Speaking from personal experience, having food restrictions can be TOUGH, especially if they are new and you are just learning to navigate them. I also know how tough it can be for a loved one witnessing the struggle from the outside. So how do you support someone you know or love who has food restrictions? How can you be there for them, and better understand their situation to help them feel seen and included?
As a little insight, it’s not always a smooth transition for those with food restrictions figuring out the ins and outs of what they can eat, and all the unexpected feelings and insecurities that may sneak up. It’s all too easy to feel isolated, deprived, frustrated, pitied, and more. It’s so important to make the most of and adjust to their new reality by addressing the physical and emotional struggles, and learning and taking on new mindsets, perspectives, tips, and recipes. Apart from doing this work on themselves, having the support of those around them can make the world of a difference. And that’s where you come in.
Here are 3 tips if you’re seeking to support someone with food restrictions, and not quite sure where or how to start:
1. Take an interest and show you care. Ask and listen.
It can often feel lonely and isolating having food restrictions when around others who don’t. It’s easy to think that no one truly knows how you feel or the challenges you experience, and that no one really cares to understand or make accommodations to include you. So take a genuine interest in them and their situation, seeking to understand with an open heart and mind, and without judgment. Allow them to feel seen, heard, and valued for their experience and what they’re feeling.
Some questions to ask include: What do and don’t you eat exactly? What are your reasons for eating this way? How does it help you, or bring you joy? What’s your favorite part of eating the foods you do? What are some of your favorite meals? What are some of the challenges you experience? How can I support you right now, and in the future?
2. Be accommodating and inclusive.
Tip #1 helps facilitate inclusivity via conversation and connection, but it’s also important to be inclusive with the physical food that’s available. When you have food restrictions, you often learn to adjust your expectations of what you can eat anywhere other than your own home, and may even eat before to avoid a situation where you can only have a few raw veggies and leave disappointed and hungry. But just because they might not expect much (or anything), doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to offer foods they can partake in and make them feel included and valued.
Once you’re aware of what they can’t eat, have options and make food they CAN have based on their needs! Yes this might require you to step out of your own comfort zone and try new things (which is also an opportunity for you to experience growth!), but this effort will be so positively impactful to them and their experience. And if you’re eating out, help check the menus and make sure there are more than one option they can have and actually enjoy.
3. Share recipes with them that they can have.
Living with food restrictions requires you to get creative, and it’s always inspiring and helpful to have new recipes that you can have and enjoy. In most cases, the more recipes you can find and have access to try out, the better! Of course, everyone is different and may be in a different place, so first make sure to ask if sharing recipes with them is something they’d like at this time. They may be in a state where this feels overwhelming to them. But generally, any inspiration is greatly appreciated in the recipe department. And even better yet – MAKE it for them and share the recipe!
In summary, make an effort and do so with love. Show you’re interested in understanding them and their experience, take action to be accommodating and inclusive, and share recipes as a source of inspiration when you come across them. You may feel uncomfortable as you try to navigate how to act around them, or what to say or make for them, and that’s ok. Talk to them and ASK. Ask them for tips and tricks that they’ve picked up with ingredients, cooking, and shopping, and what they like. And ask them how you can best support them. You don’t have to have all the answers, but you do have to make an effort.