IBS Restaurant Guide & the IBS Restaurant Cheat Sheet

A little bit of planning goes a long way...

The easiest way to eat safely for IBS at restaurants is to make sure you choose a good prospect in the first place. This obviously eliminates most (if not all) fast food restaurants and burger joints, but leaves you a tremendous wealth of traditional American, ethnic, and vegetarian places.

It's important that, if you're eating out with friends, you speak up and make it clear that the restaurant of choice needs to serve food you can actually eat. Don't be afraid to make yourself heard. You deserve a little special consideration here, and this means that you should have veto power if everyone else wants to eat at a place that simply won't work for you.

Remember that going out to eat is as much about socializing as it is about eating, so rest assured that your real friends will be happy just to be with you, regardless which particular restaurant you choose. If someone is consistently less than gracious about catering to your special dietary needs, feel free to drop them from your social circle. Anyone who doesn't consider your good health a reasonable priority is really no friend after all.

Before you venture out to eat, you may want to simply drive by all your favorite local restaurants and gather every take-out menu available. Take them home and look them over and see what your options are, and you can begin compiling a list of restaurants that you know have safe meal choices for you.

When you read the menus you're looking for low fat, high soluble fiber meals (if you're unsure what soluble fiber foods are, check Eating for IBS). At traditional restaurants, this might mean grilled chicken (skinless white meat only) or broiled seafood with a rice or pasta side dish, a pasta primavera, or a veggie fried rice. Watch out for words like "crispy", "crunchy", "creamy", and "rich", which typically signify fried or dairy items. Pay attention to sauce descriptions - you're on the lookout for butter, cream and oils.

If you have any questions, phone the restaurant and ask for details. Once you're in the habit of doing this you will never cease to be amazed at the trigger foods restaurants sneak into the most innocuous-sounding dishes. Just because they don't list an ingredient you're trying to avoid (especially cheese) in the meal description does not mean it isn't there. Trust me, you should always ask.

Make notes right on the menu if you like, and find out if dishes can be easily altered to make them safer for you. It's usually a very simple matter for a restaurant to leave the cheese off a dish, sauté something with less oil, add extra rice or pasta or a baked potato, and put sauce on the side. When you're actually in the restaurant (make sure you take a dose of your Acacia Tummy Fiber or a Tummy Tamer peppermint oil capsule before you go), order an extra basket of dinner rolls. Choose the white bread ones, not whole wheat, to get a nice soluble fiber foundation (with no risky insoluble fiber) to your meal.

Remember to eat any green salads last, not first (and with a fat-free dressing), and watch out for creamy soups that start a meal (like clam chowder). Cast an especially suspicious eye on the appetizers, which for some mysterious reason are often deep fried at all kinds of restaurants. Skip those entirely unless you can find a low-fat choice hiding between the cheese sticks and onion rings.

One great trick is to take along Peppermint or Fennel Tummy Tea Bags to restaurants. Try to order mint or fennel tea first, and if they don't have it just order hot water and brew your own. This can be incredibly helpful. I promise the waiter will not hassle you about it, and you will greatly minimize your risk of an attack.

Ready, set, go!

Once you've scouted out local restaurants with safe and appealing choices for you, it's time for a test run. Go by yourself or take a single close friend or family member, order an item you've previously scrutinized, take your Tummy Fiber at the table, drink some Peppermint or Fennel Tummy Tea, then relax and enjoy your meal.

You're in a no-pressure situation here, and you have permission to bail at any moment you feel uncertain or uncomfortable. Taking control of the situation in advance should allow you to feel at ease once you're there, and having a supportive person with you will add to your peace of mind.

Once you've eaten out a few times successfully, you will gain confidence that you can always eat out successfully, even at a new restaurant, even with a large group. It's another example of how knowledge is power over IBS. If you know how diet can control or trigger your symptoms, you can eat as safely in restaurants as at home. You will be managing your IBS - it will not be managing you.

For all restaurant adventures, make sure to use the:

IBS Restaurant Cheat Sheet

1. Order a meal based on soluble fiber (rice, noodles, potatoes, white bread, oatmeal)

2. NEVER assume anything on the menu is safe - ask to be sure

3. Avoid all red meat, dairy, eggs, and fried foods

4. Fill up on the (unbuttered) white rolls in the bread basket

5. Order peppermint or chamomile tea, or brew your own

6. Divide your plate in half and eat one portion only - take the rest home

7. Remember that drinks (soda, fruit juice, coffee, alcohol) can be triggers, too

8. Take Heather's Tummy Fiber right before the meal to buffer your gut's response to food

9. Don't be afraid to make special requests - you're the customer so you're always right

10. Eat your green salad (with fat free dressing) last, not first

How - exactly - to eat out without passing out.

First, once you're at your previously scouted restaurant, take your Tummy Fiber, especially if it's the insoluble fiber in restaurant meals that you are most sensitive to.

If it's the higher fat levels in restaurant food that are more likely to cause you problems, take a Tummy Tamer peppermint oil cap right before you leave for the restaurant (if you're not prone to heartburn, you can take the cap right at the table).

Now it's time to get down to the business at hand and figure out exactly what to order.

Be wary of anything the menu describes as:

raw vegetables

Instead, choose items that are:

stir fried
low fat

Don't be embarrassed to ask questions or make special requests. Always ask if what you're ordering is made (or can be made) without red meat and dairy products. Always ask that as little oil as possible be used in cooking.

Make sure that your meal comes with a soluble fiber foundation (rice, pasta, potatoes, etc.) Focus on seafood, skinless chicken white meat, or vegetarian options (minus the cheese).

Insider suggestions for making sure your restaurant meals are IBS-safe:

Dairy, especially butter, is unfortunately hiding everywhere. For example, sandwiches that are grilled almost always have a thick layer of butter spread on the bread before they are thrown on the grill, even though it doesn't say so on the menu. In fact, almost anything on the grill, from buns, to chicken, to eggs, gets a huge dose of butter. Make sure you ask for "seared" instead of "grilled", as "seared" means cooked on the grill without a butter spread.

Many vegetable side dishes are also cooked in butter, although the menu doesn't say so. To be safe, always tell your server you want no dairy at all.

Some restaurants offer an entire separate menu dedicated to dietary needs and allergens. Always ask.

Don't assume you can't eat at certain restaurants until you look at the menu and ask questions. They may have options that aren't listed on the menu at all.

Looking for restaurant style recipes for home that are safe for IBS? No problem! Try:

Diner Style Maple French Toast

Sweet & Sour Shrimp Chinese Restaurant Style

Molten Mocha Cake

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