then they offer you walnut cake a month later, try not to read into it too much–unless you already know them to be jerks, chances are good that they just… well… forgot.

  21. Fwiw here’s my perspective as someone who loves to cook for others. I’m happy to be told upfront that a certain person has restrictions, and the captain’s script would work fine for me. I’d much rather be told up front rather than feel horrible about not having accommodated them. Eg, one Christmas, my dad was on a strange new diet. Obviously he had better things to do than tell me, but i was really glad when my sister told me a few days before so i could find a non home baked present for him.

    As for my own dietary restrictions, I’m vegetarian, which is not nearly as strict as the op’s, but offering to bring my own food is the easiest way to reduce the awkwardness about restrictions.

  22. “I’ve been a bit ill and my doctor has me on a very strict diet until (s)he’s figured out what’s wrong.”

    That gives people advanced warning that you’ll be reintroducing things at a later date and will hopefully stop people from debating what you can and can’t eat. “I have no idea if I’m allergic to that, guess my doctor will find out soon,” is surely hard to argue with.

  23. Excellent advice from the Captain, as always. My BFF has both a severe food allergy (the classic “I literally can’t eat anything made in the same factory that may also contain the allergen”) and severe social anxiety that has led her to say to me sadly that she would rather risk the anaphylactic shock and use of her horrendously expensive epi-pen rather than draw attention by admitting to her allergy and asking about the menu. The Captain’s script and Jenny Islander’s checklist are both things she can adapt and use without triggering her dread of confrontation.

  24. I have several friends with varying, and often conflicting, restrictions. I often get around it with potlucks with ingredient lists, and ask everyone to make sure to bring something they, themselves, can eat, and then I supply the main entree. This means that everyone has food they can eat and I am not overworked tried to make all the things be in or out. This probably won’t work with more causal acquaintances, but is an idea for close friends and family, regardless of how much details you tell them.
    Good luck, and glad you are figuring things out!

  25. I’m on a restricted diet for medical reasons that aren’t allergy-related (little or no refined carbs; no booze; no red meat; emphasis on veggies and lean protein) and probably will have to live with this diet for the rest of my life. Some people are understanding; some aren’t. After declining things politely like pie, alcohol, and cake, I’ve had people follow up my polite “no thank you” with comments like, “Oh, come on, live a little!” and “Everything in moderation – don’t be so strict!” I now bluntly say, “My doctor has insisted on these restrictions. I have to follow them to help ensure continued good health.” This statement usually stops the insistent individuals, but you would be amazed how some people still persist in trying to get me to consume something that’s on the “prohibited” list after I make this statement!

  26. Ooooh so much sympathy. Wheat (not gluten, just wheat) also gives me the Rash of Doom (oh, god, the ITCHING…) Which is to say: kinda the same boat. Much sympathy.

    1) Agreeing with The Captain’s scripts, insofar as potluck-style can help you avoid food-socializing entirely (that would have cut out most of my social life, so… if you’re in the same boat, that might help)
    2) If you’ve having to be strict, I hate to say this, but don’t trust people with good intentions. “Oh, this stir-fry is gluten-free” Spoiler alert: your soy sauce contains wheat, and now I’ve got the rash of doom for 3 days, ARGH. Bring. Your. Own. (If trace amounts aren’t a big deal, you might be able to get away with this).
    3) People forget. My food issues aren’t on top of anyone’s minds (similarly, I’ll remember that my mom can have pecans but not hazelnuts, but hell if I know what my colleague can’t eat). If you don’t make a fuss out of it in the ‘figuring things out’ process, no one will remember once you re-introduce the things that are not actually causing your issues. On the flip side, once you identify the issue-causing foods, fuss all you like. 😉
    4) You’re not required to have patience with people who roll their eyes and say stuff like ‘oh, another trendy diet’. An answer along the lines of ‘yeah, I like having my skin not peel off in the night, funny that. Thanks for your massive sympathy, dude’, in the most caustic tone you can manage, goes a long way.

    1. UGH soy sauce. A lot of people think if they didn’t put flour in something, it’s okay. We only wish that’s how it worked.

    2. Re: point 2–that’s why I buy my soy sauce at an Asian market. Although label reading is trickier.

  27. As someone who’s been the host in this scenario, I’d much rather have someone say “no, I’m on a funky diet, let me bring my own food or do a non-food thing” than go sixteen rounds about what they can and can’t eat, work really hard to fit the requirements, and then have them not eat it after all.

    I can’t judge what happened in my case, only the end result, which was that I felt really insulted and hurt that I had worked so hard to accommodate this person and been rejected in my efforts. If they’d said up front they couldn’t eat anything, I wouldn’t have felt so bad.

    So there’s at least some anecdata that the Captain’s strategy is a good one, and that “I’m on a funky diet, I’ll bring my own food” can be a politely accepted response.

    1. I hate it when people offer to cook for me for exactly this reason. I will totally cook for you, but if you cook for me the likelihood of you putting something I can’t eat in it is very high.

      I’m so good at eating past my allergies that I barely think about them anymore except when buying new ready-made stuff, eating at restaurants, or being cooked for. My boyfriend has given up shrimp, chicken, turkey, beans, bananas, and brassicas when at home in order to make home safer for me.

      And I have definitely had people cook things for me that sounded okay ahead of time and then toss them with things at the last minute that they always do but didn’t disclose or whatever. Or I’ll be like “…this sandwich has cole slaw” or “oh god they put radishes in, I just can’t explain one MORE time, I’ll just drink a glass of wine and go home”. I think that people often don’t understand the amount of emotional energy it takes to negotiate eating with even the well-meaning. If the choice is “explain, become overwhelmed, cry, feel awful for hours” or “drink a non committal glass of wine and leave”, I will leave every time.

      1. Yeah it’s a difficult place to be in. And so often you have to do the explaining when you’re just GODDAMN HUNGRY. In restraunrants friends will be like “Why don’t you send the food back if they made it wrong” but oftentimes I’ve just been to emotionally exhausted and hungry to do this kind of social interaction.

          1. THIS.

            *food finally arrives*
            *food is wrong*
            *stares vacantly and tries to decide whether to put head down in food or make the effort to lie down on table instead*
            *friend: just send it back!*

  28. My mum has had caviar/roe exactly twice in her life. First time, the rash stuck around for weeks. Second time, months. It’s not worth experimenting with a third time! It’s not too tough to avoid though, and I have profound sympathy, LW.

    My twopenn’orth: it might be, where you need to reference the medical advice you’ve been given, figuring out the most “legitimate” sounding title to give your doctor. I’m in the UK, and if I say “my GP”, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that that’s a *for real* medical professional (as opposed, potentially, to nutritionist, which has no minimum qualifications).

    All the best, good luck with the phrase “I’m having to be really careful right now”, and Jedi hugs!

  29. LW,

    Our experiences are *not* the same, but in terms of social awkwardness I can relate in some ways–I am vegan and I also strongly suspect I have Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, but have yet to seek out an official diagnosis. I’m sorry this is a pretty long ramble, but ever since I heard about that disorder, I’ve given a lot of thought to how much avoiding certain foods impacts my social anxiety. So, I have a lot of thoughts and feels on the topic.

    I don’t like giving people my list of food I can’t eat–it’s long and people forget what I’ve said, even if I give it to them in writing, and I strongly suspect that some people may have a narrative that I’m just a picky eater and that I could eat that stuff if I really wanted to but am choosing to inconvenience them. I hope that people will get that you have serious allergies and it’s not just a preference.

    What I do is I generally bring my own food if I suspect that I’m going to have a problem and I let the host know in advance.

    I also often eat beforehand and either hangout during dinner (and also let the host in advance) or just join after the meal.

    If I think I will be able to eat somewhere, I will *still* usually snack some beforehand and carry around protein bars in case I’ve assessed the situation incorrectly. It might be good to always carry around something easily portable and filling that fits your dietary requirements.

    Fixe prix menus and buffets through work type functions stress me out a lot, and I try to find out the menu well in advance–it sucks because if I’m at a conference somewhere, it’s really difficult to bring enough food to last me a week or so, and cooking or eating out are not always options. At this point I’ve resigned myself to just dedicating a lot of space in my luggage to food, or buying ready to eat food (fruits, nuts, protein bars, etc) when I get there (but that’s not always feasible in some locations either, so I don’t count on being able to do that). I’ve accepted that I’m probably going to have a boring diet for a lot of the trip and eat a lot of the same things over and over again. It sucks but I’m glad I started doing it because it does make travel *so* much less stressful.

    Regarding sharing food–it’s nice to bring enough to share, but that takes extra time and money to prepare more food. I think it’s completely reasonable to bring only enough for you to eat. Everyone else can (usually) eat everything else that’s there. You can only eat that food. On rare occasions someone has given me grief about it, and I just have to explain it that way. I also find it somewhat disheartening when people won’t try the ~weird~ vegan stuff I make and make a lot of comments about it, so that could also potentially be something to consider if you do decide to bring food for everyone–I think folks with certain food allergies probably suffer from the same perception that their food is weird.

    You may also get people saying “wow, you cut out x, y, and z out of your diet? That sounds so healthy! I wish I could do that, but I just like x, y, and z too much.” They may not get that it’s because of allergies rather than eating “clean” (whatever that means). It sucks because I know it’s not a choice for you and it shows that they don’t really get what you’re going through.

    Another issue that I’ve faced is people seemingly becoming frustrated (but they would never say it out loud) when they can’t find a restaurant that accommodates my diet and also accommodates what everyone else in the group wants to eat. At this point, I just tell people not to worry about my dietary restrictions. I’ve gotten good at figuring out how to modify menu items so that I can eat at most restaurants, but I suspect that’s not always going to be possible for your situation. I always look up the menu in advance and occasionally will call restaurants to see what they can do for me. Oftentimes, the restaurant staff aren’t actually sure what’s in the food. I still like going to restaurants with folks, but I do admit that it’s a little awkward to go to a restaurant and just get a drink or not even order anything at all. Thankfully, usually people tend to find “I’m full” a completely acceptable reason for not eating anything. (Generally, this is actually true–I don’t like lying but sometimes it’s just easier.)

    I wish you luck–I hope that the people in your life get used to your restrictions quickly. My apologies if some of my comments/advice are either things you’ve thought about a lot already or just completely not relevant to your situation. As I said, I know there’s some big differences between what you are going through and my situation.

    1. Oh god the work buffet/work lunch thing.

      For the last three work buffets the main has been chicken; for two of the three the veg main has had black beans. If I still reacted strongly to corn, at those two I would have been reduced to eating shredded cheese and salsa stirred together, off a spoon.

      When work orders in, they have for the last year only ordered in from a restaurant that has LITERALLY NOTHING I can eat. Everything they make has kale, soy, chicken, or beans in it. Most have 2-3 in combination. Literally every single thing. I’m not the only person in the office who doesn’t like their food (it all has quinoa in it, for starters, and several of my coworkers share my opinion that it tastes like potting soil and looks like insect larvae), but as far as I can tell I’m the only one who literally can’t eat anything. I had them make a special order for me once, and they shamed me over it and it still tasted like I was eating one of the office philodendrons pot and all.

  30. Anecdote!

    My sister went through a similar allergy elimination protocol and carried around her plain chicken breast and dry salad with her to eat at other people’s houses. She followed a similar line as the Captain’s scripts, with lots of “yes, it sucks, it sure does, thanks so much, but I’m so glad to be eating with you even though I had to bring my own food.”

    After the first time, most people never brought it up again, because it was “normal” for her.

    Man, people who “sneak” ingredients into guests’ food to “prove a point” are just flat-out exhibiting bad behavior.

    1. Re: “people who “sneak” ingredients into guests’ food to “prove a point” are just flat-out exhibiting bad behavior.”

      Yes. Possibly also criminal behavior, if their guest does get seriously ill or, goodness forbid, actually dies from anaphylactic shock.

      If your relationship with an acquaintance is such that you are skeptical about their particular dietary requests/taboos/needs/preferences, and think it would be cute to “catch them out” or embarrass them by sneaking a verboten food into their meal, PLEASE do that person a favor and leave them alone. AMIRITE? Geez.

    2. A friend of mine has a severe food intolerance to tinned food (it’s a chemical in the tin lining that causes her problems.) Eating tinned food causes her several days of very painful abdominal cramps, and significant diarrhea.

      She was staying with her Mother in law, and couldn’t work out why she was having such bad abdominal cramps and diarrhea until she found out her MIL was using tinned foods, despite having promised not to.

      When she confronted her MIL, her MIL said “Well, your food intolerances aren’t *real*, you’ve been eating tinned food the whole time you’ve been here, and you’ve been *absolutely fine*.”

      She was NOT happy, and she had very little esteem towards her MIL afterwards.

  31. “They often take it personally when someone can’t eat food they have prepared. I have even heard of situations where a host secretly feeds a person whatever they have claimed to be allergic to, so that they can feel superior if that person does not have a bad reaction.”

    I wouldn’t eat food these people have prepared. Please, be safe?

    1. I know, right?

      As someone with a lifelong food allergy, that terrifies me. Also, at least twice I’ve had a delayed reaction while exercising after eating a trigger food, so no one I was eating with would have witnessed anything, yet I still ended up in the ER.

      Plus, on principle people should get to decide what they will or won’t put into their own bodies and have others respect that, allergies or not.

      1. Yeah, my husband and son both have celiac. Son will have an almost-immediate reaction, but Husband will not have anything happen for a few days. Whereupon he will break out in itchy hives and we’ll usually have no idea what he ate by that point.

    2. Someone I know said something about planning to spike the punch at a party. Guess who is no longer invited to our house? Adding unexpected things to food isn’t funny or amusing in a household with allergies or food sensitivities.

      1. or really, anywhere. spiking the punch is not just obnoxious, it’s dangerous on all sort of levels, regardless of allergies.

      2. I know someone who is actually allergic to alcohol – like, she can’t even eat food with vanilla extract because there’s alcohol in it. People can be allergic to all sorts of things. Also, I think alcohol is gross and it shouldn’t be mixed with my medication.

        Yeah, I would be disinviting that person too.

        1. Seconded – I have a dear friend who is allergic to alcohol. Most of us (known him for years) are ‘whatever’ about it – no biggie, he doesn’t drink (obvs) and we don’t cook with it.

          But some folks are like, “That’s like being allergic to AIR how do you FUNCTION are you SURE?”

          Oy, screw that noise.

