“Seriously?! I wish I could have a health condition that made it so I couldn’t eat salads.”
Yes. Someone actually said that to me once. It was not someone I knew well at all, at an event where food was provided and I did not bring my own. (Sometimes this means my options are limited.) The conversation went something like this:
Person Lacking Tact: Gosh, Lauren, no wonder you’re so skinny. You’re hardly eating!
Me: I know. Typically I eat more. I have a health condition that limits what I can eat.
PLT: What health condition?
Me: Ulcerative colitis.
PLT: What is that?
Me: It really doesn’t make for great lunch conversation. It’s a digestive illness that makes it difficult for me to process certain foods, especially those high in fiber, like whole grains and raw fruits and vegetables.
PLT: So… what happens if you eat them?
Me: Like I said, it’s a digestive illness, so it’s probably not the best lunchtime conversation.
PLT: But you can’t eat salads?
Me: No, not really.
PLT: Seriously?! I wish I could have a health condition that made it so I couldn’t eat salads.
Seriously? No you don’t, and that is a pretty thoughtless thing to say. To be clear, I don’t mind if people ask me about my ulcerative colitis. I don’t mind talking about it, and I’ve certainly gotten more comfortable with it as time has gone by. However, at a table full of acquaintances who are eating lunch, I’d prefer not to discuss my poop, thankyouverymuch.
It is situations such as this one that caused me to avoid social settings involving food for quite a while after my diagnosis. Unless I was very comfortable with the group of people in attendance or knew in advance what would be served, I’d make an excuse and stay home. The questions made me uncomfortable, and I was never sure how to politely divert attention away from me and my eating habits.
Most people go above and beyond to be accommodating and helpful when they find out about my UC. Friends are always asking what they can serve me, trying to make sure they have options for me, and doing their best to make me feel comfortable. I never expect them to go above and beyond, but it always touches me when people think to ask. In most situations, I can find something that I am able to eat, and am happy to just eat that.
I am always surprised when people pay attention to and question what I eat, as I can’t say that I pay much attention. When I was very self-conscious about my UC, I got flustered and mumbled responses. The comments made me feel sad and overwhelmed. Six years later, I have learned how to deal with the questions, though I still find them pretty tactless at times.
When I find myself in these situations now, I try to answer questions as honestly, politely, and briefly as I can, especially if people are eating. If it seems that someone really wants to know the details of the situation and is comfortable hearing about it, I am just plain honest. My closest friends know more than they probably ever wanted to know about my digestive tract. However, I’m an open book and still get a little squeamish talking about it at times. There are probably many people living with similar conditions who are private and would prefer not to talk about it.
Have people ever asked prying questions you didn’t feel comfortable answering? How did you handle it?
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