By Jessica Goldman Foung
What if we lived in a world where people could improve their health simply by eating delicious food? Where medical professionals wrote prescriptions for garlic, pesto pasta instead of pills. And eating a batch of freshly baked BBQ apple chips a day actually kept the doctor away (or at least kept visits down to a minimum).
The truth is, you live in this world! The key to feeling well and in control actually exists right there in your cupboards, refrigerator, and kitchen. And you can help your health by simply altering the kinds of food you eat. Sounds like a dream come true.
But chances are, when your doctor told you to cut down on sodium, potassium, protein, or another edible mineral, this new diet sounded more like a big obstacle rather than an exciting opportunity; that it not only meant giving up certain ingredients but also dishes and activities you loved; and that it would so greatly throw off your routine, budget, and overall ease of life that it wouldn’t be worth trying.
Before you say no to making food adjustments, though, let’s pause for a moment. Let’s remember that we’re talking about food here. And let’s have some real talk about keeping a special diet and still keeping all the routines, recipes, and activities you love in your life. Because it is absolutely, positively possible to have it all: health, happiness, and the pursuit of meals that will keep you satisfied and full. And to achieve this trifecta of good things, you only need to put in a little effort, put on a creative thinking cap, and maybe a pair of party pants — because taking your wellness into your own two hands is something to celebrate. And being able to improve health with food is truly one delicious gift.
Of course, your special diet will come with challenges and that’s where the patience, time, and creativity come in. Because when you do a little research and reaching out, you’ll quickly find solutions to any dietary issue — whether it is cooking at home, traveling abroad, eating out, dating, or really anything else. And the best news of all is that there are a lot of people out there on special diets (including myself) who’ve already figured it out.
Which all leads to this truth: together, we are going to tackle the most difficult parts of keeping a special diet until lowering that sodium, potassium, protein, or anything else feels as easy as ordering pizza (and tastes just as good). I’ll offer up tips of my own as well as those given by friends, family, and other special dieters. And all you have to do is get ready to start eating and feeling well.
Secrets of a Special Diet: Eating Out
This month we’ll tackle eating out. Enjoying office lunches, potluck brunches, and dinner at a restaurant all seem to be activities that must be avoided when keeping a restricted diet. But with a few simple pre-meal preparations and dining ideas, you’ll be able to not only eat out with friends but also eat well.
Let’s start with the most basic tip. Communication is key! If people don’t know the details of your needs, they can’t make adjustments. So first and foremost, you must educate others — whether it is your best friend, aunt, or favorite local chef. Don’t be embarrassed about your diet, but take pride in being an expert on it. And remember that when you tell others about all the things you cannot eat, make sure you also tell them about what you can eat. That way, they’ll know what to avoid as well as what to use in order to make satisfying and diet-safe meals for you.
Next, if you plan on dining with friends, don’t be afraid to take charge. Help pick out the restaurant so that choose a menu that is flexible enough for your needs (i.e. fresh ingredients and cooked to order). And then, if you have time, try to call ahead and inform the kitchen of those dietary “don’ts” and “do’s.” That way, they will have the time and the ingredients available to make something special for you.
Now let’s get more specific, like eating at work. It probably feels like the most daunting environment for a restricted diet, especially if your office actually takes advantage of lunch breaks and sharing meals together. But here’s an idea that not only helps you take part in afternoon noshing, but will also make the work environment more fun. Start a Lunch Pool! It’s like a carpool but with food.
As with a potluck, everyone signs up to bring a side, salad, or other family style dish to share with coworkers. In planning, ask people to list dietary needs or considerations. Be sure to also ask everyone to bring a label with ingredients for when the food is served. And remember, whether you do this once a month or once a quarter, you probably aren’t the only one with food restrictions. So your Lunch Pool will welcome all your co-workers, no matter the food preferences, out of the cubicle and to the table.
BYO Snack Pack
For those S.O.S. food emergencies or bland menu moments, it’s always best to pack your work bag or purse with diet-friendly spices and snacks. That way, you always know you have the tools to fill up your tummy and fill a boring dish with texture and flavor.
Now, for those times when you’re dining at a restaurant or a friend’s house where you know you won’t be able to order safely, then take the “snack pack” idea to a new level and bring your own meal! Sodium Girl reader, Cece, says she always brings a homemade, main course with her in Tupperware and then asks the restaurant staff to heat it up right before her companion’s food comes out. That way, she shares a meal with friends while still eating a meal she knows is healthy and satisfying. Pro tip: this tactic works for dinner parties and weddings too!
The best way to eat well at someone else’s table is to invite them to your table first. Sodium Girl reader, Angela, says she educates friends by having them over to enjoy her favorite low-sodium dishes. And one good meal at her house leads to many more at the homes of her guests. Just remember, if someone does offers to cook for you, be sure to help them out with your favorite blogs and recipes; a clear list of ingredients to use and to avoid; and your favorite special diet substitutions. Pro tip: you can even bring your favorite products as a host or hostess gift.
Gratitude Equals Good Meals
Above all, giving gratitude goes a long way. Saying “thank you” for a good meal will make a big impression. And simply put, the more you build a relationship with the people who feed you, the better you will eat. Guaranteed, when you tell friends, family, and chefs that their food kept you full and healthy, they will enthusiastically cook for you again.
Jessica Goldman Foung aka “Sodium Girl” founded sodiumgirl.com, a website dedicated to her adventures in a low-sodium life, after she faced kidney failure and decided that she wouldn’t let anything stop her from having a “full life and a full belly.”