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  • Sharon Thompson, PT, DPT, CSCS

3 Tips to Get the Most Intolerable Friends and Family to Tolerate Your Food Intolerance

Thanksgiving Food Sensitivity Training: How to explain food allergies, food sensitivities, and dietary choices to even the biggest turkeys.

Pelvic pain and dysfunction is often linked to diet. If you suffer from interstitial cystitis, endometriosis, autoimmune disease or digestive issues such as IBS or SIBO, you may experience increased pelvic and/or abdominal pain when consuming an irritating food or drink. Or perhaps you don't have an illness but you have made a dietary change in order to feel healthy and well overall.

Now how do you explain this to your loved ones during a holiday almost entirely centered around food?

Food is an integral part of our culture, society, and even personal identity. As trivial as it may seem, changing one's diet can trigger a surprising amount of criticism and hostility from those we share meals with. When you voice your decision to stop eating sugar, someone else may subconsciously feel their identity being attacked as an undisciplined sugar-holic. If you have to turn down the mashed potatoes to avoid lactose, your sister might feel hurt because you dislike her cooking.

It can be especially hard to communicate dietary needs to close family and friends because we feel entitled to be more candid with each other. So how do we navigate this domestic minefield? Here are 3 tips to help you preserve the family peace at Thanksgiving.

1. Be proactive, not reactive

Don't wait for Thanksgiving dinner to communicate your needs. If you can meet up or call your host prior to the event, you can explain your dietary restrictions in a non-threatening way that cannot get misinterpreted like a text or e-mail. Gently inform them that you would just like to know what dishes they are planning to make so that you don't accidentally eat something that could cause your symptoms.

Ask to contribute a dish. This is not unheard of during Thanksgiving! It can mean that you won't starve in case your food selection ends up being very limited. Your host will also be relieved to have some help with providing food. Make sure that whatever you contribute can feed everyone so that it doesn't look like you are just avoiding everything your host graciously prepared. It's a great idea to try to bring something that is unique rather than duplicating a recipe--if you bring roasted cauliflower as an alternative to sweet potato casserole your host will not feel like you are competing with them, but if you bring a gluten free pumpkin pie and place it next to their pumpkin pie the situation could get sticky.

2. Stand up to bullying

What happens when people are mean? Let's break it down even further. Why are they being mean? Most of the time it's actually because they feel insecure. They may feel as though you are looking down on them for their own dietary choices (or lack thereof). If they feel threatened, they may scoff or criticize you to give themselves the other hand. Although you may feel inclined to respond defensively, give them the upper hand. Respond with vulnerability. Tell them it's hard! Explain what you are doing in a way that is asking for their support and approval. Once they understand where you are coming from, they are often the very same people that will stand up for you if someone else gives you a hard time.

Note the difference between these two approaches:

Auntie Gretchen: I can't believe your another one of those people hopping on board that "gluten-free fad". I thought you were better than that!

You: I can't believe you're not! If you had to deal with what I have to, you would be doing the exact same thing. And it's not just a fad--gluten can increase overall inflammation in the body which can cause damage over time.

<cue cat fight>


Auntie Gretchen: I can't believe your another one of those people hopping on board that "gluten-free fad". I thought you were better than that!

Response #2: I know, I used to think that it was just a fad too. I agree with you, sometimes it can be taken out of proportion! For me it really does seem to help. I don't know if I told you this already, but part of my symptoms with IC include really bad bladder pain, like when you have a UTI except a million times worse. Whenever I have gluten my symptoms get worse and it can take weeks for me to feel better again. Sometimes it's so hard to say no to Grandma's pecan pie though, can you help me stay strong?

Auntie Gretchen: Oh, I guess I didn't realize that it could cause pain like that. Don't worry, I'll just eat all the pecan pie for you.

It may not all work out as neatly as that scenario, but you catch my drift. Better to have Auntie Gretchen feel empowered and understood then throwing facts at her that she probably won't even hear.

3. Know your audience

Once you've won over the critical crowd you may end up bombarded with questions. Great! This is your chance to explain part of your journey and your impact your diet has on your life, and maybe even help them out with making healthy choices of their own. People may be excited to talk about your dishes that you brought and exchange recipes. Just be careful not to stay on your soapbox too long. If your host is starting to look antsy, don't forget to complement their cooking as well.

Now what happens if you don't win over the crowd? Don't let it get to you. You should be proud of your choice to protect your health. After all, these are the decisions that YOU made about YOUR body and you know it makes you feel better. If you are still getting snide remarks or intrusive questions, make light of it and change the topic to get the attention off you. Consider it the same as any other family "trigger topic" you might have, such as politics or religion. If your friends and family aren't willing to discuss your decisions amicably, then save it for another time and place.

Whatever happens, be proud of your choices to be healthy and happy and don't let any turkeys spoil your Thanksgiving!

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