Living with a chronic condition: How to address comments and questions about dietary restrictions

58685719 - colleagues eating in office during lunch breakWhen you have a chronic condition, you may have to adjust your diet. Although, this is a rather personal thing, it can be surprising how many people notice your diet changes. It’s amazing how often the diet thing gets brought up. You’ll be at the office and someone will bring in cookies to share, or you’ll go to an office meeting where lunch is provided. Then, there are all of the family get-togethers and outings with friends. People will notice that you’re not eating certain foods or that you’re bringing your own. You may try to remain under the radar with your choices, but inevitably someone will notice.

Responding to questions and comments

So, how do you handle these situations when they do occur? Does it really matter if they do notice? You may prefer to keep your chronic condition on the down low, because, frankly it’s your business, and you shouldn’t have to share intimate details with everyone. However, when you have a chronic condition and you’ve adopted a strict diet, you’ll inevitably be asked questions or provided with unwanted comments regarding your diet. Someone might assume you’re eating healthy to lose weight, and say something like “you’re skinny, why are you trying to lose weight?” Or, maybe someone will say “just live your life,” because they think you’re being too strict with your diet. Others might just have questions and want to know exactly why you’ve chosen not to eat dairy, gluten, or nightshade vegetables, etc. Questions and comments will be said at some point.

When these situations do occur, are you ready to respond to them? It can be uncomfortable and frustrating when people pop these comments or questions out. You may initially feel like spitting out a smart remark. However, reacting with a negative comment can make the situation worse. Instead, choose your words wisely in the moment. You don’t owe any person an explanation about why you’re eating the way you are. But, it makes it easier sometimes to just explain. It is also a good way to build awareness of the chronic condition. You may be the first person that tells them about this chronic condition, so you’ll be providing an education. If you’re comfortable with it, allow them to ask questions and explain it to them.

However, if you’re not comfortable talking in detail about your condition, you don’t have to. There is no law saying you need to share your intimate details with others. You can simply say you’re allergic to said food or that you have an autoimmune disease and leave it at that. If someone presses, tell them if you eat said food it will harm you, and it’s not worth the risk of getting ill.

Dining out with a chronic condition

Going out to eat with a chronic condition can also be a bit of a challenge, especially in the beginning as you navigate your way. Prepare yourself before going to a restaurant, look up the menu in advance. Identify foods you can eat or tweak to make them autoimmune disease friendly. Call the restaurant in advance to find out if they are accommodating of dietary restrictions, some will be more so than others. When you’re at the restaurant, ask questions and address concerns with clarity. Make sure that you’re assertive about your needs, but do it with a positive demeanor. You want them to understand that this is an allergy, not something to be taken lightly, but you also want them to want to help you.

When you have a chronic condition and you’re on a restricted diet, you really don’t owe anyone explanations. However, you will find yourself in the position of being faced with curious or nosy people who will have questions or comments to address. Some will address questions out of love and concern, others because they feel threatened, and some because they just don’t know any better. But, the way you respond is important. Keep calm and positive, decide if you want to share or keep it private. Whatever you do decide, it’s your decision, and it needs to be one you feel good about.