Eating Out at Restaurants with IBS

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The Challenges of Eating Out with IBS

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Most people see eating out at a restaurant as a wonderful treat. You get to enjoy the company of others, eat interesting food that has been expertly prepared, and be free from the chores of cooking and kitchen clean-up. If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may not feel quite as positive about the whole experience. In fact, it is likely that the idea of going out to a restaurant fills you with terror!

It can be tough to commit to plans to eat out with a body that experiences unpredictable episodes of painful cramping, bouts of urgent diarrhea, or bloating from constipation. Some people feel reluctant to commit to such an invitation or experience a spike in anxiety when they actually order their meal because it makes them feel trapped. And it can be difficult to trust that eating foods that have been prepared in an unknown way, with possible mystery ingredients, won't set off an IBS flare.

But all hope is not lost! Follow my step-by-step guide to an enjoyable outing - one without kitchen duties or bathroom worries.

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1. Pick a Good Restaurant

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Do your research. One of the best things that you can do to ensure that you have a comfortable meal at a restaurant is to get information ahead of time. 

Do visit their website: Most restaurants post their menus online so you can find out ahead of time if there will be appropriate food choices for you. Many restaurants have become very accommodating to people who have food sensitivities. This may mean that they offer gluten-free or dairy-free options. 

Do give them a call: If you are not sure about the restaurant's flexibility, give them a call. Find out ahead of time if they will be able to prepare food in a way that won't set off your symptoms.

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2. Map Out a Plan

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Do think ahead. It may be a bummer that spontaneity is not be in the cards for you right now because of your IBS. However, planning is so much more helpful than projecting your anxiety into a worst-case scenario future. Anticipating all possible outcomes will help keep your anxiety at bay. Important things to attend to are:

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3. Don't Go Hungry

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Don’t starve yourself in an attempt to keep your digestive system calm. Some people think that if there is no food, then the digestive system is in effect turned off. This is not true: Digestion is an ongoing process even in the absence of food.

Do eat small, frequent meals throughout the day prior to the outing. There are several benefits to this approach:

  1. Eating meals on a regular basis will help your body to regulate the process of digestion.
  2. If you arrive at the restaurant hungry, you may be tempted to eat foods that are more likely to set off your system (Think: bread basket!)
  3. Eating a large meal can set off or strengthen intestinal cramping - leading to the very IBS attack you were hoping to avoid by starving yourself.

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4. Be Calm Before You Go

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Do spend the day making sure that your body is as calm as possible. People with IBS often feel safest when they are at home. It is important to remember that geography doesn’t trigger IBS symptoms –- it's anxiety that can trigger or exacerbate symptoms. Helpful activities for keeping your body as calm as possible are:

Do visualize the event as a smooth, pleasant experience. Visualization can be a powerful tool for reducing anxiety. Imagine yourself traveling to the restaurant, sitting at the table, ordering a meal and enjoying the food with a quiet, calm body. Walking yourself through the event in your mind allows you to identify any potential trouble spots. Go back to your game plan and figure out the most comfortable way for you to deal with any anxiety-provoking elements of the outing.

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5. Stay Calm While You Are There

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Do remember to actively keep your body calm. Once you sit in your seat, take deep breaths and relax any tense muscles. Distract yourself from your digestive concerns by focusing on the décor of the restaurant and the pleasure of being out with your friends or family.

Don’t scan for your body for potential signs of trouble. Scanning behavior sends a message to your brain that there is a possible threat. In response to a perceived threat, the stress response kicks in, and the next thing you know, your bowels are in an uproar. Again, use relaxation and distraction to keep yourself calm in the face of any twinges, rumblings or cramps.

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6. Find the Bathroom

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Do find out where the bathroom is and then try to forget about it.

Don’t allow your brain to get caught up in worries about whether the bathroom is occupied. If you suffer from IBS-D, bathroom accidents are a common concern, but relatively rare. Keeping your body as calm as possible will increase the probability that your body will not release any stool until you are safely on the toilet.

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7. Remember There Is Always an "Out"

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Don’t perceive that ordering a meal is a situation in which you are trapped. This will only raise your anxiety and increase your risk of symptoms. The only commitment you make when you order a meal is that you must pay for the food. There is no law that says you have to stay and eat it.

If you find that you are truly too uncomfortable to enjoy the meal, feel free to excuse yourself. Just be sure to leave money so as to cover your cost. Don’t worry about the comfort of others. True friends and quality individuals will understand and support your decision to address your own physical needs.

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7. Order Wisely

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Do choose to feed yourself a moderate amount of "safe" foods. While the definition of IBS-friendly foods differs for everyone, choosing foods that are low in FODMAPs is a good place to start:

Don't choose any of the following as they run the risk of serving to strongly stimulate your gastrocolic reflex, with the end result of  causing intense intestinal contractions:

  • Large food portions
  • Rich, creamy, fatty, buttery foods
  • Deep-fried foods

Do avoid foods on the following lists:

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8. Watch What You Drink

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Do choose your drinks wisely.

Although alcohol and caffeine can both be digestive system irritants, this doesn't mean that you are stuck drinking water, while everyone else enjoys a fun or festive drink.  

Soft Drinks:

Soda is not a great option: sugar, artificial sweeteners and carbonation may all raise your risk of experiencing unwanted symptoms.  

A better option is to bring your favorite herbal tea bag and ask for a cup of hot water. If you prefer iced tea, ask for a glass of ice as well! 

Cranberry juice is the only juice to date that has been found to be low in FODMAPs, those carbohydrates that can contribute to IBS symptoms. For a festive non-alcoholic drink, you could have a glass of cranberry juice on ice, perhaps with a splash of club soda if you are feeling brave.

Adult Drinks:

Using the helpful research on FODMAPs from the researchers at Monash University, you should be safe with one glass of any of the following:

  • Beer
  • Gin
  • Vodka
  • Whiskey
  • Wine (red, white or sparkling)

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10. Have Fun!

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Do focus on having a good time and  enjoying the company of others. We are social creatures; we all need to have contact with others for optimum physical and mental health. And, the distraction of conversation with people that you care about is a wonderful remedy for pain and discomfort.

Even if you are not feeling at the top of your game, remind yourself that you could be stuck at home alone feeling poorly. At least you are out, living your life, and experiencing the pleasure of being served food that you did not have to cook. And, most importantly, you are connecting with the lives and experiences of others.

Source:

Monash University Low FODMAP Diet App Accessed Feb. 16, 2015.

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