          1. Right? It’s like those people who say “oh my god, you can’t eat cheese? I’d LITERALLY DIE if I couldn’t eat cheese! I don’t care how sick it made me, I couldn’t give it up.” (You would learn to live without it. I did. Also, stop rubbing it in, jesus.)

    3. I’ve faced that issue (yeah, asshats, I was ‘fine’ because you couldn’T see that the skin under my shirt the next day was seeping and bleeding and itching so bad I scratched some of it off, it was ‘fine’, I am never interacting with you socially again by choice if this is how you respect boundaries wtf) and also people who just… don’t think (aka: “this is gluten-free” 2 hours later, the itching starts… “oh, oops, I used regular wheat-containing soy sauce!” ARGH)

      This is why sometimes it’s just preferable to bring your own food.

      To counter-balance that, you’re gonna have people who are AWESOME. Like, I’m super-sensitive to wheat, and Thanksgiving turkey is a no-go because the contamination from the stuffing basically guarantees Rash of Doom if I eat any meat. Last year, we went to my in-laws for Thanksgiving, and they had the big turkey in the big oven, and a little turkey leg on gluten-free stuffing in a borrowed toaster oven, just so that I’d have the full Thanksgiving food and not risk contamination. People like THAT? are amazing.

    4. I don’t know why people think this is an ok thing to do, ever.

      Best-case scenario: Person doesn’t react and is fine -> feel superior. Have still violated trust of friend and put them at risk of serious harm.
      That person could still react later and have their weekend ruined, but boy, at least some jerk gets to feel smug for 30 seconds or so at their expense.
      Worst-case scenario: Actually poison someone to death by triggering anaphylaxis.

      It is such a monumentally sh*tty thing to do to someone on so many levels. It’s not even well-intentioned or misguided, it’s just malicious.

      If I had “friends” like this, LW, I’d either call them out loudly when I see them doing that and make them stop taking risks with other people’s lives, or I’d seriously re-evaluate whether they are really the kind of people who are my friends.

      Loudly exclaiming (in front of everyone), “Oh, did you just put [Allergen] in that? You’d better check with [intended victim], I think they might be allergic!” gives the poisoner a chance to respond non-jerk-ishly, alerts their target to the presence of [Allergen] in their food, and reinforces the notion that one should always ask when preparing food that accommodates a diner with a restricted diet.

      If they are foolish enough to attempt this trick more than once, drawing attention to it will reveal the pattern and expose exactly how far they are willing to go to hurt someone to satisfy their own ego.

      1. Yep, I am acquainted with a person who likes to feed their omnivorous friends fake meat products without telling them ahead of time, to “prove” that vegetarianism is superior. As a person with a soy allergy, I will for sure never share a meal with them.

        1. Yeah. I have known people who do this, and it is inhumane. The kind of migraines I get from soy, most other fabaceae, and all brassicas are the sort my last doctor told me have a strong correlation with fatal stroke.

          And honestly, even non-fatal stroke is no fun. She advised doing my best to avoid triggers for those types of migraines.

        2. Yiiiiikes. It’s never good to sneak food to people, but that one seems especially likely to end badly, given how often fake meat products are made with common allergens (soy, gluten, nuts).

          (Also, as someone who is omnivorous but who has eaten quite a lot of fake meat due to living in a vegetarian house on campus, I’m really dubious it would even work. I like some fake meat–I love black bean burgers–but I think I’ve only twice eaten fake meat that I would have mistook for the real thing, and both were at extremely upscale Asian restaurants that made it by hand, fresh, order by order. Nothing with Morningstar Farms on the package is going to trick me. Which is obviously far less important than the allergy thing, but it makes the whole thing pointless in addition to stupid and dangerous.)

          1. Yes, I love black bean burgers! That is such a weird thing to do because I feel like most people who eat meat would probably still eat meat even if they liked non-meat things..I mean I like a lot of things that aren’t meat, but I still eat things that are…

        3. Ah, fake meat.
          Far, FAR more likely to have nuts and loads of gluten for texture.
          Pretty much poison for my roommate and myself, though I would only be puking my guts out for 3-6 hours, and she would need emergency care because of the nuts.

  32. “The short version is that my doctor has me phasing certain foods in and out. It’s pretty complicated, extremely boring, and constantly changing, so I’ll be bringing my own meals/asking really specific questions about ingredients for a while. Thanks for understanding.”

    ‘Hey, I thought you couldn’t eat that?’ “*Siiigh*, yeah it’s pretty complicated. I can hardly keep up with doctor’s constantly changing plan. I’m phasing things in and out. I’ll spare you the details.”

    “I certainly don’t expect you to keep track! I’ll let you know if/when things settle down and I have a solid list.”

    “I’m trying to figure out which things give me a rash the next morning so my diet is a little weird right now.”

  33. Dropping in to add my voice to the list of people who deal with this and it turns out okay!

    In our case, I have IBS and a long list of triggers for it. But that was actually pretty easy for me to adjust myself to, because one of my husbands is allergic to {drumroll} onion! Onion is onion, shallots are onions, chives are onions, “natural ingredients” might be onion, “spices” might include onion powder.

    Now, next time people with no food troubles are in the grocery store, look at the labels of everything and notice what does NOT have onion. Spaghetti sauce? Almost every variety has onion in it. Canned soup and soup mix? Even the clear broths have onion. I have not eaten Hamburger Helper or Rice-a-Roni since I started dating him. We had to eliminate that poor young person staple, Ramen Noodles,and all the cheap frozen pizzas, and a lot of the bread products, and anything taco-related. Sandwich meat often has onion involved in its preparation. Salad dressing! It’s a raspberry vinaigrette, why does it have onion?!

    Yet here we are, more than 20 years later, and though we make the chefs at Disney stare off into space in dismay sometimes, we live a full normal life with happy eating events. We _can_ eat at restaurants, we cook for each other, sometimes we have friends over or go to someone else’s dinner.

    If your friends are judging you when you eat, they’re not really friends, is what I’m very awkwardly saying; and real friends, who accept that you’re an adult making choices whose body works in its own way, will lose all interest in your eating habits beyond “hey, do you need my support on something?”.

    1. Oh… onion is a tough one. So much empathy for you and yours.

      Black/white pepper is mine (delayed reaction, and a very bad headache). “spices” and “natural flavorings” and “spice extract” are all different levels of risk. I wish companies would just list what they put in our food. 😦

    2. Onion is really tough! Your comment about the chefs of Disney made me laugh; I posted a list above of all the things various members of my family can’t eat, and recently while planning a small party for my daughter I worked with a catering chef who nearly cried at all the restrictions we had! (She pulled together a lovely party, though, and her food was delicious. And none of us died!)

      1. Oh hah, I read a post on tumblr where someone said they wanted to see one of those tv cooking contests where the people have to cook for a family of five where, like, one is vegan, one has celiac, one is a picky eater, and one is dairy intolerant, and THEN try and make something that everyone likes. Possibly with a budget, too. Give them a real (world) challenge for once.

    3. Ha, I’m actually really lucky in a way; my body decided it was going to refuse to like pretty much every food it turns out I’m majorly intolerant to (….plus there are a bunch I did actually like, alas). Onion was at the top of the list *shudders*.

      (in my case it’s a fun list. No red meat, lactose, wheat, fructose… basically the whole FODMAPs list there. But everyone’s so used to me being a weird picky eater that the issue was more explaining that no, there’s a REASON for it now, and I can’t just suck it up and ignore stuff, so my problem’s the opposite to the OP).

      1. Seconding that experience; another picky eater who (recently and apparently randomly) developed a bunch of sensitivities/intolerances with reactions ranging from “feeling noticeably icky for 4-12 hrs” to “spending 3-4 days praying for death.” Turns out to be a very good thing I’ve refused all attempts to convert me into a coffee/alcohol drinker, because both of those things would probably do me in.

        (I also have a fun list, which cut out about 75% of my already-limited diet. Gluten, dairy, yeast, soy, potatoes, corn, rice… which means I can’t even have most of the gluten-free versions of things I used to love, because the most common gluten/dairy substitutes are *also* on my list. When it comes to baking, I have become the Almond Wizard.)

  34. I love to cook, have lots of experience with special diets, and see cases like yours as a fun challenge. I’d be asking the details of what you can or can’t eat this week (but not the details on symptoms!) because of the enjoyment of seeing what I can create within the restrictions. I’d be showing you the ingredients on the side of a package to see what you think before putting any in. Here’s what works for me:
    1. Express regret. Oh, shoot, that looks wonderful. It kills me that I can’t try any.
    2. Compliment what you can eat. You left the sauce off the vegetables for me. You doll! Thank you. And they’re cooked perfectly! Couldn’t be better.
    3. Bring a dish, enough for everybody.
    4. Smaller dinner parties. Really, a lot of problems can be solved by just entertaining for a few people at a time. I (and I think most people) are okay with taking restrictions into account when it’s only 4 people. It gets tricky when you’re trying to keep track of vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, low fat, low salt, allergic to peanuts but not eggs, allergic to eggs but not peanuts, and kosher restrictions all at once.
    5. When there’s a change, say it. Y’know, at first I thought it was all dairy, but now it looks like I’m okay with small amounts of goat cheese.
    6. Enthusiastically talk up good products as you find them. There’s this great almond milk at the market on 7th Avenue.
    7. No to the mass email. I’d toss that and not even think of it when I was having you to dinner.

    In general, there’s a difference between the foodies who love food, love preparing it and love eating it and the people who see everything about food as an obligation to be gotten through. It sounds like you’re already doing well with finding the former group. I’ve heard stories of people who will poison someone with a forbidden food, but in my experience it’s rare. I mean, if you hate someone that much, why would you invite them to dinner? It’s easier just to cross them off the entertainment list. (Which means, if you do eat at someone’s house, and if you do wake up with that horrible rash, call your host and ask about it in a straightforward and genuinely puzzled way. I’m trying to figure out what I might have eaten that has x or y ingredient in it. Can you help?)

      1. Vegan marshmallow recipes = Fun! Thanks.

        I’ve read the rest of the comments now and would like to emphasize my own #4. There really are different rules for when a host is cooking for one food restricted person + 3 others and when the host is cooking for one food restricted person + 30 others (and who knows how many of those 30 also have varying food restrictions.) The mistakes, the motivations behind the so called mistakes, the planning, the amount of care given to reading package ingredients, it’s all different. And therefore the advice for how to be polite is different. If I’m going to a large party, I tend to say nothing about what I can or cannot eat, just eat ahead of time, and when I’m there, eat only what’s obviously okay. When I’m cooking for a large party, I tell the food restricted people that I’ll do my best but can make no guarantees. Really, it is a bit snowflakish to insist the hosts for large parties to go that far out of their way thinking about what the doctor said this week or that for one person. This is true no matter how justified the food restrictions are. All that’s different for a smaller group. In that case, you have to figure that if they like you enough to invite you over, they probably like you enough to make sure there’s something on the table you can eat– and to tell you the ingredients of everything else. For a small group, it’s not that big a deal.

  35. It drives me bonkers that people can be so rude and have such little empathy as to berate people for their dietary choices and/or requirements. Fortunately, any reasonable person and most not completely reasonable people should be placated with the scripts and advice The Captain gave, but if somebody insists on being a dick, I would treat the blatant rude behavior like any other talked about on this blog. A long awkward silence, a “Wow…[subject change]” or even something like “Trust me. Not getting to eat [insert discussed food here] is not my first choice either.” I’ve had friends and family with specific dietary needs/restrictions, and it’s not that big a deal, unless you wanna be a jerk and make it a big deal. Good luck, LW! I hope you start feeling better and can integrate your very favorite things back into you diet. As a fellow adventurous eater, I am keeping you in my foodie thoughts! ❤

  36. Letting people know in advance that you’ll bring your own food is useful if you’re going that route. Then they know to cook for fewer people, and will hopefully feel less bad if you don’t eat what they’ve prepared (this is cultural and may vary for your area. Just not going to food related things can be a good alternative approach, if there is no way to avoid offending someone). If they object to you bringing your own food, then you know in advance that you shouldn’t go, because they’ll be offended/you might be pressured into eating something that gives you a rash.

    Some stuff you can do if eating the same food with others is important to your sense of connection to them:
    – focus on being the host/cook for awhile. If you are close to someone and they want to host, ask if you can help in the kitchen/buy the ingredients and bring them over, because you’re going through some food related testing right now, and purchasing ingredients you can eat is really complex right now. If always being host makes some friends feel awkward, see if they would plan social outings that do not involve food, or would be willing to help in your kitchen.
    – If a host wants to feed you, in advance come up with something really really simple that other people can have on hand that you CAN eat. Can you eat fruit? Or, steamed vegetables? Sometimes it helps if you can give something that is currently fine to eat and you would like, rather than a long list of things that are currently not fine.

    I might be spoiled by being in a very engineer/tech culture. Its not unheard of for someone to say that they’re on a temporary diet at their doctor’s recommendation, and it is expected to change over time as they figure things out.

    1. Having a go-to “This is safe” meal is very helpful, as is offering to bring something you know you can eat. I have a friend whose food allergies are myriad and Not Fun. She always offers to either host or bring the main when there’s food to be had – usually a safely-cooked meat of some stripe. Then everyone can bring their own bread/veggies/etc. and she’s still assured that she can get her safe sloppy joe or shredded chicken on GF bread.

      I felt terrible the first time I hosted her – I made sure to check every single thing for gluten/soy/dairy. I cleaned everything, and set out separate utensils for the allergen food. But, I forgot she was also allergic to corn, and so had nothing but tea and water for her to drink. (Damn you HFCS!) But she was gracious about having tea, and now I remember to check for corn too.

  37. Allergic is not picky.

    When I was a child, my grandmother labeled me “picky” which she felt gave her leave to sneak things into my food she knew I wasn’t supposed to eat. After she put me in the hospital with anaphylactic shock three (3) times (and btw, that can happen hours later) I wasn’t allowed to visit without one of my parents.

    Don’t let people label you picky. If anybody sneaks food they know you can’t have into your meal, that’s assault.

    1. Ah, yes. Allergic is NOT picky.
      A friend’s grandma used to put ground up walnuts into food cooked at her place for family events. She would sneak it in. Several people in the family were allergic to nuts.
      This happened MORE THAN ONE YEAR IN A ROW!
      The EMTs said, “Hey, weren’t we here last year?” Yes. Yes, you were.

