How to Eat Out on the Low FODMAP Diet
Do you wish you felt confident to go to a restaurant without worrying about what you’ll eat and where the nearest bathroom is? Time and time again, when speaking with IBS sufferers, I hear that going out to eat is their main worry. This post will guide you through 6 things that help me to eat out on the low FODMAP Diet with confidence. It will leave you with some really simple actions you can take next time you want to eat out. These actions should help give you the confidence to choose restaurants & food without worrying about your gut playing up.
I recently ran a survey amongst a group of fellow gut issue sufferers. One of the questions I asked was ‘What are your biggest struggles with fitting the low FODMAP Diet into your life?’ The most common answer to this question was ‘eating out.’ When I started reading through the answers, it made me really sad. I could relate to all of the concerns around eating out – not knowing where the nearest bathroom is, getting yourself into a complete panic, not having anything to eat, the thought of suffering later on. If you relate to any of these, I’m with you.
IT SHOULDN'T BE THAT WAY
The reason this made me so sad is because I really believe that the low FODMAP Diet shouldn’t get in the way of your life (read about my approach here). It should help you to take control of your gut through an understanding of your symptoms. However, you shouldn’t have to compromise living your life to do this. If you’re anything like me, eating out with friends and family is a key part of your life. It’s one of my favourite things to do. If I stopped doing this, I may have my gut under control but I wouldn’t be happy. So, I promised myself that I wouldn’t let the diet get in the way and I kept eating out.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’ve learnt a lot along the way, and I still am. I want to share those things with you, so that you too can gain the confidence to eat out on the low FODMAP Diet. So here goes…
6 PRACTICAL TIPS TO HELP YOU EAT OUT ON THE LOW FODMAP DIET
1. DO SOME RESEARCH
This is really the first step and something you can do before even setting foot into a restaurant. There’s 2 things I’d recommend:
LOOK FOR MENUS ONLINE:
Most restaurants these days post their menus online. If not, you can normally do a search and find some kind person who’s taken a photo of the menu. Have a look through the menu and mentally highlight the FODMAP friendly options or those that have a couple of high FODMAP ingredients that you could pick around or ask to be removed. This can take a bit of time, but it’s worth it. Knowing your options before going to the restaurant means you won’t have to sit there for 20 minutes on the Monash App/Google when you arrive, working out what you can eat. Not exactly very sociable..
CONTACT THE RESTAURANTS:
You may be nervous to do this, but I totally recommend calling or emailing restaurants to find out about food ingredients. From my experience, most have been more than happy to help. What I’d do is just call/email and briefly explain the diet (even just say you’ve got some food intolerances if you don’t want to go into it) and ask if they can tell you the ingredients in a certain food. Alternatively, as some places may be uncomfortable about giving away their recipe, just let them know the key ingredients you need to avoid and ask whether they are in their foods.
I recently emailed a local health food restaurant that serves ‘build your own’ style salads with a choice of about 10 dressings. I was pretty confident they didn’t contain any other high FODMAP ingredients, but wasn’t sure about garlic, onion and honey (they always seem to be the hardest!). So, I emailed and asked which of their dressings had these ingredients. They were surprisingly helpful. They passed me onto their nutritionist who informed me there were 2 dressings on the list that I could have (yay!). The result is that I now feel super confident ordering salads with those dressings and don’t need to cause a fuss when I’m actually at the restaurant.
2. CHOOSE WISELY
The first thing I’d recommend here is to offer to choose the restaurant. If you’re planning a mid-week dinner with the girls or a Friday date night with your partner, jump in before anyone else and offer to pick where you go. Not only will you seem super helpful, but you’ll be in control of where you go. You can then browse menus, get recommendations etc and choose somewhere where you feel confident of what you can eat.
The next step is actually choosing where to go, and one of the things to think about here is cuisine. I find Japanese and Korean BBQ brilliant, as well as anywhere that has a ‘build your own’ style option. Another great tip is to find local or family run restaurants. As they normally make their food from scratch, it is easier for them to customise menus for you. The cuisines I find really difficult in eating out on the low FODMAP Diet are Mexican (onions in everything!) and Indian (there’s normally always garlic and onion in curry sauces). I’ve written a whole blog post on the best low FODMAP cuisine choices, which goes into more detail on best cuisines and what dishes to choose. Check it out here.
3. KNOW WHAT TO SAY
Ok, so now you’re actually in the restaurant and need to order a low FODMAP meal. I’ve had so many occasions where i’ve got to this point and not known how to explain the diet, or what ingredients to ask to be excluded. This has left me either not daring to ask at all or attempting it and not feeling understood.
What really helped me here was working out a clear, simple explanation and practising it. I then knew exactly what to say to restaurant staff and hence went straight in with it and felt understood. By knowing they understood me, I felt confident in the food they were bringing me.
