"My daughter has Crohn's disease." It's something I have said thousands of times to friends, waiters, cashiers, bank tellers, nice ladies in the line at Target, teachers, coaches, neighbors, etc. It feels like it invades almost every area of our life, because food is so much a part of social interaction. Capri-Suns after games, suckers at the bank, M&Ms for math - we are constantly bombarded by food. We use a special diet to treat my daughter's disease and it has been a miracle for us in her health, but it is extremely restrictive and confusing for many people.
Most people want to help or support us but lack understanding for how important each detail is and how extensive the restrictions are. They offer to cook but don't understand that my daughter literally almost died. So it is very difficult to trust someone else to follow all the rules for the diet that took me years to learn fully. I have been blessed with a community of people who love us and are so supportive of how we must live to keep her well. I know so many people are now turning to food as an alternative to medicine for many auto-immune issues and other illnesses, and food allergies have become increasingly prevalent. As I thought about our friends and their desire to support us, I wanted to offer some ways you can support people in your life who may use food as medicine.
1) Offer But Don't Insist - I so appreciate when people offer to make food for my daughter. It communicates care and thoughtfulness for her and me, but most of the time I have to decline. It is just too hard to communicate everything and be sure that what they bring is really ok. It is really hard to keep saying no over and over again, because I feel rude. If they decline, know your care was communicated and ask what you CAN do to help them.
2) Ask Questions - but not in front of their child if their child is the one on the special diet. My daughter already feels like she sticks out and no preteen EVER wants to be the weird one. HOWEVER, asking questions and learning about how you can accommodate us and what would be helpful to make things go more smoothly for us - especially on a food day or when treats will be offered - is so very encouraging. I like to talk about the miracle healing we have seen and I like to spread our knowledge, but in private or amongst trusted adults is best.
3) Plan Ahead - If you know in advance that food will be present and the person with the diet issues does not, do everything you can to let them know. They would appreciate a late-night phone call so much more than being surprised the next day. Having an alternative or just being mentally prepared to see food you can't have is huge. We have had tears and embarrassment several times that could have been avoided with just a conversation to prepare her. Of course, adults will be able to handle this better, but it is still appreciated. My daughter's teachers have been excellent at this, and I can't tell you how much it has meant to us.
4) Don't Call Unnecessary Attention - If someone must eat differently than everyone else for health reasons, they probably aren't super excited about it. Asking questions is appreciated, but turning the entire table's attention to the fact that someone is different is not usually appreciated in any social sphere, so try to have individual conversations about it. This probably matters more for children and adolescents than adults, but I'm sure adults would like to just be a part of the crew sometimes too, without having to dissect all the reasons they eat differently.
I hope that is helpful to those of you with special diets in your life. If you adhere to a special diet to maintain health and have other ideas for ways people can support you, please feel free to comment below. If you know someone who maintains a diet for healing, thank you for loving them and supporting them. It can feel really lonely. Just accepting that there are some ways you cannot help them, and enthusiastically engaging in the ways you can will make them feel so included... and included is a big deal.