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Can we enjoy the same foods?

Joy Cutrone, Wellness & Certified AIP Coach, FMCHC-Candidate
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Should we carve out a family member so that they eat alone?

So, one family member has gotten a diagnosis of autoimmune disease. They’ve just learned they can’t eat gluten. They’ve been advised not to eat other foods, as well. Everyone’s in a rush for them to get better — but in no rush to make the same changes themselves. So they bring in that favorite loaf of bread and plunk it on the counter to make a sandwich. Or accept rolls before dinner in the restaurant while other hungry parties have to sit and watch them eat. “Well, I don’t have to give that up.” And, “I don’t have to eat like that.” That may be true — but that position only adds to the grieving of the family member with the diagnosis. The perception that “my days of fun are over now” is compounded by food choices as well as other physical and non-physical areas of function and fear. And that’s fair: food is an essential comfort, not just a nourishing necessity. And for some illnesses in particular, it’s oftentimes an enemy as much as it is a necessity. Keep that in mind when you’re amazed at how hard people will fight to keep eating a favorite food, even when they know it makes them sick. They want to be included.


So how can the family system help? Get on board. If you’re a parent, or a sibling, or even a child of someone who’s diagnosed with AI and who needs to make significant changes to their diet, join them. Show them that it can be done. Lead by example. If it’s hard, work it out – they’re already experiencing deprivation of a magnitude that you likely can’t imagine. Solve sourcing and prep issues. The bottom line is that there are so many delicious foods in anti-inflammatory diets that no one need feel deprived. Normalize it. It’s no big deal if it’s what you’re doing, too. You may be surprised by new, delicious flavor combinations that a master chef can create when designing carefully-curated recipes; these recipes are all over the internet (see our Resource Directory for ideas). You may enjoy them while, more importantly, the added community and unification of the family enables the person with the dietary restriction to feel supported.

Exclusion versus inclusion

Picture, for example, the person who’s ill having to have something different than everyone else, while the rest of the family or group is not only enjoying something delicious, but demonstrating that they themselves “couldn’t do it,” or would “never give up bread.” Of course the person with AI is going to encounter this in the outside world, but inside the family, when dining together, how does that make the person feel who has to? Even more deprived. Even more different. Even more marginalized — especially in the beginning, when they’re adapting to their needs. And worse, it makes them feel like they have “special needs,” because something separate and unique has to be made for them, instead. Same as when the family goes to a restaurant that “has” gluten free options without properly reviewing the menu, which turns out to instead mean they only have a cold salad option, with no dressing, on a cold winter’s day, while everyone else is having hot baked food. It’s a non-starter for the soul.

Now picture, instead, having safe foods stocked in the house that everyone can eat. Envision a more carefully-curated choice of where to eat when you go out. For example, in our house, there’s no gluten-anything. There’s no sugar cane in our house, either. Rarely is there any cow’s milk dairy. My son doesn’t happen to care about bread, per se, but our daughter does so, if there is any, it’s GF. What that means is that, if Mom’s cooking something that smells delicious, everyone is nourished, because everyone can eat it. And nothing they grab themselves is going to put them at risk. When we go out to eat together, we look at the menu online first for options, and then all eat non-gluten foods. This feels like a loving act to do within the family (for everyone, since it’s how we all should be eating anyway, whether or not AI is turned on yet).

Are dietary labels important?

One trick I found is to switch the diet – and not tell anybody. Truly, if the meal is delicious, does anyone care if it’s Paleo? I’ve found, No, they don’t. In fact, they might enjoy it more if you don’t tell them it is.

The key is to make it delicious. If it’s delicious, nobody cares what’s in it. Seriously. You don’t have to point it out. Sometimes there’s an objection on principle to a specialized diet, or to what people think they know about it (which is an invitation to a conversation at an appropriate time, when they may be receptive to some education on the topic). When it’s delicious, all people think about is what a great meal that was, and move on.

I mean, sure, I’ve got cookbooks lying around that are clearly Paleo, autoimmune- and AIP-related. I also have books about vegetables, clean eating, and a variety of world cuisines. Cooking is a bit of an interest of mine so, after a few objections by teenagers who are under-educated on the subject of anti-inflammatory foods upon seeing these book titles, we all just moved on. We also augment my cooking with a Paleo food-delivery service that helps us raise the bar with ingredient combinations I wouldn’t normally tackle, despite our busy schedules (see Recommended Resources for possible ideas for you). And I developed my go-to’s that fill in the gaps. When you get a few breakfast options that you can rotate, and you focus on simple, clean protein and vegetables for lunch, then a satisfying dinner is the only real challenge. So that’s where we put our focus. Deliciousness is the key.

For example, my husband raved about a liver pate with mushrooms that I served recently during a football game. “Is this that mushroom pate?” he asked. “Yup.” I didn’t feel the need to point out to him that it also has organ meat in it. If he likes it, great. And good for us for getting not only a highly nutritious food in, but some added diversity to our diet. Because that’s another key: have your go-to’s, especially in a quick pinch — and then rotate. There are a gazillion recipes out there. There’s no need for anyone to go hungry, or unsatisfied.

There’s even a Paleo cooking resource called “He Won’t Know It’s Paleo.” That’s the idea. In this case, what they don’t know can heal them.

See Also

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