The Survival Guide to Eating Out with Food Intolerances

eating out with food intolerances at a restaurant

For people with food intolerances eating out can be like navigating a minefield. Shared platters or banquets become a nightmare. Getting food on the go is mission impossible. First dates become awkward when he takes you to a restaurant where you can’t eat 99% of the menu (what do you even say in that situation!?). You end up spending more time obsessing about your food than actually enjoying the company you are with. A lot of times it can leave us feeling judged, anxious and disappointed. I mean no one enjoys a meal of dressing-free lettuce.

There was a time when my gut was a complete mess and I had a LOT of food intolerances. I was breaking out in acne after eating almost anything – even seemingly healthy foods like avocados and sweet potatoes. If you want the specific diet and step-by-step of how I healed my gut (and removed almost every single one of my food intolerances) you’ll want to read this article).

But I LOVE food. I’m a complete foodie and I did not want to miss out because of my food-intolerant situation. Because of this I am an absolute boss at navigating menus and doing so in a way that no-one bats and eyelid or thinks you’re *that* annoying person at the table (because we’ve all been at a table with one of those)

Positive news is because of the rapid rise in intolerances these days – I’m talking over 17% of Australians (around 3.7 million people) avoid food due to an allergy or an intolerance – restaurants, shops even cruise lines are better at catering for the multitude of dietary requirements.

So whether your vegan, diabetic, or a shameless GF/DF club member like me – I’m going let you in on the exact same strategies I use to help me navigate eating out with food intolerances. No bland garden salads included.

The Survival Guide

  • Do your research: Before I consider a restaurant, I always look up the menu. Not only because I want to see what I would order (surely I’m not the only one who finds joy in this), but to see if they have items that are dietary requirement friendly. I love it when I see those little letters on the side of a menu item telling you whether it’s gluten free, dairy free, vegan. If you’re concerned that a restaurant doesn’t cater for your dietary requirements just call ahead – 98% of the time they are so willing to help.
  • YOU pick the restaurant or cafe – I like to come up with a list of potential restaurants so when a girlfriend asks where you want to go for brunch, you don’t have to think twice.
  • Don’t be afraid to modify: Hold the cheese. No sauce. Dressing on the side. Even pub menus will offer a good protein choice such as a steak or chicken breast and you can modify to suit you a little more. If a menu states “no-alterations” I’ll generally avoid it like the plague.
  • Look at the sides: You’ve sat down and the menu doesn’t look great. Sometimes if I can’t find anything on the menu, I’ll just order a range of sides: some greens, some crispy garlic potatoes etc.
  • Become friends with the waiters: The wait staff are there to assist you and I find the nicer you are, the more accommodating they can be. So flash that gorgeous smile of yours, be polite and don’t be embarrassed to ask them questions or alterations because in the end it’s your body and you know what’s best for you (no one wants you up at 3am on the toilet).
  • Take digestive enzymes: This will help you break down a meal making it easier for your body to digest and absorb (it’ll also take the burden off your body if you do happen to eat something that wasn’t great for you)
  • Release the guilt: If you eat something you usually steer clear of, or they accidentally give you a normal pizza instead of GF and you’ve already eaten half of it (talking from a recent experience), it’s okay. It’s not going to set you back to square one. Your body is strong, it can handle things you put in it. Yes, it may cause a breakout or some discomfort later but stressing about it while your eating will stop proper digestion and make the reaction even worse (thanks to the release of your stress hormones). Eat mindfully and actually enjoy the best chosen option for you at that time. 

Hope these tips were helpful, but now I want to hear from you: what’s your intolerant-friendly tricks for eating out? And if you know someone with food intolerances, or if you think this could help a family member or friend understand why you can’t order that creamy carbonara on the menu, share this post with them.

You don’t have to let your food intolerances control your eating out anymore. Food is community. It is there to be enjoyed and not feared. There are always options (unless it’s an entire restaurant dedicated to mac and cheese). You know what’s best for your body and handle that menu like a boss.

**Note that these tips are for people with food intolerances which is different from individuals with severe allergies or disease (Ie celiac disease). In which case more caution should be taken with waitstaff, and eating particular foods according to the severity of your allergy.


1. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Food and Nutrients, 2011-12

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