With tears streaming down my face, I opened my eyes.
The waves of nausea were starting to pass, but the bathroom was still spinning.
I felt myself shaking and I realized I was shivering on the cold hard tile of the coffee shop bathroom floor. I couldn’t stand up…I could barely move. I fumbled for my phone and texted my fiancée, Megan, to come to the bathroom immediately, that something was wrong.
As soon as Megan opened the door, her look of horror said it all. I had been violently sick, not even making it to the toilet before the succumbing to the nausea. I don’t know why, but at that moment, all I could feel was shame. I didn’t want her to see me like this, but I needed her. She helped me get cleaned up and drove me home. What on Earth was happening to me? It had to be food poisoning.
Earlier that night, Megan and I had gone out to eat at a local steakhouse. We were having a great time and my bacon wrapped filet mignon was delicious.
I had been getting dizzy for several months, but still hadn’t seen a doctor yet. I wouldn’t get my Meniere’s disease diagnosis for several weeks. I started feeling strange after I finished the meal, but shrugged it off and took Megan to the coffee shop for dessert.
It was one of my first real vertigo attacks. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was triggered by the high sodium content of my meal. To this day, excessive sodium is still my biggest trigger, and I know it’s a trigger for many others as well.
Learning to eat out while maintaining my low-sodium diet was important to me. I love a great meal, and I wasn’t going to let Meniere’s disease hold me back from enjoying food with my friends and family. It took a while, but I learned how to navigate these waters. Let’s dive in.
Going out to eat at restaurants:
With Meniere’s disease, going out to eat at restaurants brings a whole new set of challenges. But with a little bit of planning, you can still go out and enjoy yourself.
Most restaurants will happily accommodate for dietary restrictions. But keep in mind, Chefs love to cook with salt and will often use a lot of it. So asking for less salt is generally a bad strategy. It doesn’t mean anything specific. Chances are it will probably still be too much.
Instead, ask if they can prepare your meal without salt, including the sides. If they can’t do it, they will let you know. Usually, it’s either because the meat has been pre-seasoned or the sides have been pre-made.
Some restaurants will have very few options that work for you, but if you are going out with friends, don’t let that hold you back. I’ve never been to a restaurant that didn’t have at least one menu item that could be prepared without salt. I find fish to be a great universal choice. Even if all of the chicken and red meat entrees are pre-seasoned, you’ll find most restaurants prepare fish to order and can make it for you without salt. But when in doubt, order a salad with plain or lightly seasoned grilled chicken and have them bring olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the side.
When you order your food without salt, make sure to let your waiter know it’s important. They are well aware that many people have dietary restrictions and will never be upset with you for making the request. Also,when asked, most servers will be happy to make a recommendation for the best entrees that can be cooked without salt.
I’ve found that big chain restaurants are the hardest to eat at. There are usually very few low sodium options available. But on the flip side, the rise of the “farm to table” restaurant has been a godsend. These restaurants serve delicious, local, fresh and healthy meals. I have several nearby, and at most of them, virtually nothing is off limits for me.
The worst choice, however, that you can make in restaurants is fast food. It’s best to avoid it entirely. Even the salads can have over 1000mg of sodium once you factor in the dressing and meat. In my experience, little good can come from eating fast food when you have Meniere’s disease. The combination of highly processed and unhealthy ingredients, loaded with sodium, is a recipe for disaster. To get better, you need to start eating healthy. There is no room for fast food with this approach.
What to do when traveling:
One of the hardest challenges is finding a way to eat low-sodium meals while traveling. When you are on vacation, you’re probably going to be eating out at restaurants for every meal.
The best way I’ve found to manage this is to use tools like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google, to research restaurants and menus ahead of time. Once you have picked out the restaurants with the most accommodating menus, you can quickly and easily book reservations with Opentable.
Take the time to plan out your meals before your leave for your trip. It will save you a lot of stress and disappointment, and makes for a much more enjoyable trip. Aside from the initial planning, you’ll also need to be disciplined throughout the entire trip. Enjoy yourself, but make sure to keep your sodium intake in check. Nothing ruins a vacation faster than a vertigo attack.
Pro tip: If you are going to the airport, or going to be out for most of the day, make sure to bring healthy snacks with you. It’s hard to find low-sodium snacks on the go.
Low-sodium at dinner parties:
If you’re going to a dinner party, the strategy is a little bit different. If the host doesn’t already know about your low-sodium diet, your best option is to let them know ahead of time. Most people will be happy to cook a small portion separately without salt for you. But if this isn’t possible, you still have options. In this situation, I typically eat something before I leave, and bring a small snack with me. During the meal, I’ll usually eat a small portion to be polite.
If the dinner party is with family or good friends, ask them to cook all of the food without salt. They may not do it, but never be afraid to ask. I find most people are happy to salt their food at the table before they eat.
Every once in a while you may find yourself in a situation without options; a wedding with a buffet for example. If you can pull a server aside, they may be able to speak to the chef and find out which option has the least sodium. Otherwise, the best you can do is to try to use your sense of taste to figure out the safest choice.
If you overdo it and trigger your symptoms, don’t be too hard on yourself. As long as you are extra careful with your sodium intake over the next couple of days, you’ll most likely be ok.
We are social animals. And though Meniere’s disease can take so much from you, it doesn’t have to take your ability to go out to eat with your friends and family. Learning to manage this safely is empowering. Meniere’s disease can be so isolating. But being able to go out to eat once in a while can make all the difference. It certainly did for me.
Remember, there is always so much hope. Meniere’s disease cannot and will not ever be bigger than your dreams!