What to Know Before You Eat Out When You Have IBD

Your social life can continue if you do a little planning

Eating out at restaurants or at social functions can be tricky situations for people with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis). It is especially difficult when you are dining with people you know either through a professional or casual relationship. These contacts are not likely to know about your health problems, and you're probably not going to want to bring it up over dinner. (In addition, you might even prefer they don't know.) When you're dating, it would be nice to put IBD on the back burner. How can you handle a high-powered business lunch or romantic dinner without bringing attention to your condition?

Friends ordering dinner at a restaurant outdoor table
Klaus Vedfelt / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Have a Restaurant Plan

Before you leave for the restaurant, decide ahead of time what you will eat and how much you will eat. If you're afraid that you will be hungry and tempted to eat something you shouldn't, have a safe snack before you leave.

Peek at the Restaurant Menu

If you know what restaurant you're going to, do a little reconnaissance first. Many restaurants have websites that feature their menu. If you're really concerned, you can even call the restaurant and ask if they serve any dishes you know are "safe" for you to eat.

Locate the Restroom First

Ask the host or hostess where the restroom is located before you are seated or right after being shown to your table. If your dining companions don't know about your health problems, you can use the excuse of wanting to wash your hands before dinner. This way, you know where the facilities are located and you can check to be sure they're clean and stocked.

Skip the Cocktails

Alcoholic drinks may not be a good idea for people with IBD. Try sparkling water or a virgin cocktail (or a "mocktail") if you want something other than tap water but don't want to drink alcohol. If you need an excuse, you can always say you're taking antibiotics or other medications that shouldn't be taken with alcohol. Or there's always the old standby—"I have to drive myself home, so I'm not drinking tonight."

Watch out for Appetizers

Appetizers such as mozzarella sticks, hot wings, nachos, and chicken fingers are all fatty, fried or dairy-filled foods that might not be good to your digestive system. If everyone else is having an appetizer and you're feeling left out, have some soup instead, or reach for the breadbasket.

Anticipate Any Awkward Questions

In the event that someone may ask a direct question, such as, "Why are you ordering chicken at a famous steakhouse?" Consider beforehand how you will answer. You could mention your illness briefly if you think it will be well received. If not, "I'm on a diet" or, "I stopped eating red meat and dairy" are also common reasons that aren't likely to bring up more questions.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. What should I eat?

  2. Swanson GR, Sedghi S, Farhadi A, Keshavarzian A. Pattern of alcohol consumption and its effect on gastrointestinal symptoms in inflammatory bowel disease. Alcohol. 2010;44(3):223-8. doi:10.1016/j.alcohol.2009.10.019

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.