      (The gma was not nice, and any veneer of civilization had been lost when the dementia started. However, really, gma was not in charge of shopping anymore because the doctor said no driving, so, why were there nuts available for gma to sneak into the food? Why were there nuts the NEXT YEAR!?!?! My roommate has a nut allergy. If I want nuts I can get them elsewhere and I don’t bring them home. This is not a major deprivation for me. Just. I listened to this story and…just…what!?!)

    2. It took three times – THREE times — of you going to the hospital with anaphylactic shock, for your parents to do something about the situation!?!??!?

    3. It 100% IS assault! I’m appalled, frankly, that you had to suffer not once but three times before other adults intervened on your behalf. Poor younger Elder Dog.

      Know what, though? I’m actually not opposed to letting people be picky if they need or want to be. As long as there isn’t a malnutrition issue pending, and we all know that little kids with food pickiness have been known to survive a steady diet of mostly PBJs, potatoes and chicken nuggets for months on end. Maybe leaving kids alone and letting them eat or not how and what and when, just as their bodies direct, is a good idea? If the pediatrician says they’re thriving on a steady diet of dry Cheerios, string cheese and carrot sticks, that’s excellent. One less battle royale or decision to make per day.

      I personally have some texture-related issues with food that means I can eat certain foods prepared one way, but will be grossed out another way (e.g., raw or juiced tomatoes, which = nasty, versus cooked tomatoes, especially on pizzas or in sauces, which = tasty). I don’t make an issue of that, because I can always “eat around” textures I find gag-inducing. (I only found out recently that I am not the only person on the planet with this issue, and that other grown adults also struggle with seemingly illogical texture-related squeamishness like this where, say, warm raw oranges are gross and squirty but cold orange juice without a lot of pulp in it is delicious.)

      I try to be as unobtrusive about my dietary quirks as possible, because I’m not going to actually die or go to the hospital if I eat something I find gross, or which my system has difficulty processing (at worst, I may stare at the back of my bathroom door longer than anyone should in a single day or need to go lie down in a dark room with an ice pack), but I’m also not going to choke coconut anything down “to be polite” because someone tries to shame me by calling me picky (which, because I hang with polite adults, I have not heard since I was a child).

      1. I have texture issues and flavor issues. Cooked veggies are a big one for me, almost all cooked veggies have awful taste AND texture, but I like many raw veggies (which is unusual for a picky eater, actually). The worst thing this ever meant was that we always had to order a cheese or pepperoni pizza for me, because I couldn’t eat pizza-with-other-stuff that everyone else wanted (and since everyone else could also eat my pizza, I never saw a problem). And if I eat stew or something that includes some cooked veggies in a way that the flavor doesn’t bother me, there will be some stuff left in my bowl because of the texture issues.

        I’m pretty open about my dietary issues. I don’t expect other people to remember them (except that I can’t have dairy and don’t drink alcohol, those should be pretty easy to remember) but I like for people I eat with to know that I’m picky, so they’re more likely to consider asking if I’ll like something rather than just assuming. It’s the assuming that makes things difficult.

        1. almost all cooked veggies have awful taste AND texture, but I like many raw veggies (which is unusual for a picky eater, actually)

          I’m that way – for me, it turned out that it was because of fructose, which is affected by cooking (often INCREASED >.<) and my body just Noped out of most of the worst foods early on (raw tomato + capsicum? great. Cooked? I would rather starve – this meant Special Pizzas With No Sauce for years 😀 ). But all I could figure out was that the texture made me gag.

      2. Tangent: one thing to consider when little kids are picky is what the state of their teeth is. One of my kids started refusing a lot of stuff not because she really disliked it, but because she couldn’t chew it — her bite was too messed up. Orthodontia helped a lot. She was still particular about her food — that’s a personality trait — but there were many things she was enthusiastic about eating as well as things she hated. For instance, once she could chew again she loved apples as well as applesauce.

      3. another texture-sensitive person here. 🙂 I’ve always assumed it was part of my aspergers – most of my senses start at 11 on a *good* day. :/

        I was the opposite way about tomatoes – I couldn’t stand them cooked. That didn’t change until I was living in china – we couldn’t eat raw veggies at all, and eventually my body was so desperate I developed a craving for the cooked tomatoes that came with our eggs. I still have no idea what nutrient I needed from them, but I sure as hell needed it, and by the time I left china the texture didn’t bother me at all any more. 🙂

        I wish my other sensitivities could permanently change like that. sometimes it feels like a constant struggle just to keep them low enough to not spiral out of control. 😦

    4. Ugh. I’m technically not allergic, but I am/was super sensitive to the taste of a bunch of foods and especially to chilli. My dad decided I was just being difficult and used to cook with stuff then lie when I said ‘this tastes like X, is X in it?’ (he now gets super offended when I bring that up because he would NEVER do such a thing *eyeroll*)

      1. I am flat on my back for two days, minimum, whenever I consume Lawry’s season salt. Because my sensitivity is so specific, and not an allergy per se (it just, somehow, convinces my immune system that I AM THE ENEMY and makes me look like I am smuggling grapefruits in my elbows), and because it reminds people of the widely-regarded-as psychosomatic MSG sensitivity, people greet this with disbelief and “test” it. Fortunately, I have kind of learned to recognize the gleam that my helper monkeys get when they are planning a delicious intervention-and-unveil, and because the reaction is so spectacular, I can call the last person who tried it and have her say, “No. No, dude, please don’t. NOT pretty.” (But that I should have to! GAH.I want to run around and bop the hlepy foodsneakers on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper, on behalf of all of you.)

        If there is a prepackaged food that looks vaguely medical, I have found that carrying it around is a neat little circumvention. When I was a vegetarian, for instance, people found it deeply offensive that I wouldn’t eat their charred, once-living animals on moral grounds, but pull out a Slim-Fast, and I am just a lovely girl trying to be lovelier for her family. This is deeply fucked-up on so many levels, but sometimes easier than fighting the world.

        1. How many people do you know that are actively trying to poison you?! This makes me worry on your behalf, and want to find you nicer friends. (Also I kind of wonder if perhaps you’re a medieval king or queen embroiled in some major political mayhem, and perhaps want to find a serf to taste all your food?)

        2. I’m not sure this is good advice, but I do have a very specific threat.

          Cheese (not dairy, cheese) gives me stomach cramps, eventually leading to severe diarrhea for 6-12 hours and occasionally vomiting.

          My then-SO’s roommate wouldn’t stop telling me it was psychosomatic, and I was afraid he was going to try to sneak it in, and this fighting culminated in me yelling “Roommate, if you call it psychosomatic one more time, I will order a goddamned large cheese pizza, lock myself in your bedroom for 24 hours, and let nature take its course on your bed.”

          Food sensetivities that end in spewing = emergency biological weapon against allergy-policing assholes.

        3. I have a brand specific threat as well–Oregon Chai. Now I love chai and will often order it at coffee shops but I have to ask them what brand they use (it helps that it comes in a bright purple container). The baristas don’t mind checking but are usually very confused. “What brand? Um, the brand we have?/the brand they give us? *shuffles things behind counter and holds up container* It comes in this?”

  38. And if/when people offer you food, try “can’t sorry, doctor’s orders. Looks great though!”

    Nothing needs to be said about allergies. People who pry can be redirected with comments about how boring your health issues are.

  39. I have had success with the ‘at the moment I am on a very specific diet for medical reasons’ approach in the past, when I was having IVF and didn’t want to tell the world (and was on a very high protein diet in preparation). Really, you don’t need to get into how weird people can be about allergies; you can just leave it at ‘my doctor says I need to follow this diet at the moment’ and you should be good.

  40. Honestly, from personal experience with lactose, fructose and histamine intolerance people have been much better about it than I might have thought. Friends as well as coworkers (especially coworkers, weirdly) have said little to object to. It’s “easy” for me though because I usually don’t have to bother asking for the ingredients because I won’t be able to eat it anyway 😛
    If some obnoxious answer keeps coming up (there might be repeated offenders amongst your acquaintenances) it’s definitely worth it to come up with a stock reply.

    Asking for ingredients can be a tough one, for me it has been more of a problem when ordering food though. Bakeries and restaurants have been shit about this (the making a face variety – I swear I’m not sugar intolerant AT you *eyeroll*), but some have been totally fine.

    In general: Bring your own food if you’re not sure you’ll get fed otherwise, don’t disclose if you’re not comfortable and it’s not necessary and be prepared to give it time.
    The last part is about your food journey, not this question in particular. From where you’re now it can only get better because you’ve figured out the reason for your health issues which will lead to better health. And though I cannot promise, elimination diets usually mean you’ll get to add more things to your diet again.

  41. I have a variety of food allergies and reactions (they all have long and boring medical explanations! and, oh hey, long and boring medical treatments given by actual doctors!) ranging from “anaphylaxis” down through “entire fucking SKIN will feel eaten by fire ants for a WEEK” and on to “throwing up” and “stomach hurting a bit.” I keep a spreadsheet, but in reality, there are about five people I trust to cook for me (my mother + four good friends!) and aside from that, it’s things where I can read the ingredients or that are an ingredient (baby carrots). I bring food frequently, under the umbrella of “I’m allergic to anything, could I bring a hearty salad?”

    I think everyone else has talked quite a lot about the logistics. About how to feel better about it… I wanted to add that I *still* have FEEEELINGS about all this and it’s been years. It affects travel plans, grocery cost, everything. My process to feel better was more or less 1) wallow in it sucking for a while, because it really sucks and 2) indulge periodically in chocolate/ whatever equivalent delicious treat was available. There is a side of 3) politely ignore all the ridiculous things people suggest as causes (GMOs! air pollution! preservatives!) or cures (echinacea! chelation! veganism!) and I’m still working on the ‘politely’ part.

  42. One thing I’ve noticed is that some people get SO OFFENDED when you ask if there’s a certain ingredient in something. I used to not be able to eat any nuts but peanuts (and then I had a full battery of testing done and surprise, I’m only allergic to Brazil nuts), and for some reason, a ten-year-old asking a grown adult if the brownies she made had nuts in them was the height of rudeness. Sorry I don’t want to die gasping on the floor, Carol.

    Some things I do, because I not only am allergic to Brazil nuts, but also have IBS (which won’t kill me, but does cause all sorts of weird intestinal issues):
    * Bring my own food.
    * Eat beforehand in any situation where I can get away with it.
    * Make light of it (e.g. “That looks delicious but I’d rather not spend the rest of this party in the bathroom, hahahaha”) (only works in certain company)
    * Accept that no one reads the label on anything, and turning down food is always better than dying of anaphylaxis.
    * Saying that oh but for this dastardly condition you *totally would* eat their food seems to mollify at least some people.

    At this point, my close friends know about my weird food issues and know better than to ask why I’m picking out all the broccoli from my stir fry or turning down the French onion soup. Acquaintances don’t need to know.

    1. I feel like “Sorry I don’t want to die gasping on the floor, Carol” is a great multi-purpose comeback line for any number of situations.

    2. I have resorted to VERY SWEETLY saying that [if I eat that thing you are pushing at me] “It would rush to the exits.” It definitely ends the argument.

  43. These are all great comments, and I’m glad the methods mentioned here work for you. I myself have found that the best thing is to just not attend, or to say I can’t make it for – the social food portion — but will be happy to come by later, if that works. The reason is that I don’t like to explain anything to anyone who doesn’t have a good grip on the science of what my problem is, and nobody does, it’s complicated. Also if people have seen me eat something that I now am rejecting (politely) then the side-eye comes out, the idea being that I’m just being fussy, or making things up, or being “special,” or what-have-you.

    Finally, nowadays, there are so many people about with medically or self-diagnosed intolerances etc. (correctly or otherwise) that there’s a bit fatigue in others about hearing this stuff. Recently, a waiter up here in Canada brought a customer a dish that had an allergen in it, despite the customer’s stated directions, maybe because the waiter had “had enough” of hearing what he thought might be the fluffy preferences of special snowflakes. I don’t know but I ain’t taking the chance.

    So I stay home or go to restaurants I know are ok. I’m also quick to make cheerful suggestions about where we all might go out for dinner — get my prefs in early, if I know the food there would be popular with many people.

    1. That “allergy fatigue” excuse makes no sense to me. Who WANTS the kind of scrutiny that disclosing allergies and intolerances bring?
      It’s like saying that women who bring harassment charges are “doing it for the attention” or some shit.
      No, actually, very few people seek out that kind of attention. Certainly not enough of them to make discounting all disclosures make any kind of sense.

      People are just assholes in an extremely abeleist way (I’m counting “able to eat mainstream food”; willing to be corrected if a better term is preferred)

      end rant

      1. “Who WANTS the kind of scrutiny that disclosing allergies and intolerances bring?”

        This! I’m lucky enough to have very mild allergies and it’s still *exhausting* to have to ask what on the menu I can actually eat and worry about whether the server and kitchen will actually get it right and if I’ll look like a jerk who is being difficult for the sake of being difficult if I have to send it back and UGH. I wish restaurants would just put the ingredients on the menu.

      2. I don’t know, but look at the gluten-free and paleo food trends for an example.

        The Fat Nutritionist had a great tweet series about this – the incredible able-bodied privilege inherent in doing medically indicated diets for no medical reason.

        But of course all that is tangential to the main point that nobody else can judge if something is medically legit or not, jeez. It is best to believe people.

  44. People will want to accommodate you. That’s kindness. Unless you’re in on preparation, they probably won’t succeed.

    I also have an extremely limited diet, and I always feel very guilty when someone tells me that they made something special just for me and substituted [thing they know I can’t have] with [thing they didn’t know I can’t have]. Or they baked everything together but kept the part for me to the side. Or used a non- dedicated toaster. Or I just watched them move the serving spoon from one dish to another. Even worse, I’ve seen other people (unwittingly, I’m sure) sabotage. My mom made a salad and a smaller version safe for me. The host took both dishes and combined them.

    The bring your own food advice is good.

    People will ask so many questions, but you don’t owe them answers. Sometimes they mean well but will still say really insensitive things like, “but do you really need to bring your epi-pen everywhere?” Sometimes I want to ask if they have a HIPPA release.

    1. Indeed. Our wedding caterer advertised a lot of their dishes as gluten free so we let them know that we had several people with celiac attending and we’d need those GF dishes to stay that way. Somebody goofed, though, and those guests with celiac (my best friend and her dad) got sick. Thankfully they don’t have severe celiac. But I felt like shit about it.

