“So… you can’t have any fun?”
This was the reaction most of my friends had to hearing my new nutritionist-mandated diet. No gluten, low sugar, low fat, no red meat, no onion, no garlic. No fun sounded about right.
I had been having medical problems with my digestive system for almost a decade before I saw a nutritionist. It’s estimated that 10-20% of the UK is affected by gastrointestinal conditions at any one time and, like a lot of them, my symptoms were so chronic I had accepted them as part of my life. I signed up to this new diet with little faith that it would really help; not enough to give up burgers for the rest of my life anyway.
But then the worst thing happened: It worked. The chronic pain – pain I had lived with for so long I didn’t even realise what life was like without it – was gone, and I felt better than ever. It was great, except now I had to learn how to be the woman who couldn’t have any fun.
This sounds overly dramatic but it was how it felt at the beginning. I love to eat and find, like Julia Childs, that people who love to eat are always the best people. Most of my social life takes place around a meal and having to be the one in my group always eating porridge instead of croissants at Sunday brunch did feel like I was constantly missing out. When I asked the waiter for gluten free options on dates, I definitely felt inner eye rolls and any potential partner shuddering at a future filled with quinoa.
Luckily, I probably picked the best time in UK food history to start restricting myself. Coeliac UK now lists over 3000 restaurants across the country which offer gluten free options, including chains like Carluccio's and Leon, and has new listings appearing all the time. Talking to friends with other food restrictions such as veganism finally made me realise that the only thing standing between special diets and fun is a little research.
Restaurants, cafés and now even pubs are happier than ever to accommodate with gluten free, low sugar, vegetarian and vegan options. Finding new restaurants and trying new dishes that fit my diet became a great hobby and even, dare I say it, fun. Now, though I’m not so strict, I do always have to check the menu before I go to a restaurant. But I also have tried more new dishes than ever before and discovered ingredients I would never have considered. My friends don’t call it my no-fun diet any more, they don’t call it anything – they’re too busy trying to steal a bite from my plate.
Click through to see some of Rose's suggestions for where to eat out with special diet options.