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The Caloric Risks of Being a Houseguest

Posted Aug 27 2012 10:07am
Our houseguests arrived looking a little green and seeking antacids. They had left the house of relatives that morning where they had a two-day obligatory visit with distant family members.

“You won’t believe how they eat,” my friend Fran (not her name) complained. “ I haven’t eaten so much high-cholesterol food in decades.” “ And they gave us so much,” added her husband. “I must have gained back the seven pounds that I worked so hard to take off.”

As they were unpacking, they described every fat-filled dish they were served: creamy clam chowder, butter, cream and cheese-filled macaroni with lobster, homemade ice cream, bacon, cheese and egg sandwiches for breakfast, bacon, cheese and cream quiche for lunch, and large servings of steak, baked potatoes dripping with butter and yellow squash cooked in, of course, cream and butter. Listening to this description made me long for an antacid as well, and I assured them that everything they would get from our kitchen would be low fat and high fiber.

As we hiked over sand dunes (they wanted to work off some of their previous meals), I asked them whether they could have avoided the foods that were so injurious to their weight and cholesterol count. “I suppose I should have said something before we went,” commented Fran. “They did ask if we were allergic to anything and I mentioned my allergy to scallops. Maybe I should have added that I was also allergic to fatty food, but I didn’t want to start a food war with my cousins. I assumed there would be something that I could eat like fruit or salad. I was wrong. They didn’t even have low-fat milk.”

Their experience left me wondering what do to if you find yourself a dietary hostage in someone else’s kitchen?

The possibilities that occurred to me included
1. Eating whatever is served and taking an extra dose of cholesterol-reducing medication;

2. Claiming an emergency at home and leaving;

3. Gently confronting your hosts with your problem, asking if you can be taken to a supermarket and buying a few food items that will nourish you healthfully during your stay; or

4. Preparing some dishes that meet your dietary needs, such as steaming yellow squash instead of cooking it in butter, with a sauce of cream and additional butter.

The best responses are 3 and 4, although some teasing or arguing may follow, especially if relatives are involved. They may say something like “ Stop being so obsessed over your diet. A little cream or bacon isn’t going to hurt you.”

Of course it is not just cholesterol-imbibing hosts that are guilty of imposing their eating style on their guests. My friends could have stayed at the home of people who shun cooked food, follow a strictly vegan diet or forbid sugar, gluten and dairy products to enter their homes. The only difference is that my friends might have left a few pounds thinner with a craving for a piece of bread.

To avoid becoming a dietary hostage requires communicating honestly about your dietary needs before arriving. It makes sense. After all, if you were extremely allergic to cats or goose-down pillows, or needed to eat meals on schedule because of your diabetes, you would tell your hosts ahead of time or stay in a hotel. A brief note stating some general dietary needs or restrictions, i.e. I’m not supposed to eat ____________, and an offer to buy and prepare what you need, is sufficient. You could even learn if there is a restaurant in the area that prepares the type of food you prefer eating and offer to take your hosts out to eat.

But a word of caution: If you are staying with people who are clueless about the effect of calories, portion size, sugary fatty foods (like doughnuts) and fried foods (like French fries) on obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other health concerns, they may be puzzled and even offended at the suggestion that their way of eating is not appropriate for everyone. The best approach is to state that you would just love to eat their delectable dishes but your physician does not allow you to. Then change the subject.

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