Yes, You Can Deal With a Restricted Diet

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with a condition—like celiac, diabetes, food allergy—that requires dietary changes, you know that it can be jarring. After all, what could be more fun than ordering a pizza for the big game or celebrating a special event at a favorite restaurant?

Suddenly being unable to do those things, or having to put a lot more thought and care into eating, may leave you feeling frustrated and angry. But the sooner you learn to cope, the sooner life can feel comfortable and happy with your "new normal."

First of all, don't panic, advises Joshua Wood, MA, LPC, a therapist at the Cambridge Professional Center in Morristown, NJ.

"Remember that millions of people have been in your shoes and have successfully transitioned to a new diet. You will, too." Wood has celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that renders a person unable to tolerate gluten. His young son also suffers from the condition, meaning avoiding wheat, barley, rye, and malt has been a family affair for several years. But it hasn't always been easy. Giving up favorite foods is a loss and a significant lifestyle change.

Here are a few of the challenges:

Missing Forbidden Foods

It can be hard to cut out foods or entire food groups, but Wood stresses that your tastes will adapt over time and you'll begin to crave foods that you can safely eat. "Remind yourself that your new diet keeps you healthy," he suggests, adding that when he hungers for old favorites he focuses on the fact that his risk of cancer and other celiac-related health conditions has dropped significantly now that he avoids gluten. He also feels tremendously better physically.

Being Inconvenienced

Although gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free, and salt-free products are everywhere now, it's usually more of an effort to buy them than it is conventional products. And while many restaurants are accommodating, dining out can still pose challenges for someone with food restrictions.

Wood admits that there are days when he's tired and would love to just order a pizza. "It's the convenience I miss more than the actual meal itself," he says, but he doesn't dwell on the issue. "I can't change the fact that I have celiac disease, but I can control how I think about it and what I choose to do about. Wishing it away...will lead to frustration. I don't 'go there.'"

Instead, Wood stays upbeat and positive about his food choices, as much for his son as for himself. "Optimism is powerful," he says. "Use it. Make it your mindset. That is your choice."

Handling Family and Friends

There's a good chance your loved ones have never before had to deal with someone with diabetes or celiac disease and don't understand the dietary revisions involved. "My father, for instance, initially thought that organic whole-wheat pasta would be fine for my gluten-free diet just because it was organic," Wood says. "Be patient and explain."

Most of the time, people will be happy to try to accommodate your needs. But ultimately, you have to take responsibility for your own health.

Joshua Wood, MA, LPC, reviewed this article.




Joshua Wood, MA, LPC, email message to author, September 20, 2013.