How to navigate eating out with digestive issues

Eating out can be daunting when you’re dealing with digestive health issues. But with so many social gatherings focused around food, it’s hard to avoid potentially uncomfortable situations for your gut. We asked gastroenterologists Dr. Michael Caire and Dr. Marc Bernstein for insight about the best way to navigate these tricky situations.

Check the restaurant’s menu in advance

Be prepared! If you’re eating out, try to review the restaurant’s menu beforehand. Patient’s with Celiac disease should check if the restaurant has gluten-free options. For patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s or Ulcerative colitis, check to see if there are low fat, non-fried or foods that aren’t overly spicy. People with inflammatory bowel disease are often recommended to avoid high fat, fried, spicy or overly spiced foods, while those with GERD are recommended to avoid acidic sauces (including tomato sauce) and high fat meals. Additionally, alcohol or caffeine can make reflux symptoms worse by reducing the strength of the lower esophageal sphincter and reducing the threshold for reflux to occur.

Watch what you eat the day before

It is important to watch what you eat not only the day you’re going out to eat, but the day BEFORE as well! Food takes approximately 6-8 hours to digest through the stomach and small intestine, and up to another 24 hours to pass through the colon. That means if you’re going out on Friday, you need to start watching what you eat on Thursday

Have a snack beforehand

It’s a good idea not to go to dinner hungry, which can lead to impulsive choices. Ingesting fried, cheesy and fatty appetizers may make you very uncomfortable, very quickly. Have a sensible, high protein snack a few hours before going out to eat to keep your glucose levels stable and keep your hunger level in check.

Slow down

Pace yourself! Mindful eating will help you chew food slower, savor the dish, and keep you present with your company. If you’ve made healthy, fiber-rich, plant-centered choices, your food will have a lower glycemic index and will be digested slower, causing less of a sugar spike in your bloodstream and leading to sustained energy and comfort. 

Sip on water

Use liquids to your advantage. Be sure to stay hydrated and always ask for a water as one of your beverages to help you slow down the eating process. Be aware that carbonated beverages lead to more bloating. Also, keep in mind that most beer contains gluten and can give you the same symptoms as eating it in food. Cider and wine are appropriate alternatives. 

Stop eating before you’re full

Don’t be afraid to stop! It generally takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that you have eaten enough. Let your body catch up. Drink more water. Engage in conversations. Mindfully chew your food. And slow down — you’re there to spend quality time with the people at your table.