  45. I have had severe food allergies my whole life, and I have tried everything to make it not awkward. Ultilmately, a few things:

    1. It’s going to be kind of awkward. Food is social, and sharing food is social. Imposing limits on that can be awkward, and trying to find a way to make it 100% totally not awkward is not your goal. Your goal is to find a way to hang out, have fun, and not get sick because it is WAY MORE AWKWARD to get sick. Hi, I’m the girl who ended up in the ER after kissing a guy at a party. That was awkward.

    2. Second that if people make you feel like your allergies are some sort of affectation or a larger inconvenience for them than for you, they are 100% being the jerks and you have my permission to not worry one little bit about managing their feelings about your thing.

    3. Bringing food is a good option, but that just solves Having Something, Anything to Eat. This is really more about you wondering how to navigate your potential grief and annoyance at making a lifestyle change that is non-optional but inconvenient and somewhat stigmatized. Let yourself feel a little bad about this sucking. It sucks. I’ve been at it since I was 2, but – sometimes it’s not about the food and more about the suck. Having someone to talk to about the suck, who understands and won’t judge, is helpful.

    4. If you get sick after eating with friends and you suspect they modified your food in such a way that it caused an issue, you have learned valuable information about why that person is not your friend and probably shouldn’t be anyone’s friend because they are out there poisoning people out of an ableist sense of superiority. Ew.

    Practical suggestions:

    1. You’re probably re-learning how to cook, right? HOST more under the guise of, “I’ve been trying some great new recipes and want to share them with YOU!”. I love hosting because I get maximum control over what’s prepared and how. If you think they’ll be the types to bring something, assure them you don’t need anything. If they persist, suggest something you do need but may not be food related or something you can definitely eat (cups! centerpieces! bug spray! sangria! a game!).

    2. Eat out and CALL AHEAD. Speak to a manager, and see who will be working that night. It may take a couple of tries to find a place that’s receptive to your needs, but when you find them, wow they are GEMS. Review when you’ll get there, what you’ll order, what if any modifications you might make, who the server will be. The spiel will be shorter, maybe even non-existent once you arrive and the more you go to your core places, the less the fuss will be because they know you.

    3. If people want to pay back your hosting generosity by hosting you, suggest non-food activities for the group or follow Cap’s suggestions re: being vague and bringing your own stuff. Then eat before you get there, maybe bring a little something for yourself to share, and busy yourself with serving, helping clean up, socializing, etc. The less said about what’s on your plate, the better. People love someone helpful, and that is not a weird thing to do.

    4. Develop a non-food hobby so you have a place that’s social and a break from all that. Join a running group, make a regular trivia date, etc. If your social life 100% revolves around food, you’ll feel this loss so much more acutely.

  46. As someone who also went through this about three years ago (I’m allergic to corn, anything derived from corn, anything that touches packaging made form corn, etc. This is absolutely AWESOME when you live in America), I completely sympathize. My allergy is so widespread and weird that it’s far easier, and safer, for me to make my own food. Always and forever. People really want to make things for me, but it’s very hard to get them to understand, for example, that I can have butter, but there is only one brand of butter in this area that I can eat, and only one TYPE of that brand. Things like that, which seem very random from the outside.

    Anyway, the Captain’s suggestions are all very good. You may have to pull the broken record for a while, “I am on a very strict diet and I cannot deviate from it,” “I appreciate you looking out for me but I’ve got it, thanks,” or whatever your preference is. Perhaps host a dinner party and cook things you can eat? Or if there’s someone you really trust, “I can show you the list of what I can and cannot eat, and maybe let’s get together on X day and I can show you how I’m having to cook nowadays!” Some people do get weird about it for whatever reason, but it’s YOUR health that’s on the line. If they can’t get over that, that’s their problem.

    At work I was always known as the person who ate up whatever goodies clients brought us…up until the day I had an anaphylactic reaction while standing in the clinic with a coworker and two of my bosses standing ten feet away from me. So in a way, I got lucky in that people at work saw that happen, and have seen my Epi-pens that I now carry. They know I’m not just faking it, or just doing it to be annoying, or whatever.
    I did also go through a food elimination and trial diet like you’re doing, and the best way I found to deal with that was by being upfront about it with those who would be around me to see it. “My doctor wants to see if I’m allergic to anything else, so I’m on a super strict diet for the next month, and I’ll be adding things back in gradually after that as long as they don’t give me trouble.” I didn’t get much flak for that, just curiosity as to where I was at in the trial!

    As far as feeling better about yourself…it takes time. And it comes in waves. Like, I discovered my allergy in December, and while it was obnoxious to have to relearn how to feed myself over the course of that year, I luckily have my mom who has the same allergy (thanks for the faulty genes, mom!), so that made the transition much easier for me. However, when the next Halloween rolled around…I admit I got extremely depressed. It’s one of my favorite holidays, and I do love candy, and it really sucked that I couldn’t have any candy. Lately, I’ve been mopey that I can’t go out and get a coffee at the local shops and I really want a coffee, so now as soon as I stop moping I need to go out and buy my own coffee maker and coffee.
    The best way I found to deal with it is to find ways to make things you like. I’ve found a way to make caramel that’s safe for me, which is amazing to me. I’ve learned how to stretch my own mozzarella. Let’s see what this sunchoke tastes like. How about these mushrooms? I’ve learned so many styles of cooking, and found great recipes for corn-free, gluten-free brownies that everyone at work LOVED, and discovered that I enjoy herbs and hey maybe I should turn one of my flower beds into an herb garden next year… Stuff like that. Be kind to yourself, but don’t be afraid to have a good cry fest about not being able to eat your favorite food the way you used to eat it every now and then. 🙂

  47. LW, I went through this awhile ago. It is helpful to label it as an Elimination Diet, or even a Medical Elimination Diet. Because you eliminate everything and then slowly add things back in. Logical! I find that more people responded to that positively, especially if you talk about the ‘medical’ aspect. Depending on your social group, it may be also helpful to describe it as a ‘cleanse.’ I shudder a little bit at that word because I am anti-woo, but I have some friends who are very pro-woo and they were more supportive when they framed it in their mind as me going through a ‘cleanse.’

    It was tough, but worth it. I found out what my issue was. I wasn’t able to eat out for over three months, but like I said – ultimately worth it.

    Best of luck!

  48. LW, I went through this awhile ago. It is helpful to label it as an Elimination Diet, or even a Medical Elimination Diet. Because you eliminate everything and then slowly add things back in. Logical! I find that more people responded to that positively, especially if you talk about the ‘medical’ aspect. Depending on your social group, it may be also helpful to describe it as a ‘cleanse.’ I shudder a little bit at that word because I am anti-woo, but I have some friends who are very pro-woo and they were more supportive when they framed it in their mind as me going through a ‘cleanse.’

    It was tough, but worth it. I found out what my issue was. I wasn’t able to eat out for over three months, but like I said – ultimately worth it.

    Best of luck!

  49. Long time reader, first time commenter. LW, I do not have allergies, but as a vegetarian, I feel your pain. I think the Captain’s scripts are excellent, but I do think you are right to expect some weirdness around food. I have experienced this not with acquaintances or friends, but from my family (though it’s probably more of a cultural thing with them.) They haven’t let up on jokes, teasing, or interrogating in 4 years! But I think with allergies, even if you want to preserve your privacy, you can (as the Cap suggested) explain briefly and matter-of-faculty and ignore the weirdness. After all, you have a reason that can be politely explained and only impolitely ignored.

  50. speaking from the other side of the equation, it can be an enormous relief when people with strict dietary requirements bring their own food. Even amongst my small group of friends there are multiple food intolerances and catering for everyone means either cooking something incredibly bland, or cooking multiple dishes. Sometimes my depression puts me in the position where hosting a meal for friends is good and I can cook something quite tasty, but the brain work of shopping and cooking to meet multiple different needs is beyond me.

    1. Yes, this. And when you’re not living with a particular set of dietary restrictions 24/7, it can be surprisingly easy to genuinely forget stuff like “most soy sauce contains wheat!”–or even to be outright ignorant. I mentioned upthread my experience of not having realized that some vegans don’t eat most brands of cane sugar; I have also had the experience of feeding a friend who had a severe allergy to anything containing corn. And while I certainly knew enough to check labels for things like corn syrup, there are SO MANY corn-derived stabilizers, preservatives, and dreaded “artificial and natural flavors,” often that don’t have the word corn anywhere in the name. He knew them all by heart, of course, but I had no idea; he mostly brought his own food because it was just too difficult for people to remember if anything in the soup had “caramel color” on the label.

      I love cooking for people, and I’m happy to accommodate a lot of requirements and preferences (it is easy enough to make a vegetarian meal, or to just… not make peanut curry for the person with the severe peanut allergy), but it was such a relief not to have to worry that if I forgot to thoroughly check what preservatives were in the broth for the soup I might kill him.

          1. I used to be able to buy vegan pesto, but I moved and now I can’t find it.

            Now I just grow basil and blend it myself.

          2. Yep! And sometimes walnuts or another tree nut, which are a common allergen as well. (The traditional recipe calls for pine nuts, which are a seed, but they are expensive so people substitute a lot.)

          3. I’ve found that a Mixed Herb blend (that’s the name ;P ) that makes a good subsitute: oregano, marjoram and sage.

  51. I have Type 1 diabetes which doesn’t mean what most people think it means. There’s no specific foods I “can’t” eat and low-sugar or low-carb doesn’t actually help. What does help is knowing exactly how much carbohydrate is in a serving of something which is hard information to get for any food that doesn’t come out of a package. And there are times when I can manage a bit more flexibility and times I can’t, depending on my blood sugar at the time, what I am doing later, and 140,000 other factors. So I may be OK with the brownie after dinner on a Saturday but not in the middle of a workday.

    Mostly I bring my own food.

    I tell people “it’s easier” on repeat. And “Thanks, but I can’t today.” Sometimes, “my endocrinologist will kill me” with a shrug and smile.

    When I can accept an offered treat at work or go out to eat, I do.

    Some people get it. Most don’t.

    There are a few quite close friends who will go above and beyond for me (such as giving me the recipe they used so I can calculate the carbohydrates.)

    I am also the above-and-beyond person for a friend who is gluten free, casein free, soy free, yeast free and a few other things free. We called it the “food free diet” at one point. When she is coming to visit, she e-mails me an updated yes/no list and a shopping list of safe brands. When in doubt I check with her before shopping/cooking.

  52. As an organizer, I’ve learned that I get many more people who feel safe disclosing their intolerances and aversions (in addition to the will-cause-major-medical-malfunction allergies) is by asking for “food requirements and preferences I should know about” — I always say that this will get you the person who would like to eat half a cow as raw as possible, but will also (hopefully) get you the person who just happens to hate bell peppers and can’t actually stomach anything they’ve touched.

    It’s also super frustrating to me when I tell someone that I shouldn’t eat X, but it’s okay if there’s X in the meal as long as it can be picked out, and then they bend over backwards to make sure that nothing has so much as touched X — and then they get startled and offended when I later mention eating a small amount of X. I communicated the level of problem the best way I knew how!

  53. A relative who eats with me frequently has a frequently changing list of what they can/can’t really handle this week/today, in terms of foods. It’s been going on for most of my life, if not longer, so I’m fairly used to it. Mostly I handle it by making sure that we have some things available for the most restrictive version of their food needs, then enjoy the greater freedom if they can eat more things than that. THe problem is- I don’t know how to teach your friends and relatives this attitude it took me quite a while (and I have my occasional lapses of silently thinking “what? you ca eat that? I made you an alternative to that!”. What can I say? I’m still learning.

  54. So many people don’t understand that food allergies don’t necessarily cause throat swelling or anaphylactic shock (which isn’t even the same thing). I’m allergic to lavender, which is getting way more common/trendy in foods lately, and many times when I’ve asked about lavender at restaurants the snotty waiter will say something like, “Well, don’t you have an epipen?” and I’m like, 1. it doesn’t work that way and 2. even if it did, an epipen just tides you over until the ambulance can arrive, and 3. it still doesn’t work that way.

    If I do end up eating lavender, it won’t kill me, but I’ll have a really bad day, and I’d rather not have a really bad day. And that should be enough, but for some people it isn’t. And I’ve been in situations where I notice that someone’s using something with lavender in it and I say, “Oh, okay, I’ll just avoid that food, but please don’t cross-contaminate it with other things” and then not 10 minutes later the person I talked to will cross-contaminate. And I say, “Hey, uh, that’s a problem” and they get mad at me for it, and it’s my responsibility to not get mad at them even though now I can’t actually eat the one thing that I was going to be able to.

    To make things even worse, if I tell people ahead of time, they won’t actually check, they’ll just go and use it anyway, and if I notice, they say, “Oh, it’s okay, I didn’t use that much” or “oh, really? I thought you were just being picky/didn’t like it, oh well!”

    Whenever I’m at a party, if I’ve made something that might be contaminated with gluten, and someone says they’re gluten-free, I always mention that while whatever I brought isn’t gluteny, it still might be cross-contaminated so if it’s a medical necessity they should avoid it. They’re generally grateful (although I need to come up with a way of phrasing it that doesn’t start to sound like “I don’t believe you”).

    1. I’d go on with what you’re saying, which lets them out of Big Complicated Boring Explanations! I have a wheat allergy (pollen food allergy!) and a tiny bit of wheat contamination won’t hurt me (probably) unlike, say, someone with celiac disease, so that’s one form of gluten free for medical reasons but one speck of flour is NBD.

    2. Oh lavender.

      I was working at a mountain resort one time, and this woman came in advertising her all natural mosquito repellant, and she just sprays a bunch in the lobby without asking. We looked at the ingredients and told her no soliciting and don’t spray stuff everywhere like an asshole, but it was too late.

      My coworker was allergic to lavender, and thankfully she was out getting coffee, but we couldn’t let her back in. And cell phones barely worked up there, so we had to kind of signal to her to not come back.

      1. I have a friend who has had to cut way back on buying handspun wool on Etsy, because so many spinners use lavender as a natural moth/insect repellant, and she’s allergic to it. (Breathing it won’t make her throat close up the way eating it will, but it’s still deeply, deeply unpleasant, and strong lavender scent–as when people use essential oils–can be nearly as bad as consumption.) To some extent she had luck contacting sellers to check whether their wool has ever been in contact with lavender or lavender oil, but she got tired of people arguing with her (“you can’t be allergic! it’s all-natural!”). Now she only buys big commercial wools (where at least the lady on the end of the 1-800 line doesn’t argue with her about her allergies) and wools from buyers who she already knows will respect her issue.

