Five things about food you should never tell to someone with a digestive disease

Or really anyone who says there are foods they don’t eat

If you read me for the first time, a small recap: I have Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that primarily attacks and destroys thyroid gland. It also causes a lot of other issues; in my case, primarily digestive problems. It is a demanding condition, needing quite a lot of careful meal planning.

Sadly, Hashimoto’s is not the only disease causing a disarray in digestion after a seemingly innocent meal. There are many more conditions hitting hard on our digestive tract, and most of them are belonging to a group of autoimmune diseases: Crohn’s, Grave’s, celiac disease (gluten sensitivity), irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance and others.

For the individual having them, these conditions can tear their life apart. A supportive environment can do so much to make life, especially the first few years after the diagnosis when one needs to embrace the new lifestyle, easier. People usually have to change their life so drastically in order to accommodate all of the needs of their specific condition.

In many cases it comes down to the balance between psychologically feeling good (the comfort food trap) and feeling physically healthy (avoiding foods). Sometimes, especially soon after the diagnosis, these two feelings are triggered by a completely different set of behaviours, and are conflicting in their outcomes: feeling good while eating vs feeling good after eating (smooth digestion).

In order not to loose on my social life, as well as to restrain myself from eating foods I love but are bad for my condition, I started sharing with my friends a list of things I am sensitive to and would appreciate not to be tempted eating.

It was a long and multi-step journey: first I was reluctant to share my food needs, and I ate silently whatever was on the plate, then I stopped accepting dinner invitations. Next I started reinventing recipes and inviting my friends over. Now I am at a stage where I freely say what I cannot eat and why.

I am thankful to my wonderful and very supportive friends for accommodating my needs. It is a long journey, and it is not over yet.

Here are my top five negative comments I have experienced through the years of self discovery. For a friend of a person with any autoimmune disease or food sensitivities, it might be a good starting point, especially if you feel strongly about food.

1. Don’t worry, It is just a bit of blah*. I’m sure you will not even feel it.

*=any food you can’t eat

While it really is dose dependant with the foods I cannot eat, and I can sometimes cheat a bit, I always have to memorize when I last had a bit of forbidden food, and then try to recall if I can go for this piece too. I know it is sometimes confusing, and I look like a fake, but trust me, I am not. I have learned to live with my condition, and try to enjoy the life to the fullest. I might eat some of the forbidden foods in two instances: if the food is something I absolutely love, or if a friend of mine has slaved and prepared something they absolutely love.

Otherwise, I have started using this sentence: “I will eat this, if I can call you when my digestive troubles start and get a whole night support from you.” If you think this is a bit over the top, please understand it takes days and weeks for my body to come back to a healthy balance. Your friends might experience the same.

What you can say instead: “I feel for your food issues, and I don’t mind eating your portion too.” You don’t need to eat it on the spot! Store it in tupperware and eat it the next day at lunch while browsing online for facts on Hashimoto’s. ;)

2. We did not invite you out because we know you can’t eat pizza (=you are too complicated).

I love pizza, and granted, pizza comes with my nemesis cheese on top, but I have learned to enjoy the pizza that has no cheese topping, and it has other fun stuff. And I love pizzerias in Berlin, and I love going out there with my friends, drinking some nice vino and enjoying the atmosphere. I sometimes sneak in the cheese, but it’s becoming more and more seldom.

What you can say instead: “Sorry for not inviting you. We should not exclude you for being a wonderful weirdo. Next time you can go and not invite any of us.” (Obviously, the last sentence is a joke).

3. I don’t believe in food sensitivities.

It really does not matter what you believe in, as long as people know from my experience what I can and cannot eat.

This conversation has happened only once to me, but it still upsets me. A friend’s role is to support, and learn how to make other friends life easier.

What to say instead: “Can you tell me more? I want to learn about the allergies.”

4. Please eat this. It took me so much effort to make it.

Admittedly, this is a horrible situation, and I earnestly start eating even before the emotional blackmail starts. I love my friends, and there are not many more horrible things than disappointing a friend. But, please understand that it took me days and weeks and months to come to stage where I will not have troubles or feel pain when digesting. It was an effort, and although I love you please don’t make me eat this. I will feel sick for weeks and be unable to hang out with you and hear all about why your new boss is a d&%k.

What to say instead: “I feel for your allergies, and I am ok if you do not eat any of it. I will try to enjoy it for both of us.”

5. How come you are not allowed to eat all of these foods and you got so chubby?

In general, please never say this to people. To fully disclose, only some of my family members said this to me. Repeatedly.

It was not about body shaming, but they were genuinely perplexed. These remarks did not help with my frustration over the gained weight and inability to lose it as fast as modern diets suggest or predict. For some people the condition is really tough and the extra fat padding expands almost spontaneously. I am chubby, and at the same time I do physical activity.

What you can say instead: There is nothing to say, but you can listen (to understand, not to respond with some niceties).

Do you agree? And how do you talk to your friends about food? We would love to hear your opinion.

Coming soon: “Stuff that you can actually say to your friends and understand their conditions better”

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