Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Should I Eat Here? Dealing with Food Anxiety and Eating in Restaurants

It's a hard thing to decide when and where to eat when you have celiac disease. I have a reaction to gluten so severe that I've had to leave restaurants in an ambulance. People often say to me "well, why bother going out to eat?" To them, it's not worth the risk.

I've had a hard time reconciling this. Sure, common sense dictates that I should just avoid going out. But I refuse to be a slave to my disease. For one, it would mean shutting myself off to many social events. Whenever setting up a date with friends or family, the first thought is "so do you want to grab dinner/lunch/brunch?" Our culture and socialization revolve around food.

I also just love food. Sure, I consider myself to be a good cook. But I can't cook a lot of stuff, and I want to eat what I want to eat. Most restaurants can offer at least one gluten free option -- in fact, catering to food allergies is the law in Massachusetts. Restaurants must provide allergen awareness training here, and I love that.

More than anything else, what kind of life is it to live in fear the whole time? Obviously, I exercise common sense and don't take risks. But I'm not going to live as a shut-in, not when there are so many restaurants that really get it. There are some restaurants where I KNOW I'll be safe, and if I'm feeling nervous. I will eat here:
It's hard not to have anxiety about food when a mistake or carelessness can land you in the hospital. This happened to me at Rancho Chico in Plainville, MA. Despite their insistence that they understood celiac disease, I was clearly exposed and had a seizure at the table. They put me in the hospital, and the manager insisted that I must have brought outside food in, and forced my party to pay for my food (I was in the ambulance so I couldn't pay), saying that if they didn't cough up, the server would have to cover the cost. 

I didn't eat solid food for a few weeks after this incident, because I was just so afraid and I'd start to panic whenever I looked at food. But I came to realize that this was no way to live -- food is amazing! It's just about going to places that aren't run by megalomaniac douchebags who still won't own up to it. So do your research! Be educated, and don't be afraid to ask for the manager or to speak to the chef. It's your body and you are the consumer -- be your own advocate and don't eat anything you're not comfortable eating. 

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