  55. I totally wish I’d had some of these scripts and ideas when I was younger! I don’t have any actual food allergies that I know of, but react strongly to sugar, coffee, and… chocolate. I also don’t LIKE chocolate. Pretty much my whole life my body has been anti-chocolate. It knows what it likes and what it doesn’t. My least favorite response (which I got on MULTIPLE occasions) was, “You don’t like chocolate??? Are you sure you’re a woman???” As if somehow my gender was determined by whether I like chocolate or not. (And as if men somehow DON’T like chocolate.) It gets tricky, because every now and then if I can tell that I’m having a good day, and there’s something that has SOME chocolate in it and some other stuff, and it looks generally good, I might have some and enjoy it and be okay. Other days, I can’t. I had a hard time dealing with this up until one day my housemate and I had a visitor who brought us several little cakes (cake is also the worst, for some reason, although other floury desserts are fine) that were made of chocolate. She gave them to us, and when I tried to make a polite refusal she gave me a Look and said, “What, are you not going to eat it??” I forced it down, hating every second of it, and then proceeded to spend several hours being sick. During those several hours, I finally decided not to let anyone ever make me feel guilty about turning down something I knew would make me sick. Expensive lesson, but worth it.

    (On a positive side, several of my good friends know how much I hated the, “What, you don’t like chocolate? Are you sure you’re a woman?” speech, so when I’m with them they will bring out dessert with no chocolate and say, “Here’s dessert — with no chocolate. Which lots of totally cool women dislike.”)

    1. Oh goodness, what a thoughtless thing to say. I am a chocolate fiend. All of the chocolate. Even the cruddy Hershey’s kind, if that’s what we’ve got. The only acceptable response in my mind to: “I don’t like chocolate.” is “You sure? Ok, I can take that hit for you and eat your share.”

      I’m sure you are, in fact, a totally cool woman, and if I ever meet you, I’ll buy you some baklava or a cheese plate or something, as thanks for leaving more chocolate for me.

      1. Thank you. I’m a fan of both baklava and cheese; either would be lovely! And that’s usually how I get people off my back; I tell them, “Well, more chocolate for you!” And they are still nonplussed for awhile but they eventually leave me alone. Still hate that response. I like yours much better.

  56. Follow on question: what to do, if anything for guests who are lax about following their own restrictions? My sister-in-law for example doesn’t eat cow dairy — except for caramel and whipped cream, which she really, really likes. Occasionally I feel resentment for planning around her food sensitivities because of this.

    1. Gyoza, I think you don’t really need to do anything about that. Just believe what the person tells you, and trust that they are the judge about when and how much they can eat things on their restricted list.

      Personally, I am lactose intolerant and I have a few other food sensitivities as well. I can eat nearly anything in small quantities, but they have a cumulative effect. When I get a latte, I ask for almond or coconut milk in it, but I will occasionally also get whipped cream on top, because I love whipped cream. I don’t do this on days when I have already had other foods that might upset my digestive system, but on days when I think it is low-risk, I will will splurge on whipped cream. I try to keep a running tally of the various risky foods that I have eaten in the past day, and not consume more than a small amount of each at any one time. To an outsider, this might look like I am being lax about following my own restrictions, but to me, it is a deliberate choice to enjoy my favorite foods in moderation.

      1. I love beans, and they give me the kind of migraines I’ve been told can eventually kill me. Occasionally, I eat beans. I’m very careful about it. I know what kind and how much I can get away with without triggering a migraine.

        I love salads, and muesli, and other minimally-processed whole grains and veg, though my gut cannot handle a lot of roughage at once. It would be safest if I never ate salads or muesli, and thus never risked spending an afternoon in the toilet longing for the sweet relief of death. But I like salads A LOT, so I try to eat them in moderation. Sometimes I fail. But I like to think that the occasional afternoon spent meditating on my sins as my intestine does its best to abdicate all responsibility is character-building.

    2. I was raised vegetarian and have never eaten meat, but don’t think twice about having gummy candy. This is because I’m squeamish and can’t psychologically deal with eating meat, and the meat derivatives in candy are ‘hidden’. I also can’t eat fried, boiled or poached eggs because they still look too much like raw eggs. I’ve been questioned my whole life about my eating habits, people trying to force-feed me meat (‘but you’ll like it!’) and seeing the discussion as an argument that must be won or lost, and it gets pretty annoying and intrusive.

      I can understand your frustration though, I once cooked a vegan Sunday roast which was a massive day-long effort. When she comes round, maybe just stick to naturally dairy-free recipes like soups and salads, and save yourself the grief.

    3. What you do is believe them. It’s their body and they get to decide what goes in it, even if it’s something that might make them sick.

      When I was first figuring out my dairy intolerance, I spent a long time at the “if I have a little bit, I’ll be ok” stage. This was mainly denial, but I didn’t want to give up ice cream or chocolate, mostly, so I would still have those occasionally even though I knew it might upset my stomach. It really irritated me when someone said “but that has dairy in it!” when I was about to take a bite of ice cream. I knew it had dairy in it. I literally ordered it. It was my choice to eat it.

    4. Hi. LW over here. This is one of the things I’m most worried about: that folks will see me not “following my own restrictions” and get upset. In fact, reading this, I’m already upset.

      In fact, allergies and intolerances are complex creatures, and sometimes a little bit of something will be okay when a lot is not, or something becomes okay again when it wasn’t before, or something is OK in one form but not in another. My best friend’s dad is lactose intolerant but for some reason can eat butter and feel just fine. He tells people who are serving him food, “I am lactose intolerant,” because it is the easiest way to give them a simple guideline for serving him something he can eat. And then he puts some butter on his bread. It’s fine. He’s doing the right thing for his body, because he knows his body.

      How your sister-in-law manages her lactose intolerance is her business. If you don’t like her enough to work around her food restrictions, maybe don’t have her over for dinner anymore?

      1. My lactose-intolerant husband reacts to butter (which has very little lactose in it), but not yogurt. It’s not always easy to make sense of these things. Also some people find Lactaid more helpful than others.

        1. My boyfriend is moderately lactose intolerant, but still really likes cheese and ice cream. So we’ve worked out a few meals that he loves and will eat the hell out of despite this because he wholeheartedly thinks it’s worth it, and I cook those occasionally. I usually tell him what I’m gonna cook up, and he’ll let me know if he’s not feeling up to the risk that day, and I’ll switch up the menu or sub in something else for whatever cheese/dairy I was going to use. It’s what works for us. Just trust that people know their own bodies and are able to intelligently assess risks vs enjoyment of certain foods.

          I, uh, also exercise a certain type of veto power (wait, you’re going to eat a large dairy queen blizzard today? Ok, but I’m so not hanging out with you tonight then!)

      2. I’m allergic to most fresh fruits but can eat most processed/cooked fruits. It has caused strife and brain-explosions before.

    5. If you think of it as a consent issue, will that help? Some people are willing to be hungover after a party. I hate the feeling of being intoxicated past a certain point. If someone feeds me more alcohol in something I am not expecting to be alcoholic I am going to be really very angry, because I didn’t want that.

      My roommate and I are both celiac, as is her brother.
      I am not willing to get glutened, though I miss sourdough so very much. To me, the price I pay isn’t worth it (everything I ate for the last twelve hours is evicted by my body, but, only after a delay of one to three hours, so good luck figuring out what did it! Also, gas and digestive problems for about a week after).
      My roommate used to be willing to get sick for excellent sourdough bread, but, her reaction was just diarrhea, delayed enough that she could get home to deal with it. Her reactions to getting glutened have gotten worse, lately, though, so she’s less willing to pay that price.
      Her brother just medicates the symptoms away because he’s not willing to give up anything. He’s damaging himself(celiac does damage over time if you eat gluten. Not just the immediately obvious poisoning), but, this is the way he wants to do it, and it’s his life.
      My roommate and her brother are both willing to pay the price sometimes, but, even so, it’s not reasonable to gluten them without warning. They still need to be able to CHOOSE whether that food is worth it or not.
      You would want to be able to choose if it was you with the allergy or sensitivity, and those of us with the allergies and sensitivities really do appreciate your efforts to help us be able to choose not to get poisoned.

    6. Do nothing. She knows what she can handle and what she can’t, and she’s making the decisions that are best for her. If you can’t make food for her without resentment, probably don’t make food for her.

      Many people with food restrictions cheat a little, for various reasons, and it’s not a thing you should judge them for. For me, intentionally cheating a little with some foods was what kept me capable of being accidentally exposed without dying.

    7. I agree with everyone who says “do nothing”, but I do know the feeling. My brother (who gets under my skin on many fronts) doesn’t eat gluten… except at every dinner party where there is *something* that has gluten he’ll be like “CHEAT DAY” and eat two pieces of cake. And when you have gone out of your way to not only cook dinner but also accommodate someone, it can be annoying. It used to annoy me because it felt like my brother, despite being a 36 year old adult, does almost no “family work” but is happy to show up at dinner (or, in fact, ask for a ride to dinner), ask for special foods, and eat and drink what other people have made, and leave without doing the dishes.

      Here’s what helped: we stopped having things that have any gluten in them at family gatherings. Why have something that someone can’t eat? It’s not very nice. The point of the gathering is to be and eat together, not to eat pastries in particular. That’s what pastry club is for. Maybe my brother wants to feel like part of the team who is eating cake, and doesn’t want some lesser dessert option, or to feel like a pariah. It really helped. It left no opening for me to feel resentful, and no opening for him to feel out of place, or tempted to eat something that he has clearly stated isn’t good for him. Everyone has food they can eat. It’s nice.

      As an aside, making more space for him to step up and be a part the family has also helped (my amazing new sister in law doesn’t hurt either).

    8. I can’t have cheese, but I’ll eat Caesar dressing if I think it’s going to be stupendous. Then I have stomach cramps for a few hours. I have paid for that salad with both money and pain.

      Just like the fact that some things are worth the money and some aren’t, some things are worth the pain and some are not.

      My hierarchy is:
      -really good Caesar
      -not getting sick
      -bad Caesar
      -anything else with cheese

      So if I eat Caesar and then reject something you made that has just a hint of cheese…that could happen.

      Although now I have an immersion blender, and it’s life changing. Caesar with no cheese is still really fantastic, and I can now get it super smooth and emulsified.

      If anyone else is missing their favorite dressings and sauces, it’s a fantastic purchase.

    9. Sorry for the late reply. Somehow I didn’t get comment notifications. Lots of people said useful things, so thank you all for that. It is my choice to ask her what her current eating habits are (always no cow dairy and no gluten, sometimes no legumes, nightshades, nuts, grains, etc. in various combinations), and I should just stop asking. I create my own problems worrying about her restrictions for meal planning, especially in combination with other folks with other restrictions.

      So, she’ll eat what I make or not and I’ll just ignore it.

  57. I have the good fortune of living in a culture where food sensitivities, allergies, and aversions are respected and accommodated in most social gatherings. The very best thing about this respectful, potluck-loving town is the consistency with which people write down every single ingredient on a card when they bring dishes. If they have packaged food in the dish they bring the packaging so you can get all the hairy details. It’s become normal in the past 5-10 years here and in a few of the nearby cities. This also leads to people being pretty generous about leaving the dressing/sauce in a separate bowl on the side; using fewer ingredients; being extra vocal about dicey ingredients like nuts or wheat tamari or soy or cane sugar, and generally not taking it personally if you don’t eat their dish. It’s great! It doesn’t work for everyone, because cross-contamination can be really risky. I’ve also seen potlucks where meat and gluten-containing dishes were kept on separate tables to prevent reckless utensil-switching.

    I guess I’m bringing this up to offer it as a small change we can bring to places where food allergies are just starting to become recognized– I bring paper and pens to potlucks when I don’t know the people, as well as a dish that I know I can eat. I’m pretty broke a lot of the time so while I don’t want to try to feed everyone, I can bring enough to share half of it and have the other half be my meal for that event, in case everything else contains wheat/sugar/vinegar/cheese/meat/whatever it is that I can’t stomach this week.

  58. I can relate to this problem. I don’t have food allergies, but I am a semi-vegetarian. I used to be fully vegetarian, but I had to add some meat back into my diet at the advice of my physician. This means I will not eat beef or pork, but I will eat poultry and fish. Usually this is not a problem, as I tend to be able to find plenty to eat at almost any occasion.

    My mother-in-law, however, has made it her life’s work to get me to eat meat. She insists that every (I literally mean every) family dinner out be at a steakhouse. (Seriously, I don’t think the woman has eaten at any other type of restaurant in 10 years). She once gave me a plate of pasta with “vegetarian” sauce and, when I asked what the lumps in it were, she told me it was Italian sausage but since it had come in the canned sauce she had used as a base (as opposed to her adding it) it “didn’t count.” She will make salads with bacon bits and expect me to be able to pick them out. If you have never tried to pick bacon bits out of a salad, you don’t know what you’re missing.

    I used to be annoyed by this but now I have realized that I am much happier when I do not play her passive-aggressive games. When we go out, I go to the steakhouse and eat salad. When we have dinner at their place, I eat only the dishes that are visibly meat-free. When they come to our place, they get something I can eat, no matter how many times my mother in law “suggests” we make a prime rib.

    I realize you have less flexibility as many of the things you can’t eat aren’t visible. I guess what I am hoping you will take away from my experience is the fact that you are not being unreasonable about having dietary restrictions, and that anybody who thinks you are being “picky” by skipping dinner or bringing your own food or not eating something you can’t vouch for should just be ignored. Honestly, the only reason anyone other than you and your doctor should care about what you eat is that you are a) a toddler and b) their toddler. If not, screw ’em.

  59. Anyone who sneaks an allergen into someone’s food should be forced to watch the episode of Freaks and Geeks where a bully sneaks a peanut into the sandwich of a peanut-allergic character who almost dies from it, because the bully doesn’t think the allergy is real. (There is funny stuff in the episode too which will make it go down easier, but the main point of it is SERIOUSLY DON’T EVER DO THAT.)

    I got lucky during the period when I had to avoid gluten and dairy because of my gallbladder coming out and my autistic digestive system getting stuck in reject-almost-everything mode for about 12-18 months, in that nobody gave me a hard time over it. Maybe because autism, I don’t know; I guess a lot of people expected me to have Food Issues or eat GF/CF. But man, I really did start to notice that gluten was in frigging everything (yeah, soy sauce and beer, too), that most events I went to had pastries and sandwiches as the only food available, and that even places that had GF stuff available often warned that they couldn’t guarantee no x-contamination.

