How To Tell Friends & Family About Your Food Intolerances, Allergies & Sensitivities
When trying a new diet, one of the biggest hurdles we have to overcome is speaking to our friends and family about our food choices. Even when high risk allergies are on the table, family members can often misunderstand the severity of eating a particular ingredient. Older family memebers, bless their hearts, can often not quite understand allergies and food intolerances. "Don't worry, it's only a drop of milk, that won't harm you!" As well as growing up during a different time, they may not have any food intolerances themselves, so it's tough for them to wrap their head around someone else’s after a lifetime of feeding up a large family.
Chatting to friends and family about food can be a sticky subject. We all have our own likes and dislikes as well as opinions. Most importantly we all want the very best for our loved ones, so it's very normal for those close to you to be concerned and voice their thoughts on the food journey you have embarked upon. In this post I'm going to outline the tips and tricks that have worked for me when it comes to approaching others about my allergies, intolerances and food restrictions.
Why would anyone have to tell their family and friends about their eating habits?
When you pop over to someone's house for dinner, or even just a cup of tea, food is usually on the cards. As someone who has had food intolerances and allergies her whole life, I know how tricky it can be to navigate either not eating something without offending someone, or even worse, accidentally eating something you can't have. To avoid these stressful situations, the very best thing you can do is sit down and have a chat about food.
1. Don't Call It A Diet.
I don't often refer to the way I eat as a diet, the word diet has three definitions;
1. "the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats."
2. "a special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons."
"restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight."
In my opinion, food shouldn't ever be restricted. I believe we should enjoy the food our bodies love however we wish to, as long as it is not at the detriment of our health. Whether that's through ready meals, take aways, food prep on a Sunday night, smoothies, kale or chocolate bars. Food should be enjoyed, it's our fuel, it nourishes our bodies and takes responsability for 90% of what we look like. The word 'diet' conjures up images of starvation, restriction and lettuce leaves. It also adds a sense of brevity - a diet doesn't usually last long.
2. Be Clear On Your Why.
Why are you following a certain food plan? Is it because you have discovered that eating certain foods makes you ill, gives you bad skin, makes you feel sluggish? Is it because you've researched all of the benefits? Is it because you've found that eating this way just makes you a sparklier, more energetic version of yourself? Whatever it is, be clear on your why. It's the first question you'll be asked - "but...why?".
3. Arm Yourself With Research.
As humans, we're naturally sceptical of anything new. We want to know more information in order to make our minds up on a topic. Something has inspired in you an awareness of food and as to why eating a certain way is beneficial for your body. Make sure you show this. If you're like me, you will have read books on the subject, watched documentaries, and read blog posts and articles. Mention these things in your conversation, it can often be very helpful for whomever is trying to understand your choices.
Whenever I speak about how I got my head around my free from diet, after explaining my food allergies and intolerances people often want to know more. I point them in the direction of resources I found useful, some of the books below are affiliate links.
The China Study - This is a nutritional study conducted over the course of 15 years by two scientists. It's a dense and heavy read, but well worth it if you're interested in nutrition. It gave me answers to the problems I face with animal protein - especially in regards to how it aids the growth of tumours in my body.
Netflix has a brilliant range of food documentaries, I found these really interesting:
- Food Matters
- Super Size Me
- What The Health
- Food Choices
Deliciously Ella - Ella's books are great - they're informative and have easy to follow recipes for free from meals. I lent Deliciously Ella Every Day to my mum and Fraser's mum, both ended up buying their own copies. Having recipes they knew I could eat really put thier minds at rest. Ella's about page on her website can offer insight into how much a diet can change someone's life.
The Food Medic - Whilst Hazel also includes recipes and exercises in this book, what I found the most useful was the information on food written in every day, normal English rather than science speak, in an easily digestable form.
4. Approach Easy Going People First.
We all have loved ones who are easier to chat to than others, it's best to approach these first when chatting about food experimentation. Not only will it make you feel less anxious, it'll give you a trial run for when you speak to those who are a little more closed minded. Make sure it's a quiet, calm setting, and don't expect too much. You don't need their acceptance to eat a certain way. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks or feels on the subject, as long as you're feeling your very best.
5. Food Testing.
Once you have a couple of dishes or snacks you know you can cook well, invite family or friends round to try. It can really change opinions and mindsets and you’ll often hear exclamations of "I could happily eat this every day!"
6. Kitchen Clear Out.
Having a cupboard clear out once you know exactly what you can and can't eat is a really good idea. Firstly, if you're tempted by things you shouldn't have - for example my other half get's very itchy and feels unwell when he has gluten or dairy, it's best not to keep them in the house. While my food sensitivies are more severe if I consume my trigger foods, Fraser will think it's worth it at the time. He soon regrets eating that slice of cake or having a dairy icecream an hour later though. Once you've cleared your cupboards and fridge, pop everything into a bag and take it over to your family or friend's house. Not only does this minimise food wastage , it's also a brilliant way of showing them exactly what you can't eat.
I did this years ago for dairy and refined sugar, and more recently, just a few weeks ago with gluten after discovering last month I have a gluten intolerance. When I took the bag over to my parent's they were surprised to find things like stock cubes and tortilla wraps. I know that this won't work for everybody - especially if you live with others who don't share your food woes!
7. Write A List.
When I went to stay with my Nan for a week a few years back, she asked me for a written list of the foods I can't eat. It put her mind at ease and made shopping much easier. I also told her a few simple meals that I eat regularly, porridge for breakfast, jacket potato for lunch and rice with sweetcorn and peas for dinner. It may not be the most varied meals and snacks, but reassure loved ones that eating food you can tolerate is a lot better than the alternative.
8. Always always always say how you have your tea/coffee.
Whenever I go to anyone's house, the first port of call is tea. Obviously. When we make tea, it's often done on auto-pilot. Afterall, we make it various times a day. Being British, most of my family have milk in their tea. When asked if I'd like a cuppa, I ALWAYS say "oooh yes please! Black with no sugar for me thanks!" Nine times out of ten the response is "Oh yes! I'd forgotten you can't have milk." It's such a simple thing but can save a lot of awkwardness - pretending to drink the tea, whilst sneakily tipping it into a plant pot / down the sink / into someone else's mug - been there, done that!! Or the alternative - telling them that you can't have milk after it's been given to you, and it being thrown away, another made, leaving you feeling awkward and terrible about the waste.
9. Don't Be Preachy.
Just because you've decided to follow this way of food life, doesn't mean others will want to too, and that's perfectly okay. We all have different bodies, and there isn't one single way of eating that suits us all. We also all have completely different lives - I have time to cook at home, but I know many of my friends aren't lucky enough to have that time.
Preachiness, especially when it comes to food can put the other person on the defence. My family and friends have adopted quite a few of my eating habits, but not through me pushing them to do so, it's been a natural process of them trying food that I make, enjoying it and wanting to cook it for themselves.
I hope you've found these tips and tricks helpful! I'd love to hear if you have any of your own, you can share them in the comments section below.