Kirstie is an AIP newbie, fashion industry survivor and nutritionist in training! Kirstie was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in 2013 and after initially just taking her pills and still not feeling that great, she realized that there must be a reason why her body had started attacking itself. And so the journey began! Quitting sugar, cutting out gluten and a career change were the first steps for her journey back to good health. The siren call of the Autoimmune Protocol elimination diet soon beckoned, and her education in delicious and nutrient dense home cooking got started! Having moved from the UK to Sydney, Australia 8 years ago, Kirstie can usually be found at her local farmers market, on her bike or, of course, in the kitchen. Kirstie blogs at The Nutritionista and can also be found on Facebook and Instagram (usually stalking other AIPers!)
Before cleaning up my diet (pre-Hashi’s diagnosis back in 2013) I would eat out at least 4 times a week. And that was just dinner. Factor in work lunches and weekend breakfasts and that’s a lot of eating out! Fast forward to when I started AIP 9 months ago, and eating out had to be one of the first things to go. I just couldn’t deal with the stress of explaining to another person what I could eat and couldn’t eat when I was still trying to grips with it myself, and that look in their eye of “urgghhh….another customer with so-called “food allergies”!”.
So I didn’t eat out for my first month into AIP, but by the time I did decide to “risk” eating out I was feeling pretty good health-wise and was able to let people know what my “special dietary requirements” without embarrassment. Now, 9 months down the track, and I do eat out on occasion. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but eating out with friends, or at friend’s houses, is something I really enjoy so it’s been worth putting in the effort to make it work for me.
And here are the key things I have learnt. I hope they might be useful for you too!
1. When jumping back on the eating out train (whoop whoop!), start with somewhere you know. You will know the menu, and therefore what you will be able to eat, and the waiter or waitress will probably know you, which should make them more likely to want to cater to your needs.
2. Start with breakfast or brunch. Once I knew I could eat bacon, everything became so much easier! So I’d order bacon with side orders of spinach, avocado, mushrooms, etc, and where necessary I’d ask for foods to be cooked in olive oil.
3. I tend to stick to cafes and restaurants that offer organic, free range, local produce. I want to support that type of local business anyway, but I also find they are more open to catering to my requirements and tend to have dishes using wholefood ingredients on the menu that are easily reassembled.
4. If I’m in a new town, I’ll google cafes and restaurants to find one that fits the bill (instagram also works well for this!). Then I’ll call them to explain what I need and see if they are able to accommodate me and what kind of dishes they might be able to serve. Advance planning is very important!
5. But if (as happened to me over Christmas) none of the restaurants you found on the internet are open, then just take a walk around and have a look at the menus for the restaurants you come across. Avoid anywhere with lots of sauces, stews, fried foods, etc, but if you can find a simple steak and vegetables on the menu then you are good to go. (Staying calm and patient is also very important I found!)
6. I do find it a bit trickier adjusting menus for dinner, as opposed to breakfast or lunch, so I left it a couple more months until I ate dinner out. My thoughts behind that being that if I did encounter food cooked in seed oils or something like that, I would be sufficiently healed that it wouldn’t affect me too much. And when I eat dinner out now, it’s at a place I know well and where the owner / chef took the time to go through the menu with me in detail beforehand.
7. For something like a working lunch where the food and location are out of my control, I take my own food. It isn’t a big deal for me so it isn’t for anyone else. I guess this depends on the establishment, but worse case scenario I’d order a peppermint tea and eat my own lunch once we’ve left (and never go there again!).
8. Eating at friend’s houses was something I kind of dreaded in the beginning, because I didn’t want to put them through the inconvenience of catering specifically for me as well as everyone else. But I love eating at friend’s houses! I found the easiest way around that was to find out what was being cooked, and usually it would be a roasted or barbecued chicken or lamb or something like that (the marinade would be something simple like herbs, lemon, garlic) with salad or vegetables and roast potatoes. So then I would bring roasted sweet potatoes and a salad for everyone and I can eat the meat along with the sides I’ve brought. In the beginning I would need to remind friends of what I could and couldn’t eat but as they mostly eat “real” foods too it didn’t take long for them to get into the swing of things!
9. Never be afraid to leave! I need to take my own advice on this one. Just a couple of weeks ago we went for lunch at a place that came highly recommended. But I had a bad feeling. The waiter didn’t seem to know what was gluten free and the owner was quite rude (er, why didn’t I leave?!). The menu seemed like it should be straightforward enough, lots of steaks, seafood, fish, but when I asked the waiter everything was marinaded or with a sauce, so there was nothing plain and simple that I could just order just as it was. I ordered the fish, grilled, with just a wedge of lemon and an undressed salad (I took my own dressing 😉 ) but as I started eating the fish I could taste that it had been “seasoned” with more than just salt and pepper. I should have stopped eating it, but we were with friends and I didn’t want to cause a fuss (seriously – so unlike me!) so I carried on. I don’t know what was on that fish, the owner angrily insisted it was gluten free, which was my main concern, but I felt pretty crappy for a week or so and I have a feeling the two things are connected. Anyway, we live and learn! And I certainly won’t be going back there again.
10. Don’t be fussy! The list of “what we don’t eat” is long enough, so if someone can cater for me with foods on the “what we do eat” list, I’m going to take it, even if some of those foods aren’t my favourite thing to eat. When I’m at home, I eat what I love. When I’m out, I eat what I can.
11. Never give up! If you love eating out there’s no reason why AIP should stop you, as long as you take the time to prepare and set yourself up for success. And as you make reintroductions along your AIP way, eating out gets easier, but (as I learnt) staying vigilant is still important!
So, those are my 11 tips for how to eat out on AIP. It was definitely a relief to me to realize that I could eat out whilst following AIP and I hope you feel the same way 🙂