    So totally agree with bringing own food, everywhere you’re allowed to. Back then, I would often say in food-related social situations, “Right now, for reasons that are too grody to go into, I can only keep a few things down, which I keep in my tote bag. It does look amazing, though.” But only if people asked me. And surprisingly often, they didn’t.

    1. “Anyone who sneaks an allergen into someone’s food should be forced to watch the episode of Freaks and Geeks where a bully sneaks a peanut into the sandwich of a peanut-allergic character who almost dies from it, because the bully doesn’t think the allergy is real.”

      Seconded. Don’t mess with people’s food allergies, even if you suspect they aren’t real. Total dick move.

      1. Yes. This.

        Seriously, as someone said above, even in the unlikely event that you’re right, you get, what 30 seconds of smugness? Also now your “friend” is pissed at you, and possibly an ex-friend.

        If you’re wrong, you could seriously hurt or kill someone.

        How in this world does this seem like a good idea to people?

        1. There are a lot of people who believe, for whatever reason, that food allergies aren’t real. The people who sneak your allergen into your food generally are looking for a way to “make you stop lying” or “stop you fooling yourself”, and they believe that sneaking stuff into your food will give them a wonderful “AHA! YOUR FOOD ALLERGY ISN’T REAL!” moment that will make them feel all warm and cosy inside. And they don’t care how many people they have to hurt to get that warm cosy validation.

  60. If you do go the bring your own food route, definitely let the host know in case the food you plan to bring is on *their* allergy list. If I had a guest who said they needed to bring their own food, I would completely understand and say, “That’s fine, just please no nuts or peanuts in my home.” If they didn’t call and just showed up at my place with a PBJ or bowl of nuts, I would have to tell them to not eat it or touch it in my home, and then we’d both be unhappy. (In reality because of my own allergies, I always ask my guests ahead of time about food restrictions.)

    This is tricky stuff socially, and it will be awkward the first several times. As you get positive responses from kind people and practice expressing your needs, it will get easier!

  61. I just want to emphasize that LW is 1)not alone with this struggle, these are issues many people have, and I totally experience these same worries and situations and 2)if someone gives LW a hard time, that might be a red flag about their respect for her boundaries, depending on the specifics.

    The worst food allergy story for me has to do with my weird poultry problem. I can’t be in a house that is cooking any poultry from raw (reheating cooked poultry is fine), or has cooked it in the past few hours, because I start vomiting intensely and get a migraine. It’s not revulsion, it’s a food sensitivity bizarro reaction. I can eat it without this reaction, but that’s probably part of why I have autoimmune problems and should stop…

    Years ago, my dad invited me to Thanksgiving at his house in another state, and I warned him and my stepmother (8 years older than me, hated me from day 1, always found ways to make me look bad until I stopped interacting with her) to please buy a pre-cooked turkey and explained my reaction.

    So evil stepmom buys a raw turkey and when I arrive it’s still in the oven after hours, filling the house with poultry molecules. I spent the whole evening vomiting and she accused me of faking. I angrily reminded her that she had agreed to buy a cooked turkey and she pretended to be wounded and said she forgot. My dad took her side and was angry at me.

    I haven’t been there since. He visits me every couple years, alone.

    Point being, the intersection of ableism, food being central to social stuff, and some misogyny that makes women less believed about medical stuff leads to food allergies fostering awful situations. I like CA’s ideas and I hope you get to the bottom of it ASAP! Good luck.

    1. Is there a name for this problem? I’ve said that I’m a good cook and glad to work with whatever food restrictions people have. I haven’t heard of this one (like I hadn’t heard of balsam of Peru) and would have an easier time finding information if I knew a diagnostic name. (I usually find that no matter how bizarre a particular medical problem is, someone else has it too. Like I learned that an allergy to balsam of Peru is surprisingly common.)

  62. I’ve got friends with quite a range of food restrictions, and host pretty often. I’ve got pretty good at feeding my friends.

    I serve up dishes that have very few ingredients, like a tray of veges roasted in canola oil, a big pot of brown rice, steamed green veges, a salad made of veges and nothing else. No sauces, dressings, herbs or spices mixed into any of those. If I keep the sauces separate, people can add as they want/can – or not. And I’ve got a couple of delicious versatile low-allergen main dish recipes that are gluten-free and vegan. I know all my regular friends can eat those, and for new people I’ll reel off the ingredients list, check if they can too, and adjust if necessary.

    None of this takes much effort, and it feels more inclusive and friendly to me if everyone at the table can eat something.

  63. Hi LW, I have a gluten sensitivity, which in the current state of gluten-free being the bete-noir of terrible and obviously made-up things that don’t actually affect you and are all in your head, can be frustrating. I’ve been doing gluten-free for 8 years, well before it was a health/diet trend (and by that statement I’m not assuming that anyone who states they are gluten-free or gluten-sensitive is making it up or ill-informed, just that some folks have heard ‘gluten is bad!’ and proceeded to eliminate it from their diet. I also feel you on the fact that most of the time people hear ‘allergy’ and think ‘If you do not need an Epi-Pen, it is not a real allergy’. Feeling nauseous and having headaches for 24 hours is no fun, and there’s no reason I should eat something that makes me feel terrible just because I don’t go into anaphylactic shock.

    What I have found helpful:
    -If invited to a restaurant, I will look at the menu beforehand and make sure there are things I can eat. If not, I will recommend a different place for a smaller gathering – something like “I don’t see many options I like there, can we go someplace else?” will often do the trick. If it’s larger, I will either sit out, or, if it works, just order a salad/sides that I know will work. For more complicated food restrictions, you can call the restaurant ahead of time to ensure the ingredients are acceptable to you. (This is a bit different for me as I can usually tell at a glance what has wheat/gluten in it).
    -For potlucks, I usually just bring something I know I can eat, and eat a snack beforehand so I won’t be either starving or so stuffed I am unable to try a bite of the delicious thing that I can eat that is there. This gets harder when it has to do with less obvious ingredients like preservatives, but I find that if you have some friends that you know you can ask them about the contents of their dish either before or during the party and they will be willing to give you details.
    -For dinner parties where one person is hosting, I’m sorry but sometimes you just will have to say you can’t attend or will have to stop by after dinner if you feel they won’t know how to accommodate you, accommodating you will be to much work or impossible, or don’t want to go into all the details/grill them about all the ingredients.
    -If you have a group of people that regularly have dining outings, whether at restaurants or homes, consider either proposing a restaurant outing at a place that you know will accommodate you (again, restaurants should be able to provide detailed ingredient information if you call) or either hosting at your place or offering to bring/cook the food at someone else’s.

    If you can’t go b/c of dietary restrictions, feel free to make up an excuse.

    I definitely feel you on the fact that making sure these things don’t make you sick is a priority, which has to be balanced with your comfort level of questioning. It sounds like the things you aren’t supposed to eat are more complex than mine, and thus questions about ingredients are more complicated. Please don’t take people’s bullshit comments about what you eat to heart, you have good reasons for it – and even if you didn’t, there’s no reason for others to comment on what you put into YOUR body. I hope the rash resolves and you find out what foods have been causing it.

  64. Good advice from everybody. My 2 cents as a multi allergic person:

    -your medical situation is a private thing. You may meet people who, when hearing about your diet restrictions, want to know everything. What you can’t eat, what you can eat, exactly what happens if you eat the wrong stuff, and so on. If you don’t want to discuss this stuff with random people every time you have to eat something in public, think in advance what kind of non-answers you can give. And be prepared that your strategy to avoid this discussion may not always work!

    -when a friend has cooked for you, always ask for the packages. I have made people dig their trash cans so that I can read the labels. They will learn to not throw away the packages eventually. For store bought items like cookies, it’s easiest to just put the original package on the table. Even with people you know, check. No ingredient list, no eating.

    -be prepared that people may not like it if you ask extra questions. I get this often because one of my diet restrictions is gluten, but there’s other stuff too and I can’t ear everything that’s labeled gluten free. So I often need to ask questions, and it’s not uncommon that people get irritated because “this is gluten free for sure!”. Then I need to explain that there are also other stuff I can’t eat and I need to know about.

    1. “think in advance what kind of non-answers you can give”

      Or you can just go for the devastating “at an interval of time ranging from mere seconds to 4-6 hours, I will shit myself into unconsciousness” which tends to make the interrogation stop. 😀 (Has the virtue of being true for several of my allergies.)

  65. I have celiac so I can’t eat wheat. rye or barley. I have learned to read the ingredient list on everything and to check the menu before I eat out. I discovered that one of the local fast food places marinates their chicken in a mixture that includes wheat.

    I agree with the suggested script and wish you good luck in your journey to health.

  66. Great advice from CA! I would also suggest that LW take some direct control of the food-event planning, such as having a few restaurants that she researched in her back pocket to suggest, or (if she can afford it) hosting her own dinners as much as possible. LW sounds like a thoughtful, social person, and that might give her the sense that’s she’s being sociable, while still protecting her health.

    Thank you to those of you who posted stories of people sneaking food to their guests to see if it really made them sick. When LW wrote that sort of thing happens I found it hard to believe. I still find it hard to believe! What a bizarre mutation of the point of hospitality.

  67. Howdy, folks. I’m LW. Thanks for all your kind thoughts. My allergy is to Balsam of Peru, which is one of those sneaky flavorings that is in just about everything under a variety of confusing different names. I have to temporarily eliminate foods with chemical similarities to Balsam of Peru, too, which means: wine, beer, vanilla, gin, citrus fruits, tomatoes, curry, cardamom, bitters, CHOCOLATE. I also have to throw out most of my toiletries and cosmetics and replace them with fragrance-free ones.

    I’m having a rough time today mourning all the stuff I’m not allowed to eat, and reading your wise words helps. Thank you.

    1. I want to say that mourning is entirely normal (in my experience) and it does get better! Everyone I know has gone through variations of the 5 Stages (yes, with no set time and no set order) with denial, anger, bargaining ‘maybe I can eat this one thing…’ sadness, and acceptance. It’s a tough road and all the Jedi hugs to you. And yes it does get better, but it’s also ok to get kind of mad when you hear about people who are “Oh yes I totally cut out X, Y, and Z ten years ago and my life is awesome! I don’t miss it at all” and they mean it comfortingly but you are going “No! I am an eternal flame, baby! LET ME FEEL THINGS ABOUT THIS!”

      Even now we sometimes get blindsided with our own, like forgetting the dentist automatically uses flavored products when cleaning your teeth and that we have to ask for unflavored everything. (Pure pumice is what got used last)

    2. I just looked that up and OMG, that sounds frustrating. So many things one would never think of, from hemorrhoid treatments to dental cement.

    3. Oh, bless your heart–that sounds like a sneaky one indeed. Might I suggest finding an online community of fellow sufferers of this allergy? I know from dealing with my daughter’s IBS that it was helpful to hear other people’s experiences, what they could and couldn’t eat, etc. Good luck to you, and I hope you’re able to manage this with ease and lots of support.

    4. Thank you for getting back to us. I said I was interested in special diets, and I’m interested in this one. I’d never heard of it, but as I did a little reading, I see that it’s surprisingly common. Please clarify something for me. If I understand this correctly, the problem is that Balsam of Peru is an additive to a great number of products, but if a foodie who adored natural foods did cooking from scratch, then you could eat them? If I picked a tomato or a lemon from my own garden, you could eat that? If I made home made marmalade from my own oranges and sugar and pectin, would that be okay? If I made tomato sauce where the only ingredient was my own home grown tomatoes, that would be alright? I’m not suggesting that you take the chance with people you don’t know well promising that something’s from scratch and then you learn the hard way that they’ve used canned tomato products. I’m trying to get a handle on what you’re dealing with. For baked goods, if I use grocery store unbleached flour, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs to make a pound cake, does that work? I’m not trying to make things harder with my questions. I’m trying to gain knowledge so as to be a better host.

      1. Hi! Good question. It’s a bit complicated, but here goes:

        Balsam of Peru is an additive for both flavor and fragrance purposes, for anything from ice cream to breakfast cereal to face soap to suppositories, as I’m sure you saw in your googling. I am definitely allergic to the additive Balsam of Peru and need to stay away from it in any product, under any of its pseudonyms (including, devastatingly, “natural flavors,” which may or may not actually mean Balsam of Peru but I have to assume it does or get sick experimenting).

        There are a number of foods (the ones I listed above, for starters) that have chemicals in them that mimic Balsam of Peru closely enough that they MAY cause a problem for folks like me. For the next four weeks of my elimination diet, even if you picked a lemon and a tomato from your own garden to serve me, I couldn’t eat it. I can gradually start to add these foods back in, one at a time and in small doses, to see if they cause me problems or not. I may get to eat them all, in the end, or I may have intolerances to them all and have to avoid them forever. (Google “low balsam diet” for more info.)

        The baked goods example you gave actually WOULDN’T cause me an issue — flour, sugar, butter, and eggs are not Balsam of Peru allergy triggers. But if you added cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, or chocolate, we’d be in trouble.

          1. But don’t generalize from this person’s allergies to all person’s allergies, because man, nothing works the same for everyone. 🙂 It’s best to just ask the person involved. And don’t get invested in cooking for someone who clearly does not want to be cooked for.

            I had a friendship end up dying on the vine because my food allergies and her chronic tickborne disease diet were completely incompatible. We had her and her husband over for game night, I asked about what I could make for us to snack on, she said “don’t worry, I’ll bring my own” and then brought shrimp and homemade banana chips into my house. (I am violently allergic to both.)

            And I was like…welp. We both sort of texted in a faint but pursuing way but eventually it was like…we literally couldn’t do anything that involved food together.

  68. I have a soy allergy and that is in everything these days! My allergy isn’t life threatening but it is very uncomfortable for me for days after I eat products containing soy. Add to this a recent attempt to eat better and get my health back on track and I am suddenly super aware of everything that goes into my mouth. I’ve started bringing my own food everywhere: to work, to social functions, to the movies…everywhere.
    The biggest challenge I’ve faced have been the are people who are convinced that they know better than I what I can and cannot eat. In the last 4 months I’ve heard the following statements:

    “These are healthy brownies! They’re made with dark chocolate and that’s the good for you chocolate.”
    “I couldn’t live without eating Chinese food. Can’t you just have them make stuff without the soy?”
    “I don’t understand why you brought your food, the company is catering this meal…oh wait…you’re “allergic”.” (said with a snarky face and air quotes)
    “Just have one bite…you know you want to and it’s not going to kill you”
    “Don’t you get bored with eating the same food all the time?”
    “Oh no, are you one of those people who demands that we all eat healthy because of your allergy?!?”

