table setting but utensils have spikes on them and a warning sign on the plate

Social Outings, Restaurants, Crohn's & Supportive Friends

If you have Crohn’s disease, you likely already feel like social outings, going out with friends, sitting in restaurants, and participating in “normal” activities surrounding eating comes with new and diverse sets of fears and worries. I know for me personally, I spent years just simply avoiding all of the above, because it was much safer and required a lot less planning to stay home and maybe invite a friend over.

I hated trying to plan for any number of unpredictable or potentially embarrassing situations I could encounter while out and about, but the things that always rattled me the most were related specifically to food - what was I going to eat, when would I need to eat, and finally, what would my friends say about what I ordered or how much I ate.

About two years back, I started to feel caged inside my house and decided I needed to learn to work through these stressors.

Planning for social outings with friends

Let’s talk about planning for social outings and finding things on your own specific IBD diet to eat. First off, I am the chief of understanding that while my Crohn’s disease has a small menu of safe foods, what’s on my regular dining menu varies based on several things, including the status of my guts and the severity of my symptoms, also how long ago my last Remicade infusion took place, if I’m hydrated enough, or rested enough, etc. Next, I know there are some times (few and far between) I’m able to take small risks without my life flipping over, but the majority of the time that’s not the case! Finally, I know that my anxiety increases drastically if I can’t view the menu of wherever I’m going before I get there.

Choosing where to eat for Crohn's disease

So, one of the most important things to me if I’m going to go out to eat usually means I pick the restaurant. With people I don’t know so well, I try to make this look like a helpful suggestion - offering two or three restaurants I know that I can find something to eat at, and having them pick the location or menu that is most agreeable to them. With my closer friends, they know the planning is a thing that helps me feel in control even when my Crohn's is unpredictable. Unless they have a specific craving, my friends and family usually have no problem with my choosing where we go to eat.

What this looks like is that many times, it’s feasible to go out for American food - finding somewhat plain sandwiches or burgers can often be relatively easy. Oftentimes, going for Italian food is an easy yes because plain noodles are almost always on my stomachs “okay” list, meaning that worst comes to worst, I’ll find a fairly reasonable option to order. And sometimes, it means if I’m really craving Mexican food, I’ll go to a place I’ve eaten at before, and order a small portion of food.

How friends can support someone with Crohn's disease

My friends have often asked me how they can be supportive and accommodating in these situations. In my experience, these are my people, the people who want to make things as easy and as minimal stress as possible, and while they might need a little guidance on IBD etiquette, they have the best intentions in the world. What I’ve learned is this can make a big difference in my comfort level, and I typically reply to the question in a way that sets up all future experiences in a positive manner as well.

I share with my friend that I am limited in what I can eat because of my Crohn’s disease. I only go into detail here if it’s comfortable, or a natural part of the conversation. I find that focusing so much on why I can’t eat things still causes me negative emotions, and I prefer to avoid it. This is not the case for everyone, so this is a space for you to share exactly as much as you’d like to! Next, if my friend asks what I’m ordering, or if I want to share some things, I tell them what I am going to order or what options I would have for sharing. I don’t think is much different than anyone else out to eat!

When the food arrives, if I feel uneasy, I’ll often choose to tell my friend or whomever I’m with that I’m not super hungry so I might not eat all of my food. If this is the case, I usually choose to follow that up with a comment about how great the other half will be for leftovers, but this is my own conversation diversion tactic ;) The first time I get up to go to the bathroom during the meal, I also usually make a comment that I might be gone for a few minutes and not to worry, I didn’t fall in. I tend to find the humor tones down the awkwardness for me, but I also usually only go out to eat with people who already know I have Crohn’s disease and what it’s like for me. Finally, if I feel anxious during any part of the meal, I have started sharing this with whomever I am with. I’ve found for me, it’s way worse when I pretend it’s not happening.

What tips do you have for going on social outings and out to restaurants with your friends? I’d love to hear them below!

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