7 keys to success with a restricted diet

Having to follow a restricted diet can be so overwhelming! Whether you’ve just received a new diagnosis, or it’s been years, we’re here to help you find solutions for the obstacles in your way. Let us take the stress and worry out of living on a restricted diet one step at a time.

Our culinary specialty is centered around food allergies, special diets, celiac disease and chronic diseases. As chefs at Walt Disney World Resorts, our interaction with thousands of guests with special diets gives us a unique perspective on people’s dietary needs. We truly understand—Mary lives with an autoimmune disease and cannot have gluten, soy, dairy, corn or canola.

Here are 7 keys we’ve learned can help overcome the challenges of living with a restricted diet:

1. Educate your friends and family

Learn as much as you can to educate yourself, your family and your friends about your special diet. Let your family and friends know that you are grateful for their awareness and understanding and that you hope they know that you would do the same for them.

2. Set up a healthy kitchen

A healthy kitchen is a safe and clean kitchen with an organized pantry. Besides, organized kitchens make cooking more fun.

Review all food products in your kitchen. Look over ingredient labels to identify foods you need to avoid and discard these foods. You can donate to a local food bank or give to a neighbor.

Check labels on your condiments. Discard any that have expired or are laden with sugar, salt and/or potassium.

Organize the fridge weekly. Every 3-4 months take everything out and give it a deep cleaning.

3. Plan your meals

Menu planning is a great way to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet and meeting your dietary needs. Plus, you can have a big impact on your health and your budget by eating at home more often.

Taking time to meal plan means less impulse shopping, which often results in grabbing unhealthy options. Plan meals that everyone can enjoy. You don’t want to feel singled out in having to eat special food. There are so many wonderful foods that will meet your diet and that everyone can enjoy.

On busy days, plan for easy meals, such as recipes for the slow cooker. Plan a week of meals at a time and hold on to your menu plan to reuse later. You can designate certain foods for different days of the week. For example, designate Mondays as pasta nights and Fridays as chicken nights. For inspiration on menu ideas, flip through cookbooks and check out recipe websites.

Don’t forget, portion control is important! To control portions, use small plates to trick your brain into seeing an overflowing, full plate.

4. Learn your labels

Carefully reading and interpreting food labels is key to ensuring you make safe and healthy food choices. The nutritional information found on a food label is based on one serving of that particular food. Always look at what makes one serving and how many servings the package contains.

Food labels also include exactly what’s in the package. The first ingredient in the list of ingredients represents the ingredient with the largest amount. The second ingredient is the second highest amount and so on.

Sodium is hidden in many ingredients and has many names other than salt. Many sources of sodium include the word sodium, so be aware of these ingredients. A few examples are monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium benzoate, and sodium nitrite. Processed and prepared foods are often high in sodium.

Sugar can also be listed on food labels as corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice, and agave nectar just to name a few.

Since phosphorus is often missing from the nutrition label, it’s important to know how to find hidden sources on the ingredient list. One not-so-obvious source of phosphorus is baking powder. Also look for terms like polyphosphate, phosphoric acid, and calcium phosphate, and avoid those products.

Potassium chloride is sometimes added to “low salt” and “low sodium” foods. Check food labels carefully for ingredients that have potassium in their name. The liquid in canned fruits and vegetables has sodium and potassium, so be sure to rinse and drain well before eating.

5. Eating out? Call ahead

After choosing a restaurant, call ahead and ask to speak with a manager. When you talk with the manager, make sure he or she understands the severity of your special diet. Ask if you may review their recipe book or ingredient list. A recipe book is common in most, if not all, kitchens. Be on the alert for hidden ingredients.

6. Join a support group

Support groups can be an important source of encouragement and information. Talking to others with CKD can be a much-needed opportunity to vent, share, receive—and provide—support. Talk to your doctor about any groups or organizations he or she may know of.

7. Know it’s a lifestyle, not a diet

Think about your restricted diet as a lifestyle, not a “diet.” Our brains often associate diets with deprivation. You will not be deprived. Focusing on the foods you can eat, rather than the ones you can’t, will help to make your journey a positive experience. It may seem like a struggle to give up certain foods, but eating more of the foods that are good for you makes it easier to cut back on the foods that are not.


About the Author(s)

Joel and Mary Schaefer

Joel and Mary Schaefer are co-founders of Your Allergy Chefs, providing an extensive array of recipes and advice that inspires, informs and supports those living with special diets. Joel was was responsible for developing the food allergy and special diets program for Disney properties worldwide and Disney Cruise Line, and Mary—who follows a restricted diet due to an autoimmune disease—was Pastry Chef for Disney’s Contemporary Resort for 10 years.

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