    Years ago, before I discovered I was allergic to anything at all, I read an article about a woman who had been hospitalized after eating something at work that a co-worker said was allergen free. I like pot-lucks at the office so I got in the habit of writing down the list of ingredients and the recipe itself and taping it to the table where my dish was. I noticed that a lot more people started eating my dishes over others on the table. One person told me that he liked it because he was picky (he hated onions and red peppers) so he knew right away what I had and hadn’t put in the dish and he didn’t have to guess. I also include a recipe card when I give a homemade food item as a gift (cookies for the holidays for example).

    1. I do much the same thing. I love to cook, and I tend toward fairly simple recipes – so if I bring a dish to the table and say that it’s brussels sprouts with bacon and balsamic vinegar, that really is all that’s in there. I have a number of friends who are in one manner or another on restricted diets or have significant allergies, so I’ve learned to be very specific about what went into any given dish. You’re more likely to get a half-hour lecture on why I picked the ingredients I did than a complaint about the questions.

      1. Yes. When I’m cooking for people and I don’t know what food restrictions might be in play, I plan dishes in groups of five.

        The Rules for each group:

        1) Minimum of one completely vegan dish that is reasonably substantial.
        2) In addition, one dish that is vegetarian (but may contain eggs and/or dairy).
        3) In addition, one dish that contains no eggs or dairy at all (but may contain meat).
        4) No ingredient appears in more than three out of five dishes.
        5) If the ingredient is either a Big Eight allergen or a known problem for a regular attendee of these groups (I had someone who was so allergic to alcohol that vanilla extract was a problem, and someone else who was severely allergic to cinnamon, for instance) then it appears in no more than two out of five dishes.

        So back when I did SCA feasts and the like you might see something like this for when I go all-out:

        Appetizer tray – Bread with butter, jam, and honey available for spreading; seasonal fresh fruit; cheese
        Soups – chicken with rice and vegan split pea, prepared with no overlapping ingredients other than salt and water
        Main feast group one – whole roasted chickens, cooked root veggies (carrots/parsnips/turnips, the recipe is called “cauldron of things dug up”), three different savory pies: one crustless quiche, one meat pie, one vegan “mincemeat”-like pie with fruit and nuts.
        Main feast group two – Salmon poached in wine sauce, salad of mixed field greens, cheese ravioli in cream sauce, meatballs made with rice instead of breadcrumbs, rice cooked in almond milk.
        Dessert course – candied orange peels, marzipan (made with almonds and no gluten), shortbread cookies, pears simmered in wine without additional sugar, plain mixed nuts.

        I also always have a list of what ingredients are in what. And the fact that I’d been doing this for years made it easier when I finally put the pieces together to realize that gluten and I are…rather dramatically not friends.

          1. Oooh! You can also do a good graham cracker crust with gf graham crackers. That’s typically the only substitution needed, and it works great. My husband is about 80% gf and he likes the pies I make with a gf graham cracker crust and a struesel topping. My streusel is something like equal parts pecan chips, gf oats, gf baking mix, and brown sugar, plus enough butter to hold it together. Makes a crunchy, somewhat caramel-flavored topping and replaces an upper pie crust reasonably well. It’s not the same effect as a classic pie pastry, but it is very tasty.

  69. I have friends with food stuff. I’m a great cook, and I can do vegan/veg/allergy/kosher/paleo whatever. I ask my friends *once* if I can make something that is appropriate and then graciously accept whatever they bring to eat for themselves.

    The only people who piss me off when they come to my party is people who bring shitty beer and drink all the good stuff. If you bring Bud light, you’re drinking that.

  70. I agree with the captain. Celiac runs in my family and both my mother and I were gf before it was a known thing.

    The one thing I’d add is to be gentle with yourself. Radically changing your diet is hard work, and an elimination diet is especially hard work because it keeps changing. So choose the tactics that seem easiest to you.

    My experience is that being low key but firm about my diet / food choices and then changing the subject works well.

  71. I only discovered this past summer that I am allergic to a lot of things. I was vegetarian, and had been having lots of stomach issues when eating dairy, so I figured why not go full vegan. That revealed a whole host of other issues, like vomiting and hives, or aggravated existing issues, like the rash on my face. Turns out I’m allergic to soy, peanuts, hazelnuts, and (to a lesser degree) almonds. I also have oral allergy syndrome, so even if I’m not allergic to (e.g.) apples, I cannot eat raw apples because my mouth explodes into itchy hives.

    My mother (who lives 3+ hours away, and I only see occasionally) immediately went into “but what am I supposed to coooook for you?” I replied with “Nothing.” I’ve been using scripts similar to the ones CA posted, like “No thanks, I’ll eat without you!” or “I have allergies and I’m taking care of myself, so no thank you.” My mother asked if I was really sure that I couldn’t eat cheese anymore, and I said “Not without pooping all over your house.” I think that may have done the trick.

    Friends have been more understanding, and at parties now I will generally tell the host I will bring something I know will be safe. Recently, someone asked if she could do anything for me since I said I wouldn’t be able to eat the cake she was baking, but I said I would bring my own and everyone was OK with it and that was that.

    After the 4th or 5th time a friend texted me last minute to go out to dinner, and me scrambling to find a restaurant that had meals safe for me, I started a google doc of restaurants. I told that friend that I would no longer to go dinner last minute with him unless he picked a place from that list. It’s worked out well so far.

    For other cases, I keep GoMacro bars and Square bars in my purse at all times, in case I’m stuck somewhere with no safe food. This was great when I was flying cross-country last month.

  72. A minority view from someone who likes to cook: your friends might be very happy to make the effort. *As long as you can trust them to take it seriously*, I’d give them a chance – while CA’s scripts are perfect for those you don’t trust or who don’t really want to, such a strong pushback against friends who ‘love to reciprocate’ seems a little harsh?

    I had housemates with food restrictions. They explained them, I listened, and we all got to try new dishes. And when they were out I put all the banned foods in a big pot and ate them gleefully.

  73. I think the Captain’s scripts are good if you don’t want to get into it, but in cases where you do, what I’d say would be:
    “I’m trying to get to the bottom of a rash and my doctor has me on an elimination diet. Right now I can’t eat X, Y, Z, but hopefully I will be able to in the future.” That should cover the part where this may or may not be permanent.

    I get the Captain’s idea of sidestepping it by bringing your own food or eating before hand, but sometimes eating with and letting others feed you serves a social function that you don’t want to be so set apart from, or it just isn’t practical to bring your own food/eat before hand.

    Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it isn’t. Like, I wanted to go to a family wedding, a got my weird diet accomodated (first wedding since I became chronically ill and adopted these restrictions: I wanted to get dressed up and feel pretty!) The couple were totally gracious about accomodating my requests, but given how awkward I felt explaining my obviously modified courses while being scrutinized by distant relatives with some unfortunate food beliefs, I’m going to think twice about doing this again.

    But just stay away from those jerky people who you can’t trust to not secretly feed you things as a test.

  74. LW, sorry to break it to you but some of what you’re going to have to do for your own health is recognize that some people are asshats. I’ve lived with what most people consider unthinkable food restrictions all my life, and it gets narrower by the year. And people are asshats about it.

    We still have people complaining about not getting peanuts on an airplane because of the fact that some people might literally die from peanut particles in the air around them. And that’s been a commonly known issue for decades.

    Focus on your friends. Anyone who when you (briefly) explain it’s a medical issue that behaves well? OK. Anyone who doesn’t, weed out. For your own health, because you’re going to be dealing with enough people (like restraunt workers argh) who are constantly confused, amazed, irritated, enraged that you can’t eat whatever’s easiest for them to make. Some strees-avoidance is accepting when you can’t control people reactions, and ignoring the bad ones (outside making sure people don’t kill you/make you very ill by ignoring your needs) because getting frustrated won’t change them.

    Of course, I still have trouble with that, sooo……do as I say not as I do.

  75. You don’t *owe* anyone the details, but I truly think that being specific is the best way to ensure minimum confusion and annoyance while eating with your friends. If you trust them to believe you and try to accommodate you, give them the details.

    “I’ve been advised to avoid soft cheese, but hard cheese is fine for some reason!” is better than “I can’t eat cheese” and a lot better than “No dairy”.

    “My doctor has told me to avoid watermelon and peaches for the next six weeks” is better than “No fruit for the next six weeks” and a lot better than “No fruit, ever”.

    A lot of the confusion and anger about food allergies comes from seeming inconsistency. Sure, nobody has the right to scrutinise your diet and point out things that don’t seem to make sense. But they do have the right to feel pissed off if they’ve made a huge effort to accommodate a restriction which now appears not to exist. One tiny example from my own life: the friend who told me she had a wheat allergy because she thought it was simpler than explaining she’s cutting down on wheat to lose weight. Simpler for her, maybe, but I spent a lot of time and energy buying special gluten-free food, checking labels and deep-cleaning the kitchen to avoid contamination, only to see her take a huge bite of the regular bread I’d put out for the other guests.

    If you trust your friends, trust them to understand concepts like “This restriction may be temporary” and “I can eat this, but not this apparently similar thing” and “I’m really not sure about this, so can you leave it out to be on the safe side?”. You already have a reputation for being adventurous with food, so nobody’s going to think you’re just being weird and picky for no reason. Be honest, be specific, and maybe some of your foodie friends/family will enjoy the challenge of making tasty food you can eat!

    1. Your friend is a jerk. However, that’s not the reason for the “confusion and anger about food allergies”. I have an uncommon food allergy (certain kinds of peppers, including bell) and I do lie to servers at restaurants and say that I’m allergic to all peppers so none end up in the dish. The reason I lie about this is because, frankly, I’ve had it happen too many times where I’ve been told that the peppers in the dish are safe, and they are a different varietal. Safer for me to completely avoid.

      People act like I’m a shifty liar or one of those dreaded picky eaters than annoying “foodies” love to castigate. One of my friends, who is all about cooking and a self-possessed foodie, constantly tries to sneak me food with peppers or sriracha in it, and gets put out when I demand to know what’s in anything I’m eating. He has decided that I’m a picky eater. Because I haven’t gone into anaphylaxis yet, I’m not really allergic. The rash that will appear minutes to hours after ingesting the food isn’t real, apparently.

      So no, it will not work to explain that LW has restrictions for a time, because people will consider her “picky”. Especially the kinds of people who pride themselves on being “adventurous” with food.

      1. I’ve been horrified to learn from these comments just how many people have had the experience of “friends” deliberately using ingredients that they’ve been told are unacceptable to the eater. My comment wasn’t about those terrible people, it was more about the LW’s real friends who believe her and want to understand and support her by cooking her tasty food. With those people, I still think specifics help.

        But yes, specifics are wasted on people who can’t be trusted to respect your restrictions. I would honestly just do my damnedest to avoid eating food prepared by someone with that attitude, because it’s just not worth it.

      2. Not that there’s anything wrong with being picky, either. It’s just one more thing that people think is a choice, that isn’t actually a choice.

    2. Actually, no, it isn’t better. I have an uncommon allergy to certain kinds of peppers, and people question it when it comes up. People for some reason think that they get to know everything that goes into other people’s mouths.

      If you’re going to be weird about food, don’t host dinner parties and don’t attend them. Your friend sounds like a jerk, but I can promise you that as a person with an allergy, people will always judge and doubt you.

      1. Try being allergic to chicken. Every time I need to mention it (Does this have chicken? Are you planning on making chicken? Does this restaurant only serve chicken?*) the first thing everyone says is “I’ve never heard of that” and most of them mean “You’re making that up.”

        *As opposed to only serving CHICKENS, which would be hysterical. No beak, no claws, no service.

        1. My mother in law is allergic to poultry, and yeah, its funny (funny weird, not funny ha-ha) how many people seem to think that’s impossible. News flash, people: some allergies are way more common than others, but you can be allergic to almost anything, except maybe water*. The fact that you have never heard of a poultry allergy doesn’t make her suddenly capable of eating it.

          * And even there, the Wicked Witch of the West might argue.

          1. For me it’s chicken and turkey, but not game birds and duck, so at home I’m spoilt for choice of my bird consumption, but eating out, I only eat red meat. I can handle a small amount of chicken stock before the reaction kicks in, which is good because chicken broth is in a lot of stuff you wouldn’t suspect, but I do still avoid it when I can.

          2. Just to prove your point, aquagenic urticaria is a thing (allergic hives on contact with water).

  76. I have an uncommon food allergy, to certain kinds of peppers. I avoid eating all of them in front of others or at restaurants because I never know what is or isn’t safe (or whether some jerk has decided to switch them up to “prove” that I’m not allergic). One of my husband’s friends is a self-described “foodie” and he keeps trying to sneak peppers into food that he prepares. I refuse to eat anything he has made until he goes over the ingredient list, because on more than one occasion, he’s added peppers in to something to try and prove that I’m just “picky”.

    I think people who are judgmental about picky eaters are annoying assholes, for the most part, but it can be dangerous or deadly when that spreads to trying to “prove” that someone doesn’t have an allergy.

    I think the easiest explanation is that you’ve been dealing with some food allergies, and you are on a special diet for the time being to figure out what you can and can’t safely eat. The only people who will be jerks about this are people not worth knowing, IMO.

  77. I can’t eat regular or wild garlic. It makes me vomit and/or gives me a bad stomach, sometimes both, sometimes just one of the symptoms.

    I can’t count the times I’ve heard “You just don’t like it”, “It’s just a little!” or the “Are you a vampire?”-joke.
    Sure.. Of course I wanna try , and occupy the bathroom for an hour or two and emerge feeling sick if it gives me the usual reaction. Fun for everybody..

    The question “What happens if you get any in your food?” just before a meal is getting old too. It’s always a bit icky to explain to more or less new people. I tend to either go for the careful “He-he, you don’t want those details just before a meal.” or the blunt “Well.. Barfing or diarrhea or both if I’m unlucky.”

    To make it worse to explain to the judgemental ones: I don’t always react to very small amounts, just MOST times. Impossible to find out exactly why. It seems vaguely to be a mix of what I have eaten earlier that day, how much is in the dish, fresh or dry/powder, together with which spices, etc, but I still haven’t found anything safe to eat that contains it.

