When communicating your dietary requirements, you should decide how much explanation to provide. In this HuffPost article, Kiana Shelton, LCSW, discusses how to navigate dietary restrictions around the holidays.

How To Get Through The Holidays With Dietary Restrictions_Kiana shelton, lcsw_Mindpath health

How can I get comfortable with sharing my dietary needs?

When it comes to divulging dietary restrictions to party hosts, it can be easy to slip into a self-conscious mindset. You may become preoccupied with fears that your allergies, sensitivities or preferences are “inconvenient” or “high-maintenance.” “It’s important to normalize the feelings of awkwardness that arise when it comes to sharing dietary needs/retractions,” says Kiana Shelton, a licensed clinical social worker from Mindpath Health. Shelton urges you to acknowledge your discomfort while “considering the larger picture.” 

“If the goal is to be able to eat with [your loved ones], let that be the motivating factor” for clearly communicating your needs, Shelton says. “Lastly and most importantly, remember that ensuring your nourishment is an act of self-love. We can function as our best selves when we are fueled properly.” 

Approaching the conversation with the assumption that your host will want to make you feel comfortable and will want to work with you to ensure you can fully enjoy the event keeps the focus on a positive collaboration. 

When should I tell the party host about my restrictions?

According to registered dietitian and food allergy expert Kristi Winkels, it’s helpful to communicate about food allergies as soon as possible. “This allows the chance to find out what food will be available ― whether it’s safe or unsafe ― and gives the host the opportunity to accommodate if they’re willing and able. In my experience, hosts want to know about your food allergies so they can have options that are safe,” Winkels says. 

If a host appears open to accommodating you, ask about the menu and ingredients used to make certain dishes, so you can learn what options might be safe, she suggests. “If the allergy is severe and you don’t feel comfortable even having the allergen in the same room, communicate that to the host and they can decide if they will remove it from the menu,” Winkels adds. 

Should I tell the host about my restrictions in writing or over the phone?

Traditional rules of etiquette suggest that party RSVPs should be done in the same manner in which the invitation was offered. Basically, if your friend invited you to a party via email, you should use email to let them know whether you’ll be attending (and whether you have any special notes or requests). In the case of a dietary restriction that isn’t medical, it’s fine to convey that information as part of your RSVP. 

Regardless of the medium you use to communicate your restrictions, Smith says, in the case of an anaphylactic allergy that is potentially life-threatening, “You should be VERY clear with the hosts.” Then, be ready to offer a suggestion (like bringing your own dish to the party or agreeing to eat before you arrive) if your host indicates that it would be difficult for them to 100% guarantee that none of the food they serve will come in contact with your allergen. 

What should I do if I don’t know the party host very well? 

When you’re invited to a holiday party hosted by a spouse’s office, a roommate’s friend, or a new significant other’s family, it can be tricky to figure out how best to explain your dietary needs to a relative stranger. If you start to feel overwhelmed by the prospect, remember that “it’s not uncommon for hosts to get questions regarding the menu,” says Shannon Dolan, a functional nutritional therapy practitioner and behavioral change specialist with Health With Shannon 

If the event in question is a catered dinner or a party at a restaurant and you’re dealing with a serious food allergy or sensitivity, it’s worth asking the host to give you the name of the caterer or restaurant so you can check in with them directly to discuss if there are any options that meet your needs. 

Who should I talk to about my dietary restrictions when there’s a holiday party at the office?

Office holiday parties are often stressful events for office administrators, human resources reps, and party planning committees, and it can be tough to ascertain who needs to be informed of dietary restrictions. Most companies are happy to have a variety of foods so everyone can have an enjoyable time.” 

A conversation with your manager and the party planners (followed by an email so your requests are clearly articulated in writing) should take care of the matter. 

Read the full HuffPost article with sources. 


Kiana Shelton, LCSW

Katy, TX

Kiana has over 12 years of experience working with adults. Using person-centered and trauma-informed modalities, Kiana helps patients navigate major life transitions, including birth, adoption, grief, and loss. In addition, she also provides gender-affirming mental health care to those who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Following Maya Angelou’s quote: “Still I rise,” Kiana uses this as a reminder ... Read Full Bio »

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