Why You Should Always Listen to Your Instincts When Eating Out


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Don't Get Glutened. Always Listen To Your Instincts When Eating Out

Quite simply, because 99% of the time your instincts – that inner voice, little birdie or gut feeling – are right!

If you have a food allergy, sensitivity or Celiac Disease (like me), odds are you still eat out. And you should! A life chained to your sterile and contaminant-free kitchen might keep you safe, but it sure isn’t a whole heck of a lot of fun, is it?

So eat out and be merry! In fact, follow my 8 tips when you do. But when you get an inkling that something isn’t right, do not (I repeat – do not!) ignore that gut instinct. Our instincts have been brilliantly built into our DNA, over millennia, for one primary purpose – to keep us out of harm’s way.

But many times, our instinct is nagging away, pulling at our pant leg, even crawling up our leg. Yet we brush the little altruistic right sucker off. Because we don’t want to be a bother. Or make a scene. Or be difficult. Right?

Well, let me share with you a little story from this week

I ate out in a beautiful restaurant that prized itself on providing healthy, sustainable and environmentally aware food. Descriptive buzzwords that just oozed wellness! In fact, the restaurant was 100% vegetarian, but also catered to gluten-free and vegan by marking a “GF” or “V” next to items on the menu.

So I ordered a salad that was clearly marked both “GF” and “V.” Out of habit, I still questioned the waitress to ensure the salad was gluten-free. I was assured it was. Awesome!

My salad arrives and the first thing I notice is a lovely crostini sitting to the side of it. Now, I know gluten-free bread has come a long way over the years (thank the heavens!), but I caught myself staring at this crostini for a good couple of minutes. Because it looked like the perfect, delicious combination of crusty and chewy. Which is never quite possible with gluten-free bread.

Then, I looked down at my dressing that I had asked to have served on the side. It was brown in color. So I thought “hmmm, that’s interesting.” While inside, my internal soy-alarm bells were sounding like a tsunami warning.

So I asked the waitress to double check with the chef that both the crostini and dressing were in fact gluten-free.

But you already know the answer don’t you?

Nope, neither one. The crostini was regular bread and the dressing had soy sauce. A little flabbergasted, I pointed out the fact that the salad was clearly marked gluten-free. The waitress said she would bring me a different dressing – a lemon vinaigrette – and that I should just remove the crostini. 

Yowzers!! (and a few deep breaths)

Now, had that one crostini instead been multiple croutons on my salad, I absolutely would have sent the salad back. A little cross-contamination is never fun. But in this one instance, I felt that I could safely remove the crostini along with the underlying lettuce leaf and maintain full gluten-free integrity of my salad.

Whew. Gluten crisis averted.

The need to be your own food champion and watchdog

Eating out is loads of fun. And I don’t want you to become fearful of such a wondrous pleasure. But unless the restaurant owner, chef and server all have the same food sensitivity as you, they may not grasp the severity of your needs.

So what do you do then? Become your own biggest advocate!

Ponder for a moment all the dietary labels being thrown around the universe (gluten-free, grain-free, vegan, vegetarian, raw, diabetic, paleo, etc) – and add to that the myriad of food allergies (gluten, dairy, peanut, shellfish, egg, etc) – it’s enough to make anyone dizzy.

I’m no math-whiz, but that’s a lot of permutations. So I get the confusion.

But you know your body and how your body will respond to food. Will this food nourish you or make you sick? Many times, your instincts know before you. And if they’re tugging, crawling or sounding alarm bells – you might want to give a listen. 

To finish my restaurant story, I’ll let you know that as a health coach and card-carrying Celiac (well, if you’re counting my translation cards – ha!), I feel it’s my duty to kindly educate and gently inform. Which I did, in a private email exchange with the restaurant manager.

Will that restaurant change their menu or food process in the future? I’m hopeful. Because sometimes all it takes is a little awareness. Either way, I walked away just as healthy as I walked in. And that still counts as a successful restaurant outing in my books! 

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s my advice:

  1. Trust your instincts. Always.
  2. Ask the waiter to relay back to you your own dietary requests. If they’ve already forgotten by the time they’ve gone round the table, that’s a red flag. Ask them to write it down. 
  3. If you still feel uneasy, ask to speak with the chef. And I mean, get up and walk into the kitchen. This removes any unnecessary “telephone game” mis-communication. (*Note – I’ve actually built a wonderful rapport with many chefs, who greatly appreciate the clarification).
  4. If you still don’t feel reassured, simply leave. No meal is worth getting sick over. And I’m sure there’s another lovely restaurant that’s more than happy to serve you delicious, healthy and safe food.

Have you ever had a similar situation? Do you listen to your instincts when they tug at you? Share in the comments below!

Make sure to check out Roaming Free – A Whole Food Approach for Traveling the World Healthy, Happy and Gluten-Free for more tips, advice and wanderlust inspiration!


About the author

Lisa Bryan

Lisa is a bestselling cookbook author, recipe developer, and YouTuber (with over 2.5 million subscribers) living in sunny Southern California. She started Downshiftology in 2014, and is passionate about making healthy food with fresh, simple and seasonal ingredients.

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  1. Oh I’ve done it so many times…that “don’t wanting to be a bother”-thing. In restaurants, but even more so if invited for dinner by a friend. And since I have a histamine-intolerance issue, who can blame them for not being able to keep up with what I can and can not eat… Luckily I don’t get anaphylactic chocks when I react, just all the other symptoms… XD.

    1. Oh, I hear ya! We’re so hard on ourselves sometimes, aren’t we?! But you (and your health) lovely one are a priority! Never forget that. :) xo