Restaurants and the Low FODMAP diet
Let’s talk about the difficulties of navigating restaurants while following the low FODMAP diet. It can be super stressful trying to figure out what is safe for you to eat or what might trigger your symptoms. There are however, some things that you can do to put your mind at ease and choose your meal with confidence.
Avoid eating out in the first phase of the diet (the low FODMAP phase)
I know, this may not be a popular opinion here. And you probably didn’t come here to be told not to go to out to eat at a restaurant. It is most likely that you came here to get advice BECAUSE you have arranged to eat out somewhere. But I really do feel like I ought to say it anyway.
While you are trying to get a handle on your symptoms it really is better to avoid eating out during the first phase. You likely don’t know what your trigger foods are yet. So it is honestly better to stay at home and cook your own meals. Maybe even invite your friends round for a dinner party and test out one of our or low FODMAP recipes). This way you can be absolutely certain of what it is you are eating and try to give your digestive system a rest. If you have friends and family you feel comfortable confiding in, who will support and encourage you then it is probably best you ask to postpone.
The food doesn’t have to be the star of the evening
This is one of the first things I learned when eating out. I used to revel in picking whatever I wanted from the menu. Sometimes I would even agonise over all the choices because I wanted everything. Now I have to pick from whatever I think is going to be the safest for me to eat.
This sounds depressing, I know. However, I learned to shift my mindset around what an evening out meant to me. Most often I am out with my husband for date night. Or catching up with my girlfriends. Really, for me it is the company that makes it a great evening out. And eating safer foods makes it an even better evening out because I don’t stress as much about getting an attack.
Sure, maybe I wouldn’t have picked the Caesar salad with the dressing on the side if I could eat anything. But I know that it is the best bet for my own FODMAP tolerances. And often when I am out socialising I am not even really focussing on the meal all that much anyway. Which for me is odd since I am such a foodie. But I try to engage in the social aspect of the evening at least!
See if you can pick the restaurant yourself
If you are able to have a say in which restaurant you eat at then this makes things a fair bit simpler. Of course, it depends a little on what is available where you live, as well as where you are in the world. My advice is to pick a restaurant with a menu that features meals that you recognise, and have maybe eaten similar variations of at home.
Cuisines that you don’t have much experience of can leave you feeling stressed when you don’t recognise some of the ingredients. You also will have no idea of their FODMAP content. In the event you do end up going to a restaurant outside of your comfort zone, consider looking up the menu first. This way you can check with the Monash University App or google the ingredients first.
Pick meals with fewer ingredients
I have definitely had the most luck with meals that are simpler. I never go for meals with heavy sauces (partly because onion and garlic are massive triggers for me). If you still don’t know what your triggers are then I would advise if nothing else then go for the simplest meal you can find on the menu without a sauce.
For me, this usually includes a salad (where I can request any sauce to be on the side) or something like a burger or a steak. I hate being that person who is difficult when ordering at a restaurant. Depending on how I feel (or what the tone of the restaurant is) I either ask the waiters to leave something off, or I just pick it off myself. So if possible I order something where I can see all of the ingredients. I can then later pick off the ingredients that I don’t want to eat.
This is also typically why I avoid meals heavy with sauces. I can’t exactly pick out the onion ground up into an indian curry, but I can pick it off my burger. It also goes without saying that you should be looking for meals with as many low FODMAP ingredients as possible. I find that salads, or meals that have chips or plain rice as a base are usually winners for me. This way I can at least be eating something in a worst case scenario. As I said, burgers are often good for me, but I already know that bread isn’t a trigger for me. Bread isn’t low FODMAP, so it may well be a trigger for you.
Consider buying tablets that aid digestion
One thing that helps me massively is to be well stocked up on every type of stomach/digestive tablet going. I usually have an entire pharmacy’s worth in my bag. This gives me peace of mind that I am prepared for all situations. Honestly, do not underestimate the power of peace of mind on the gut. Even if it does turn out to be a placebo effect. Having all manner of tablets with me makes me believe that everything will be ok. And since stress is a big contributor to IBS symptoms it isn’t a silly idea to be prepared.
Have a look into what sort of tablets you can get over the counter from your pharmacy. There are tablets that contain digestive enzymes such as lactase to help you break down lactose. There are also tablets to reduce bloating, stop intestinal cramping, and curb diarrhoea.
Eat low FODMAP for the 24 hours before eating out
Maybe this goes without saying. But even for someone like me who has been on the last phase (personalisation) of the diet for many years it is worth a reminder. It is always a good idea to eat low FODMAP prior to eating out. Any time I am not 100% in control of every morsel of food going into my mouth I go back to 24 hours of phase 1.
At this point this is likely just as I mentioned above. Just knowing that I have eaten well gives me peace of mind. Maybe it is just reducing my stress which also helps me avoid symptoms. I will probably never know!
How to sum it all up then? Pick restaurants that you are familiar with the cuisine. Try to pick meals that have fewer ingredients, and that aren’t all blended into a sauce (if you need to pick some ingredients off). At the end of the day just try to remember that the people who surround you will most likely understand if you confide in them, and will want to help you pick out a meal choice that allows you to enjoy an evening out with them!