Some of you that I hang out with on Facebook have already heard…. I ate gluten on Saturday! No, I didn’t get cross-contaminated, I straight-up ate wheat!
By choice? No.
By my own flagrant stupidity. Yes.
I’m one of those annoying people to eat out with that asks the servers a gazillion questions and after they answer, I ask the same questions (possibly reworded). People who live the carefree life of eating whatever they want tend to not so enjoy eating out with me! Let me tell you… It makes for some awkward first dates!
There is a restaurant in Denver where I eat fairly often and have never been cross-contaminated, never had the server roll eyes at me, never been given the confused look for asking about types of ingredients or cooking processes and never received exasperated sighs of frustration as my order more resembles an algebra problem than a meal—“Can I have x without y, except for when z is present? Please?”
So as is usual, we ordered food, informing our waiter that we are severely gluten sensitive and confirmed that she wrote down our gluten status on the ticket. She however, forgot to type-in “gluten free” when she entered our ticket into the system for the chefs.
A dish entered my food-absorbed life that had a side of veggies with what appeared to be a few kernels of corn thrown-in for visual appeal. I don’t normally eat corn, but hey, I’m gonna splurge! But no. The corn kernels were actually couscous (yes, wheat). I ate 2 couscous kernels/balls/grains.
Failed attempt to purge the glutening.
The restaurant, rightfully, has me fill out an incident report and assures me that their HR (aka PR) person would be in contact with me on Monday. Looks of fear, dismay and their sheer terror follow. Our faces all mirror each other.
What followed for me was two days of an incapacitating headache, rudeness, inability to think or put complete sentences together, nausea, some mild depression and horrendous sleep, followed by two days of an uncomfortable headache, brain fog and body fatigue. Good times. I wondered if I would ever feel “normal” again.
Today is day 5 since the glutening and I feel pretty good—embarrassed—but tending toward normality (well, normal for me).
So, why am I embarrassed? What did I learn from this experience? What should I have done?
The following 9 considerations when eating out are essential when you have a food sensitivity or allergy:
1. Never get comfortable and overly confident when eating out no matter how amazingly understanding, compliant and awesome the restaurant is and no matter how many times you have gone there and received awesome, delicious, tummy-supportive, immune system-calming food. OOPS!
2, Confirm that your server will write down that the meal needs to be gluten free on the ticket – CHECK!
3. Ask your server to make sure to tell the chefs of your gluten status – CHECK!
4. When your food comes, confirm its allergen status, even though you were assured of it being gluten-free when you ordered it. OOPS!
5. Don’t try anything on your plate, until you know what it is! Take on the persona of an overly-eager, future med school, high school student dissecting a frog in Biology class. Be full of curiosity about your food—take it all apart, look closely, seek to understand and know each component before it ever reaches your palate. OOPS!
6. Support your digestion when eating out because you will always inevitably get a certain amount of cross-contamination even if just from breathing the same air as other patrons who eat what you can’t. For me, this means consuming digestive enzymes, Gluten Flam (an enzyme that helps break-down very minute amounts of gluten and dairy) and taking hydrochloric acid at the end of the meal to help break-down proteins. CHECK!
7. Only go to restaurants during off times so that they can actually remember what you tell them, don’t get confused and don’t get overwhelmed from having too much to think about. OOPS!
8. Only eat at restaurants you know ahead of time can cater toward your health needs. CHECK!
9. Ask lots of questions about your meal, especially if the restaurant changes what they serve seasonally. OOPS!
You are the one responsible for your own health, not the restaurant. Although restaurants should be careful and reliable when it comes to allergens, you are the one that is choosing to eat out and are ultimately responsible for any negative effects that causes. If you cannot take that risk, than don’t eat out. I hope that one day gluten is recognized for the health menace it is and put in a category like tobacco, as opposed to being in a category of “health fad” and that it is no longer allowed in public spaces like restaurants! But until that day, we risk our health every time we eat out and need to be smart about our food choices.
It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten gluten and having 2 couscous “grains”/balls on Saturday and multiple days of horrendous neurological symptoms reaffirms in me how important it is to be vigilant and makes me ready to commit physical violence against anyone that claims gluten sensitivity is just a fad! Are you with me?