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Living with Digestive Issues and Still Having a Social Life

It’s not easy living with digestive issues, food allergies, or intestinal conditions – waking up each morning wondering if what we ate yesterday will impact today; never knowing when and how our bodies will react to food, even food that is usually safe to enjoy.

It’s confusing, annoying, and sometimes depressing. It can often lead to isolation, or a reluctance to make plans, join others at restaurants or accept invitations to private homes for a meal.

Want to Know the Stats?

The statistics on how many women struggle with these conditions are staggering. According to the Center for Disease Control, 6.2% of women have food allergies and it’s estimated that more than 20% of the world’s population has some sort of food sensitivity.

Two-thirds of the patients diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome are women, and the exact number of those suffering without a diagnosis is nearly impossible to accurately estimate, but hovers somewhere around 20% of the American population, and according to the National Institute of Health less than 20% of those experiencing chronic symptoms seeks medical treatment.

Many women, like myself, have suffered for decades being treated for the symptoms, usually unsuccessfully, without ever knowing the cause – until finally being diagnosed with a condition with no cure. The only real relief on offer is a complicated restricted diet.

So, how do we live with chronic dietary issues and still enjoy an engaged, happy life? Here are a few adjustments I’ve made over the past few years that have helped.

Don’t Guard Your Condition as a Secret

Yes, it can be awkward to share the details, embarrassing even. But at least tell your closest friends and family so they can support you. Try to frame information in a positive dialogue about what foods are healthier for you and how to make enjoying a meal possible. Always try to answer questions as candidly as you can. I’ve found most of my friends and family are eager to help me and even seek out restaurants, recipes and products that fit into my diet.

Be Honest with Servers in Restaurants

I was thrilled the other day to be asked by a server if there were any dietary restrictions the kitchen should know about. Her question even came with the offer to make substitutions so that I could enjoy a dish without the dairy. They have made a lifelong customer!

If the server isn’t as forthcoming as this one, mention your restrictions and ask for assistance. Most hospitality professionals are aware of dietary requirements and are willing to accommodate their guests.

Let Your Host Know of Your Dietary Needs

When accepting an invitation to someone’s home, be honest about your dietary limitations. Explain that you can’t eat certain foods and let them know you are quite comfortable enjoying a portion of the menu, if they don’t mind.

I’ve also had guests with celiac disease bring their own dinner, so they could enjoy everyone’s company without concern, since my kitchen is not free of gluten.

Invite Others to Join You in Alternative Healthy Activities

We can enjoy common interests that aren’t centered around food. Make dates to work out, enjoy a hobby, go shopping or spend a day outdoors hiking, biking or sightseeing. There are so many ways to be together in which we can fully participate.

Be an Advocate – Help People Understand

There is so much misinformation and confusion around gastrointestinal disease, food allergies and the multitude of conditions that make up our population, we need to take every opportunity to educate and encourage others to be supportive. We don’t need to go into detail, but explaining our condition honestly helps dissipate the misconception that food sensitivity, allergies and stomach issues are just the latest fad.

Be Supportive of Others and Make the Connection

I’ve found there is a comforting connection that forms when two people within the same circumstance share their secrets, struggles and offer support. No one knows the life altering, time consuming and energy draining effects of living with these conditions like another who lives with them. Share information, your experience, creative recipes, products and resources and, perhaps most importantly of all, be a compassionate person who understands. You just might make a new friend in the process.

Life is still rewarding, social and enjoyable, we just need to be open to opportunities, be creative and always see what is possible.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Are digestive issues part of your daily life? How do you handle them? Do they keep you from being social? What have you found helps you in social events or when visiting with friends/family?

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I’ve been dealing with intestinal issues for many, many years — too many to remember accurately. I moved recently and have a new doctor who has told me things I never knew, such as gall bladder removal and what it can do to your body. With a better understanding of just why I have the problem and how to take better care of myself, there is hope. It would help a lot if I’d stop eating the things I really like and go to the things that are good for me. Quite a battle.


Had my gallbladder removed at age 54. I’ve never been able to tolerate fat and since I never liked it, it wasn’t an issue. I have GERD which is also common with IBS. It is impossible to know when I will have a flare-up as it happens often now. Since I’ve been a healthy eater most of my life, I think this is a family issue – my grandmother with whom I share a phenotype had this, too.

Small meals, keep yourself slender, don’t binge and take lots of walks. It helps.


I had my gall bladder removed 10 years ago and have episodes of bile acid malabsorption which is a bit like IBS. I can go for weeks with no problems then all of a sudden have an episode lasting a day or two. I carry Immodium Instant tablets at all times for emergencies as they work within an hour.

I have learned which foods to cut out, one is mushrooms and there are other things like bulgar wheat and cous cous. I seem to have less tolerance for certain foods as I get older.


The loss of tolerance to foods as we get older is part of “Immunosenescence”.


Thank you for offering a positive, informative approach to this. I’ve recently been diagnosed with IBS and placed on the FOBMAP diet by a gastroenterologist. This is very restrictive, but after several weeks it is possible to gradually reintroduce foods in order to rule out which are causing the problems. Maybe all, maybe only some. On top of this, I already am following the mediterrean diet for health and medical reasons. These can be difficult, but not impossible, to combine. Meanwhile, I’m not one to expect others to cater to my food needs. It bothers me when others expect this. Yes, we have to follow a certain diet, but we can work around this, bring some of our own food, or avoid impossible situations. Your article was right on target.

The Author

Fran Braga Meininger writes personal narratives about the years beyond youth, a time in a woman’s life that can be vibrant, fulfilling, and wonderful, despite – or perhaps because of – all that comes with age. She lives in northern California where she hikes, bikes and lives life in big bites. You can visit her website at

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