Recently my life has changed, and I’ve entered a new world where I’ve found out that I’ve become allergic to some food. It came on quickly over the course of a couple of months when I felt really drained and seemed to have a permanently bad stomach. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the last few months have been life-changing.
My social life has always been about food (and drink) and my week was split into treats around this including a Friday night takeaway, and dinner out with friends or my husband. I’ve gone from being someone who could ‘eat anything’ to someone who can’t eat gluten, nuts, legumes (beans, etc.), and a range of other things.
You might be thinking “boo hoo, first-world problems” but the reality is that I’ve become nervous about eating anything not cooked at home and the impact of that has been that I’ve not wanted to go to my office much as I prefer to be near to my toilet at home. Sorry if that’s TMI but food allergies don’t have sociable side effects; though I do feel lucky that my allergies don’t extend to respiratory issues and anaphylaxis.
It also happened at the time as running a lot more in-person events which means travel and eating away from home. Double jeopardy! I’m finally making it work, but it isn’t easy given that I stopped eating meat 3 years ago as most gluten-free meals at a restaurant tend to be meat-based.
So, what does this mean for you and your team?
I’m not alone and the more people I speak to, the more I see the issue, whether it’s about food choices for their principles, religion or allergies/intolerances. Food is a core part of being social, but it doesn’t mean your team members need to be excluded.
Here’s how to help people feel included:
Be sensitive about where the dietary requirement is coming from
With Christmas coming up, there’s already a lot to consider about how you handle this in a way that makes everyone feel included. Food and the rituals around it are so ingrained as part of our society and the way we celebrate but if you don’t consider people’s dietary requirements, you risk them being hungry, feeling left out, or worse still, they’ll find a reason not to come. A bit like me and a Sunday lunch invite – my worst nightmare, I don’t ever want to eat plain roast vegetables with no sauce again!
Ask people in advance
Restaurants and venues are getting pretty good at dealing with dietary requirements, but they need to know about them beforehand, so you have to create an environment where you’ll ask people about their needs, and they feel happy to disclose. A simple food form to fill out can help with those who are already anxious about sharing their food requirements. Keep a note of these so that when you buy the office some biscuits you can remember to cater for those who can’t eat ‘normal’ biscuits, etc.
Don’t make jokes about them being ‘awkward’
Trust me, I’m sure they already feel awkward to be having special treatment, like the little well-intentioned flags that some restaurants put on my plate, so don’t make this worse. We don’t want the attention drawn to us, we just want to be able to eat something without eyeing up the nearest bathrooms.
This blog is about my food allergies but it’s made me think a lot more about inclusion in general and how we deal with people’s different needs, whether that’s food, religion, ethnicity, beliefs, or just their preferences.
Last tip: if you suspect that your body isn’t dealing well with some foods, get tested as I’ve already lost a stone in weight from not constantly having an inflamed stomach and I’m starting to feel my energy coming back.
Want to chat about making sure your workplace is a food inclusive place? Get in touch!