You’re committed to the Starch Free Diet for Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), and you’ve got your home meal plan working for you.
But what about eating out?
Can you still enjoy a night out at a restaurant without betraying the diet?
That’s the focus of this article.
I’ll do my best to guide you through the culinary minefield of dining out on this diet.
The truth is it IS hard at first.
When you are new to the diet
Restaurants get into a panic (and usually get it wrong anyway)
In an ideal world, everyone would have heard of AS, and everyone would have heard of the starch-free diet.
The reality is, probably 0.01% of the population has heard of either.
As a result, as soon as you mention it, restaurants tend to get into a panic.
It must be a nightmare being a chef in the modern world where everyone seems to have an allergy or intolerance to something.
So when someone comes along with something completely new, that they have likely never heard of, it must draw sighs of despair.
I have done a lot of trial and error on this.
Every single time I have mentioned that I am avoiding starch (and dairy) in restaurants, it has been stressful.
It has meant people coming back and forth to the table, checking things with me, and it has just been a fairly awkward and confusing exchange.
This was especially the case when first starting the diet because half of the time, I didn’t really know myself what had starch in it and what didn’t.
Even in those cases where the restaurant says, with reassuring confidence, that they can absolutely cater for that, I’ve often found that a dish will come back containing corn or gluten-free bread or some other foodstuff that they have, in good faith, thought to be starch-free but isn’t.
✔️ Tip 1: I’ve had best results not telling restaurant staff about the diet
So my tip here is not to tell staff unless you really, really feel confident that they’ll understand and that it won’t be a pain to navigate for you socially.
Where possible, if I know where I’m going in advance, I will usually check out the menu.
There’s normally one dish which is pretty much compliant.
I then look at the side dishes and what’s on offer and see whether there’s any veg or salad.
Then when I get to the restaurant, if there is something on my dish which I can’t eat, I will just say, “I’ll have X dish. Please can I swap out the X for Y.”
You don’t have to give a reason. You just tell them that that’s what you’re doing, and in my experience, 9 times out of 10, that’s been absolutely fine and easy and hasn’t required any further explanation.
The other option is to say, “I don’t want X, but please give me a bit more of Y.”
I did this in a gastropub in London where they do amazing roast dinners. On a Sunday in this pub, a roast with the trimmings is the only option they have on the menu.
Obviously the meat part is fine, and the gravy is served separately, so I didn’t have to worry about that. However, I wouldn’t be able to have the potatoes, carrots, or Yorkshire pudding.
So I just said to the waiter, “I will have the pork belly, and just cabbage with that (which was one of the sides) and none of the other trimmings. Instead, can I just have more cabbage?”
He said that was totally fine, and the waiter, who was from Poland originally, beamed at me and said, “You are like a good Polish person. We love cabbage with our mains!” It wasn’t awkward and we ended up having a laugh.
I just find these interactions a bit easier rather than a panicky back and forth.
When you are meeting someone who is brand new to this diet and has no concept of it, you are fighting an uphill battle to try and explain your medical condition AND the theory behind how this diet works AND what foods contain what, and so on and so forth.
It’s far better to be your own advocate and decision-maker. See what is on offer and then tweak where you can.
And sometimes, it might be that there isn’t an obvious thing to substitute something for. In those cases, just ask what vegetables or what salad they have in the kitchen.
I am yet to have a situation where I have gone away hungry, although admittedly, sometimes when the portion sizes have been small, other members of my group have snuck me some of their meat.
✔️ Tip 2: Plan ahead
With a little planning, you can make it even easier.
I’ve just described an impromptu situation where I hadn’t planned ahead.
But if you know where you are going in advance the situation is a great deal easier.
There’s nothing worse than being “hangry” and staring at a menu filled with forbidden foods (or dishes that you don’t know are compliant).
You can avoid a stressful scenario by researching restaurants in advance.
Look up the menu online, see what they have.
If you’re not sure what a dish contains you’ve got all the time in the world to Google it and find out more (rather than awkwardly doing it on your phone under the table).
And if anything is not clear then you can simply call the restaurant in advance for more details.
✔️ Tip 3: Salads, grilled meats, and fresh seafood are good go to foods
Most places do salad, so that’s an easy fall-back.
And unless you’re in a vegetarian restaurant most places will do at least one type of meat.
So that’s two easy parts of the meal ticked off.
If you have been on this diet for a while and understand which vegetables are starchy and which are safe then great! You’ll likely have a few different options.
You are probably going to struggle to find enough to fill you up at a vegan or vegetarian option so if you are meeting friends there you might want to eat in advance or bring something you can snack on covertly.
✔️ Tip 4: Let your friends know
Going out with friends who understand about your diet can make a world of difference.
It stops any awkwardness when your scanning menus or ordering strange combinations.
After a while people get totally used to it and it doesn’t even come up.
Your friends might even help you discover some delicious low-starch dishes along the way.
✔️ Tip 5: Swap out your desert (unless there’s a ‘safe’ fruit option)
Desserts can be tricky on this diet.
Sometimes I’ve lucked out and been to places where they’ve had melon or berries or other starch free fruits.
And if a restaurant offers goat’s cheese as dessert, and you can tolerate it, this is also a great option.
Other times (as my confidence has grown!) I’ve just ordered another starter.
That way you’re not missing out and staring sadly at other people’s plates.
Overall it’s all about being prepared and also having the confidence to say what you want and what you don’t want.
With a little planning and being menu-savvy, you can absolutely enjoy eating out on this diet.