THERE ARE 3 THINGS I’D THINK ABOUT HERE:
A simple explanation of the diet: As you’ll be well aware, the low FODMAP Diet is a pretty complicated one. This makes it a nightmare to explain to anyone. I would work out a way of explaining it in one or two sentences, in a very basic way (here’s my explanation, to give you an idea). Once you’ve got it, practise it on someone who’s never heard of the low FODMAP Diet to make sure they get it.
Onion & garlic: these are normally the worst offenders, found in most restaurant food and difficult to detect. Therefore, if you ask for your food without garlic & onion, you’re one step closer to getting a completely low FODMAP meal.
Work out your worst offenders: if you’re just starting off on the diet, this will be difficult. However, once you get into it a bit, it will become easier. As you get an idea of which ingredients are your biggest triggers, add them to the list of things to ask the restaurant to leave out. For example, I’m highly sensitive to Fructose, and honey is something that’s sometimes sneaked into dishes without you knowing. So, when I’m eating at a restaurant, I will briefly explain the diet and then ask if they can prepare my dishes/recommend dishes without any onion, garlic or honey. The rest of the high FODMAP ingredients I can normally avoid from the looking at the menu.
4. SAUCES: THE NEMESIS
Well, I never thought I’d say that. I’ve always been one of those people that likes a sauce with everything. I really hate dry food. However, sauces really do make life difficult on the low FODMAP Diet, mainly because you just don’t know what’s in them. So, a few saucy (see what I did there!) tips for you:
Ask for sauce on the side – then it’s your choice how much to use and whether to use it at all. You can just not put it on your food at all if you suspect any high FODMAPs lurking inside it.
Avoid any very heavily sauced dishes - examples of these are curries and saucy pastas. This is because these sauces normally contain onion and garlic, as well as other hight FODMAP ingredients.
Avoid anything made from stock - such as soup or risotto. The reason for this is that stocks normally contain garlic or onion too. They're also made up in advance, so will be difficult to change.
If you’re a fellow dry food hater, and you need a sauce for your meal, request a low FODMAP option - my go to options (depending on cuisine) are soy sauce, mayonnaise, olive oil or balsamic vinegar (1 tbsp is low FODMAP). Just ask for a pot of one of these on the side and dip/pour away!
5. BE CONFIDENT
This is a massive one! Being embarrassed to speak up in front of friends or ask restaurants to make modifications is a huge factor that stops people eating out. Even if it doesn’t stop you eating out, it stops you asking for the right food. This leaves you either hungry or anxious of symptoms to come. I’ve written a whole post (read it here) on the realisations I made that stopped me feeling so embarrassed and gave me the confidence to just ask. I just had too much to say to fit it into this one!
6. THINGS MIGHT GO WRONG..AND THAT'S OK
So, you’ve done your research and chosen a restaurants that seems FODMAP friendly. You’ve practised what to say and you’ve had the confidence to say it. You’ve even managed to avoid the evil sauces. There’s still a chance that things might go wrong. There might have been a sneaky high FODMAP ingredient in your food that you didn’t think to ask about. The waiter may not have understood you. Your message may have got lost in translation between the waiter and the chef (this has happened to me A LOT). Whatever the reason, you may have eaten a high FODMAP ingredient by mistake.
The main thing here is to know that this happens to everyone and that it’s totally OK. Whilst you might be suffering because of it, don’t beat yourself up over it. You can’t get everything perfect all the time. When this happens to me, I’ve started to think of it as a learning opportunity or a ‘test.’ Just note down the food you consumed and the symptoms you experienced. You’re actually now one step closer to working out your triggers…not so bad after all.
Next time you’re invited out for dinner, or you want to plan a fun evening out, try implementing these tips. Putting a bit of time into researching, planning what to ask for and having the confidence to ask it, and being careful with sauces, has totally paid off for me. It makes me really sad thinking that IBS sufferers are so afraid about eating out, that they’re avoiding it altogether. I want you to have the confidence to do go to restaurants and relax when you’re there.
I hope this shows you that it is 100% possible to still eat out on the low FODMAP diet. You don’t have to compromise all the things you enjoy in your life! It’s time to take control of your gut and not let it control you and where you eat. Take control of your gut without compromise.
HOW TO EAT OUT ON THE LOW FODMAP DIET - KEY TAKEAWAYS
Do Some Research – look at menus online or contact restaurants in advance, so you can go out prepared, knowing what your low FODMAP options are.
Choose Wisely – offer to choose the restaurant, so you’re in control, then think about the best low FODMAP friendly cuisines.
Know What to Say – work out a simple way of explaining the diet and the things you need to avoid. Practise it and get comfortable saying it.
Sauces: The Nemesis – be careful with these!
Be Confident – don’t be embarrassed to talk about the diet. Ask the restaurant to tailor meals or to tell you what’s in them. It’s worth it to get a low FODMAP meal that won’t leave you running for the bathroom.
Things Might Go Wrong – accept that you can’t always get it right. View it as an opportunity to learn more about your triggers.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this. I’d love to know what you found useful or if you have any questions or comments…please post in the comments below!