Eating out on the autoimmune protocol (AIP) can be daunting. Moreover, trying to find a restaurant that offers AIP approved food and is aware of cross contamination is a real struggle for those following the autoimmune protocol. While it may be difficult, eating out on the autoimmune protocol is possible!
Prior to starting the autoimmune protocol, eating out was always a part of my family’s life. Being a busy mom of two kids, I often found myself picking up dinner on the way home from one of our kids’ activities. Even when home with my family, I ordered pizza once a week when I felt too tired to cook. In addition, my husband and I went on weekly date nights to our favorite Mexican restaurant.
When I began the autoimmune protocol, cooking and preparing all of my meals felt downright overwhelming. In fact, I was at my rock bottom health wise, and struggled to get out of bed and shower some days, let alone cook meals.
I wondered how I could do it, and doubted I really could. I dug deep, and started my autoimmune protocol journey despite my doubts and fears. Looking back, it is hard for me to believe that for the first number of weeks, I did not eat out at all. I simply needed time at home to figure out the ins and outs of the autoimmune protocol, and give it a real shot, without worrying about cross contamination.
After a period of time, I was ready take this show on the road and try to eat out. I missed grabbing a bite to eat on those especially busy days, eating out on date night, and having a break from meal prep and dishes!
Certainly I felt overwhelmed the first number of times I tried to eat out when following the autoimmune protocol. However, over time and through trial and error, I learned some tips and tricks that set me up for success when eating out on the autoimmune protocol.
Consider the Source
When choosing a restaurant, consider the source of the food. Is there a farm to table restaurant close by? Does the restaurant offer organic, free range, pasture raised, grass fed, or wild caught protein sources? Are organic vegetables offered on the menu? What kind of cooking oil does the restaurant use?
When possible, I try to find restaurants that offer quality, organic, farm to table ingredients. Above all, I research restaurants ahead of time to try and scan their menus for quality ingredients. Finding restaurants with quality, organic ingredients is not always possible. If unavailable, I look for the next best options, and pay close attention to how I feel after.
Mix and Match
When choosing a restaurant, I consider all items on the menu and determine which items I can mix and match. In my experience, it is rare for a restaurant to offer an option that is 100% AIP approved.
While a restaurant may not have one complete meal on the menu that is AIP, chances are you can create your own AIP approved dish by mixing and matching different items on the menu.
Living in Southern California, most (if not all) restaurants are more than happy to customize dishes and mix and match items on the menu. For example, order the grilled chicken, and request it to be paired with the steamed vegetables from the gravy slathered pot roast meal. Add on the organic side salad minus tomatoes and croutons, and use the salad dressing you brought from home or ask for some olive oil and lemon. You may have to spend more time scouring the menu, but chances are, you can customize your own AIP dish!
When first eating out on the autoimmune protocol, look for restaurants that offer different options for proteins, and different options for sides to make it a little easier on you. Steakhouses are great for this! I love ordering a protein, with a plain baked sweet potato and steamed veggies with no butter.
Communicate Your Needs
The first thing I do when eating out is briefly, and politely, explain my food allergies to my server. I impress upon my server the importance of my dietary needs, and I thank them for their assistance.
I then ask any questions I feel I need to based on my server’s response. For example, did they mention anything about cross contamination? If not, and if it is a new restaurant, I may ask.
Or did they offer for me to speak with a manager or the chef? I occasionally call the restaurant ahead of time to address any concerns I have.
Remember, the restaurant wants our business, wants us to have a positive experience, and wants us to return. So it is in their best interest to accommodate our needs and make sure we do not get sick.
A Word of Caution. There are hidden ingredients used in restaurants that are not listed on the menu. Furthermore, many foods that may appear to be safe are actually cooked in non AIP oils, butter, and non AIP seasonings.
When eating out, I specifically ask what kind of oil the protein is cooked in/grilled with. Usually the protein can be ordered without oil and simply grilled. My husband and I were out for a nice dinner date a couple of months ago, and I ordered fresh grilled fish with steamed asparagus. I asked our server if the fish was grilled in any oil or butter. She replied yes, in oil. When asked what kind of oil, she explained “mostly olive oil with some vegetable oil.” I requested no oil, and the restaurant was happy to accommodate.
Another example? My family and I were on a road trip out of state. After researching online, I found a restaurant that had a variety of proteins and sides to choose from. Relieved, we stopped to eat. As I ordered my side of cooked carrots, I requested no butter and no seasonings whatsoever. Puzzled, our server explained that the carrots come presoaked in sugar! No joke, sugar! The menu said nothing about it. I went on to order the broccoli and she explained there was no way to get the broccoli plain with no butter. Totally floored, I asked what cooked vegetables I could order plain with no butter, sugar, or seasonings. Her answer? None.
Instead, I ordered a “customized” salad which included lettuce and cucumber, no dressing. Consequently, it was an experience our kids will never forget, and our family still jokes about the carrots marinated in sugar! Lesson learned: always ask about hidden ingredients!
“Restaurants cook with industrial seed and vegetable oils…which can wreak havoc on your health.”Chris Kresser, The Paleo Cure, page 46
Bring Your Own Salad Dressing
Many restaurants offer a number of salad options that can be customized according to the autoimmune protocol. However, in my year of eating out AIP style, I have only found one restaurant that has AIP approved salad dressing (with the exception of requesting plain olive oil and lemon, or balsamic vinegar).
If you are planning on ordering a salad, I encourage you to bring your own salad dressing (I put mine in a mason jar). In addition, bring your own seasonings or AIP sauces to spice up plain foods.
Restaurant Versus “Grab And Go”
There are healthy, casual “grab and go” places that are popping up. While I am so excited to see this new trend toward healthier eating establishments, I have not had the best luck with them personally. The reason being is in most cases the food is already prepared with non AIP oils, seasonings, and butter.
Most importantly, there is no way to customize the dishes since the food is already prepared. In comparison, I found great success with eating out on the autoimmune protocol with sit down restaurants. Similarly, I’ve found great success at grass fed burger joints! I simply customize the grass fed burger, add veggies, and tell them to hold the fries.
Do you take any supplements with meals, either before or after? Remember to bring along any needed supplements. I am still in the process of healing my leaky gut, so I take digestive enzymes right before meals (along with a couple of other supplements), and HCL right after meals. I pack my supplements in a small Ziploc bag, but you could use a vitamin organizer too.
A Word of Caution
In spite of my best efforts, I have experienced negative symptoms after eating out on a number of occasions. There really is nothing like having 100% control over the food you put into your body.
When I am in an autoimmune flare, one of the first things I do is stop eating out on the autoimmune protocol. Instead, I eat at home or pack my own food until my flare subsides.
While I used to be hyper sensitive to eating out, I notice now that I rarely have reactions when eating out. Meanwhile, I personally try to limit eating out to one meal a week. On those nights that are especially busy, our family now has go-to easy to prep meals at home that are healthy. It took us time, but we are no longer in the “gotta grab dinner on the way home” mindset.
You did it! You gathered your courage, did your homework, and are now eating out on the autoimmune protocol! Congrats! Now, enjoy every minute! Celebrate being served a meal you did not have to cook. Savor every bite.
Above all, enjoy the company you are with. Do a happy dance when you do not have to clean up a single dish! You did it! You went out to eat, stuck to your guns, ate to nourish and heal your body, and enjoyed the company! Way to go!
“It can be tricky to stick with the Paleo principles when you eat out, but it is possible. It helps to know exactly which foods you tolerate, which ones you can tolerate in small, occasional amounts, and which are totally verboten for you.”Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, Paleo Principles, page 398
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