When every bite of food can take one step closer to spending the night on the toilet, you may start to become overly wary of what—and where—you eat.
Dining out should be enjoyable. Whether it's for a birthday, a romantic anniversary, or a treat for those days when you can't be bothered cooking—restaurants should be fun, not frightening. However, people with IBS may not feel enthusiastic about eating out and may avoid social situations centered around food.
Managing food sensitivities when dining out
With increasing numbers of people reporting different food sensitivities, restaurants and bars are now used to providing information about their menu's ingredients.
Gut-friendly gluten-free and lactose-free options are readily available in most places. You might find it reassuring to contact the restaurant beforehand or check their online menu to get familiar with the food choices.
If you follow a specific diet, such as the low FODMAP from Monash University, look for FODMAP-friendly options.
As a rule of thumb:
- Go for simple dishes, such as meat and veg.
- Check for hidden ingredients, for instance, garlic and onion.
When you are at the venue, you can do the following:
- Explain to the waitstaff what you can or cannot eat and ask them to recommend a safe dish for you.
- Be clear about your needs and restrictions: speaking up, even if it's awkward to do so, can help you avoid an IBS flare.
- Avoid ordering foods that can exacerbate your symptoms, such as gassy and spicy foods, deep-fried dishes, and buttery dishes.
- Try to eat smaller portions: large meals may cause additional digestion problems, like heartburn.
- Check out the toilet facilities ahead of time.
Drinking alcohol with IBS
When you eat out, you may also want to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer with your meal. However, alcohol can be problematic for people with IBS, so it's a good idea to think carefully about your drink order before you get to the restaurant.
Some alcoholic beverages are more likely to cause more gut disturbances than others. According to the low FODMAP diet, drinks that are high FODMAP (and, therefore, should be avoided) include:
- Liquors (used in cocktails)
On the other hand, your body might find it easier to handle low FODMAP beverages, such as:
- Red wine
- Dry white wine
- Vodka, whiskey, gin
- Beer (you can ask for gluten-free)
Keep in mind: alcohol is a gut irritant, so even 'gut-friendly' drinks could trigger some symptoms. Drink in moderation, make sure you hydrate (a glass of water between drinks can do wonders!), and try to have an early night.
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Mentally preparing for dining out
Anxiety can be a major culprit in setting off IBS symptoms. Therefore, before going out, it's a good idea to try to lower your stress and anxiety.
Find a good relaxation method to get your body and mind ready for the outing. Experts frequently mention the following techniques:
- Deep breathing
Take your calm attitude with you to the restaurant. If you still feel anxiety rising, take a few deep breaths, or refocus your thoughts.
If you still feel uncomfortable, don't feel trapped. If you don't want to stay at a restaurant or don't want to eat something, then don't! Put your health and comfort first, and try to worry less about other people's reactions.
The Wrap Up
Dining out can cause anxiety and gut problems for people with IBS. However, with a little bit of practice, you can learn how to make dining out work for you. To prevent flare-ups, you may have to make some adjustments to the places you visit and the kinds of foods you order, or say 'no' to stressful invitations that are more likely to lead to a flare-up.