    Garlic is of those things that seem to be integrated in far too many dishes.. marinade, sauces, dressing, oils..
    I make sure to always call ahead if a restaurant is involved in my plans. A bit to many times I’ve heard ” You can eat everything on the menu!” and then when we get there I find out I can eat maybe one or two boring things (often without sauce/dressing) when I question marinades, dressings, sauces. *sigh* And don’t get me started on the label “spices” in pre-made stuff.

    Derailing a bit:
    I’m rather tired of people stating dislikes as allergy/food-intolerance on events. It makes it so much harder for the hosts to be able to spot the ones with serious troubles (which mine kinda isn’t since it’s over in an afternoon. It ruins the night, not my life.)
    A might die if there is wheat-protein in anything she eats VS B avoids wheat unless it’s in a cake. (Both might state Gluten intolerance to make it “easy”.)
    X doesn’t like peanuts in her food VS Y need an epi-pen and ambuance if someone just opens a bag of them in the room.
    C is just not fond of the taste of mayo with citrus VS D is on a doctor-ordered-diet to avoid citrus
    E changes diets a few times a month due to whats popular VS F has been ona self-selected fodmap-diet for years to avoid pain and rashes.

    When one of them visits the host it’s easy to get to the bottom of the need, on big events its getting a bit more problematic.

  78. UGH I have also had to recently eliminate things from my diet, although it’s a fairly short and simple list, and I hate the fact that people feel like I have to explain my whole thing to them. It’s for medical reasons, and it involves so many issues that I don’t like discussing, but people won’t just let me stop at, “I actually can’t eat dairy right now.”

    CA’s comments are perfect! I’ve also gotten really good at meeting people’s questions about why I don’t eat a certain thing with, “I don’t really want to talk about it right now.” That’s a great way to say, “Stop asking me about this right now.

  79. LW, I feel you! I had to go through a pretty severe elimination diet to find my allergies, while traveling for business, and came up with a lot of different strategies, including the ones people have already talked about. I *think* these are relatively new:

    I felt it was unprofessional and distracting to go into my food restriction details in work contexts, and they inevitably would get it wrong anyway, so I just always brought my own food and when asked for my dietary requirements said, “It’s really boring and complicated, and it’s just easier for me to bring my own food. Thank you so much!” Another was, “It’s so complicated I literally have a spreadsheet, don’t worry about it.”

    When I had to go to restaurants for work socializing and couldn’t pick the restaurant, I discovered that most restaurants are really friendly and understanding when you pull a tupperware full of brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes out of your purse and say, “I’m so sorry, I can’t eat anything on the menu, is it okay if I eat this here?” No one ever thinks, “Hey, she’s trying to avoid paying for food,” they think “Poor person, they have to eat homemade food out of a tupperware, how sad.” (If I pulled out a bag of McDonald’s, I’m sure the reaction would be different.) I even had one server whisk my tupperware away at the request of the (celiac) cook, who warmed it up and plated it artistically and served it at the same time as everyone else’s entrees. I also did a lot of “pre-eating” if I wasn’t sure if they would have food I could eat – I would eat enough before dinner that I could make it through dinner without eating if necessary.

    For work and travel, I often keep a bag of food I can eat in my purse and with me at all times so I can say “yes” to the surprise lunch invitation or what-not. Initially I needed a microwave and fridge in my hotel room, but then I figured out how to cook things at home and bring them with me, or which things you can buy cooked at a store, and now I just need a fridge.

    It took me a long time to feel okay about quizzing the servers at a restaurant over the details of the ingredients and the preparation, and I ate a few meals I shouldn’t have because I didn’t want to be trouble. Now I am as much trouble as I need to be to not get sick and I tip extra accordingly (30% last time I had to ask the server for details 5 times through the course of the meal, with a long trip back to the kitchen each time).

    Like a bunch of other people, I have a Google Docs spreadsheet. I only share mine with the three people I trust to cook for me (my boyfriend and two best friends). I will also send it to people’s family members if I’m going somewhere for Thanksgiving or similar and they really really want to cook for me. The spreadsheet has three columns: name of food, allowable amount, and my reaction if I eat it, so people know which things are “any contamination makes me really sick for days” vs. “I can eat 1/4 cup but more than that and my stomach will hurt for a few hours.” It’s also in order of worst to best, includes foods that used to be not allowed but are now or that people aren’t sure if I can eat, and is color coded from red to orange to yellow to green.

    Food is still difficult, but my emotions around it are much calmer now that I have these strategies to deal with the uncertainty and avoid the same detailed discussions over and over. And I feel so much better that I don’t even consider going back. I wish you all the best, LW!

  80. This doesn’t necessarily help the letter writer but for other folks with loved ones with dietary restrictions, I’d like to share.
    My fiancé is a chef at a fancy pants restaurant. He is very talented but could get cocky if he couldn’t make exactly what he wanted to make. Well, my best friend was recently diagnosed with a condition and eating a very restricted diet helps. We had her and her husband over for dinner and I presented my chef with her list of restrictions. For a bit he was frustrated but I was confident he could pull off something great. He made the most amazing meal, all of which my friend could eat. But the best part is that she was so touched that he made the meal especially for her, and was so accommodating. It meant so so much to her, and to me too. And it changed him too… he is collaborating with a nutritionist/dietician friend to look into a concept restaurant that would make awesome meals for folks with strict dietary requirements and restrictions.
    My point here is, if you are a great cook, consider it your iron chef moment and get creative to accommodate your friend or family member. Flex those skills! It will mean so much to them!

  81. The food restrictions among my friends include gluten, dairy, shellfish, sulfites, tryamine, spicy, carrots, bananas, strawberries, black walnuts, mangoes, avocado, and red meat, as well as vegetarian/pescatarian diets (there were also vegans, but they’ve moved). In the broader circle are also peppers-the-vegetable and black pepper, as well as a “here’s the list I can eat” level of restriction. I love cooking for people, so I have a few methods of handling food restrictions:

    – If I want to cook a particular meal, I invite someone who can eat all of it, the end.
    – If I want to do a potluck, I invite people who can eat the couple things I’m making as the host (e.g. a main dish and dessert). If I’m baking, I might make a version with regular flour and one with gf baking mix.
    – If I’m having a party, I pick 6 or so things to make, then look at my guest list/restriction list and make sure everyone can eat half the sweet things and half the savory things. If they can’t I supplement with store-bought gf/dairy-free goodies, make a vegetarian as well as a meat version of the chilli, get some chips and salsa or nuts or hummus and pita, etc so that everyone can eat close to half of what’s available
    – For my parties and potlucks, I divide up the table – gf stuff on one end, gluten stuff on the other; dairy here/non-dairy there. I also orient my guests to the food – “If it looks like meat, it’s meat; if not, it’s vegetarian” or “this stew has carrots; everything else is fine”
    – I know my limits – I’m good at checking labels for gluten and avoiding wooden or other porous utensils, and I finish the gf baking before I start the gluten baking. But I also recognize that if someone is going to be affected by gluten or peanuts 10 feet away, I can’t safely cook for them in my house and it’s better that I not try.
    – Even though I like to cook for people, if someone feels safer bringing their own food, I don’t try to talk them out of it. If they don’t want to eat a given thing, I don’t argue with them.

  82. I’m not allergic to anything food wise (that we know of, cross my fingers that it stays that way…) but I do have some pretty serious texture/some taste problems. Taste it’s mostly with spice (pepperjack cheese is apparently not supposed to be spicy?), but with texture… Oh boy. Peppers, cooked button mushrooms, and onions are my big ones. Which, of course, are in absolutely everything. Mushrooms I don’t mind the taste of, but I have a mild aversion to the taste of peppers, and onions I can tolerate to SOME extent but that taste had better be so subtle it’s an accent to other flavors, otherwise I won’t eat it. Apparently Mississippi is BAD about food exceptions at chain restaurants, because seventeen years of Missouri and I have had literally NO PROBLEMS ordering my burgers with “only lettuce and tomato”, but one night in Mississippi and they put mustard on it (the mustard was a cataclysm to a minor meltdown). And they didn’t advertise pickles on a sandwich in a Shoney’s so I got to have my bread soaked in a flavor/smell I can’t stand.

    I don’t know what I’d do if I were actually allergic to this stuff, especially onions. My sympathies to you, LW, and everyone else. And if someone tries to sneak one of these foods in (people have! Particularly family! It’s &^%$ing enraging!) I’d probably never talk to them again!

  83. Whoa. So sorry, LW. It is really hard to lose something you love and that is such a big part of your social life, hobbies and just a joy to you.

    I have some long-term voice problems that make me back way off social gatherings and can be very touchy and awkward when it comes to acquaintances.

    To give you some hope, my voice fluctuates a lot. Ex: if I don’t talk a lot today, I can chat with you for an hour tomorrow…etc. Which is sort of similar to your “I can’t eat that!” one day, followed by someone running into you a week later, and lo and behold, you’re eating that thing. In my experience, people will either not mention it at all, or they’ll say, “Whoa, you can talk/eat sugar again?” which I just usually deflect. When I’m feeling patient and emotionally sound, I’ll say something like, “I can talk for now, but it’s a work in progress. Thanks for asking. How’s XYZ with you?”

    When I’m not feeling patient and emotionally sound, I will literally not even address the question and just jump straight into, “How’s XYZ? Didn’t you just go to ABC? I love it there! Tell me everything!” and no one gets mad or tries to bring it up again.

    Searching for medical answers can be such a lonely and arduous process. I’m so glad you have a partner who will understand! Having someone who’s with you a lot who can help field some of the, “But I thought you couldn’t eat apricots, not bananas?” is extremely helpful. Take it from someone who literally could not talk! Having a few friends or “security blanket people” who you know won’t judge and won’t ask questions makes a huge difference.

    Good luck in your quest for answers, from a fellow searcher! Congratulate and reward yourself for keeping the search going and being vigilant! It’s hard work. ❤

  84. Hey! Well, first thing is that this stage of the diet is not permanent, so you just tell it exactly as it is:

    “My immunologist has put me on an elimination diet to try and nail down the foods that make me sick and give me painful rashes. It kind of sucks, at the moment it’s easier to list the like ten things I am allowed to eat, than ALL the things I’m not allowed to eat, but being really strict on the elimination and re-introduction stages is the only way to get a diagnosis. Food is such a big part of my life that I’m really sad about the restrictions but I’m hopeful that this process will get to bottom of what’s making me feel so sick.”

    My experience of elimination diets is that you should have a good guideline from your immunologist, like a one or two page document showing what you can and can’t have. If you’re on Facebook, you can post these documents in a “omg, look at the crazy diet I have to follow for the next few months!!!!” way, this really gets people on your side. You can also print out copies so that you have them ready if people genuinely ask because they care for you.

    Many people will be really interested in following your journey — if you like blogging, you can blog the experience like “omg this week I get to re-add BANANAS! Never in my life have I looked forward to a banana so much!” or “challenged peppers yesterday and got a giant rash all over my chest! I’m absolutely gutted because my family fajita recipe is the best thing in the world 😦 😦 😦 so many of my favourite foods have peppers. Seriously wondering whether they are just worth the rash. I’m not kidding you guys, I just cried for an hour about the idea of losing peppers forever. ”

    Eating out or having someone cook for you is a big challenge, some friends/family and even restaurants if you’re a regular, will rise to the challenge like champs — they will take the diet sheets, study them, and lovingly make you a delicious (no sarcasm!) plain grilled chicken and rice with cabbage, and a rice pudding made with rice milk!

    The great thing is this stage does not last long at all! The rice bubbles with rice milk for dessert stage is not endless hahaha! One day not far from now you will find a tin of canned pears at the back of your cupboard and throw it in the bin. 🙂

    And actually my friends think really fondly of the plain grilled chicken with white rice days — they only remember “that awesome chicken dish the Japanese restaurant used to make for us”.

    1. To answer the last part of your question, how do you make yourself feel better?

      It’s definitely a process and I don’t think that therapy is inappropriate. There’ll be shock, bargaining, disbelief, grief etc. Sometimes it can mean finding a new identity — instead of being an adventurous eater, you’re now a FAILSAFER with a Thermomix!

      I found writing about the process, whether in a journal, tweets, FB etc, to be really cathartic. I had a really strong Team Me that understood how upsetting I found learning that food (my source of comfort and pleasure) was now dangerous to me. They readily learned how to use EpiPens and my anaphylaxis plan, and one kind friend even threw a dinner party where I could eat everything (even in the strict elimination phase).

      There is a lot of community support out there for low chemical eating and restricted diets (FAILSAFE for chemicals/allergies, FODMAP for digestion issues/intolerances), there are apps, books, and forums.

      Be kind to yourself. The elimination diet phase in particular is really hard as you’ll possibly feel kind of sick due to such a major diet change — PMS-like symptoms are not unusual.

      I had dreams of walking through gardens full of amazing fruits and vegetables that I was no longer allowed to eat, and a real sense of grief and sadness. But a few years on, it’s pretty okay. By eating a generally low chemical diet, or taking an antihistamine prior to restaurant meal, my allergies are pretty well managed and I can eat whatever I want in moderation.

  85. It’s not the same situation, but with my daughter’s food allergies, a lot of times I just bring something safe for her, request to check all labels, etc. Whatever you need to do, don’t feel bad doing it. Food allergies are more common and are more accepted, and other types of food sensitives and reactions are too. There are always going to be some people behind the times, but I’ve found most people are extremely accommodating of my daughter’s allergies and a lot even ask before I bring it up (especially in group settings) if anyone has foods they can’t eat because of allergies, sensitivities, religion, etc. So while it can still be hard for me to speak up (but I do, because I have to and my daughter is already becoming a great advocate for herself at 6), I have gotten very little push back.

    Good luck LW and I hope you figure it out quickly with your doctor!

  86. I have a friend who had something sort of similar going on, and the line she used was often something along the lines of: “Thank you so much for offering to make something I can eat! I really appreciate it, but honestly it is way less stressful FOR ME if I can just bring my own food. I really want to see you but if I bring my own food I will truly be able to enjoy the event so much more.” This seemed to work pretty well at heading off the “trying to be helpful” types, because she felt she could never 100% trust people — not because they would intentionally mess up, but just because the diet her docs had her on was legitimately complicated and it can be hard for people to remember a complicated set of restrictions or one they are not used to when they’re not the ones who would ultimately suffer from a slip up. It also avoids having to ask a million questions about what someone is preparing and (possibly) there being awkwardness around folks feeling judged. Luckily in her case she was able to reintroduce quite a few things, and now is at a point where the restrictions she has are common/few enough that she feels safe with trusting most people to be able to follow them.

Comments are closed.