Eating out isn’t the easiest thing when one has obsessive compulsive disorder.

It’s usually not even the cleanliness or “what germs are on this table?” factor for me, shockingly. It is the actual ordering and what food I am going to eat. Currently, I like to be prepared. I often check out the menu and offerings of whatever restaurant we are going to online before we go. I pick out what I want or at least know what options I have before I get there. I’m not sure that this is necessarily a compulsion or just my need to be in control of the situation, but it’s my reality.

The Situation

Before, things used to be worse. I had the obsession (and still do in a more reserved way) of feeling that I couldn’t eat anything that had alcohol in it. This, of course, arises from my LDS upbringing and current active status in the religion. We have what we call “The Word of Wisdom”, a set of guidelines for our health, that includes the instruction not to drink alcohol.

The Problem

With my OCD, I took that to the extreme. I didn’t want to eat anything cooked with wine, wine vinegars, certain soy sauces, balsamic vinegar, or even extracts. Extracts got a little tricky because it’s hard to know when eating out what foods have what extracts, so I fudged a little there. But in my personal baking, I sought out “alcohol free” extracts for vanilla, mint, lemon, etc. (Trader Joe’s has a nice alcohol free vanilla, in case anyone is wondering.)

But when eating out, this obsession and my compulsion to avoid any “off limits” food limited me. I would not eat certain salads at restaurants because of the dressings (even if I didn’t know if the dressing had a wine vinegar or not). I became a “ranch” person. I avoided marsala chicken (still do) and, by and large, most red sauces just in case they had red wine in them. Occasionally I ask the waiter or waitress, but sometimes I just avoid the menu item altogether.

On my mission one time, I got sushi at Trader Joe’s and happened to see after eating it that one of the ingredients was sake. I was filled with shame and regret! I think I even called or emailed my mission president to “repent” for eating it unknowingly.

Another time we found a really delicious spicy fried chicken sandwich place in Oakland. We loved it and got some sandwiches after going to the temple one day. Then, the OCD nagged at me. I began to worry if the slaw on the sandwich had wine vinegar in it. I started researching slaw recipes online. I even found a recipe for this very place’s slaw, and sure enough, it had an offending ingredient. No more did I eat those sandwiches. I felt like I was going against the Word of Wisdom if I knowingly ate it. Yeah, it was pretty depressing.


Like I said, I have become more lax with this over time. I still use alcohol free vanilla extract and I try to avoid any food that blatantly lists wine or other alcohol in its ingredients, but if I get a side salad with some balsamic dressing I eat it now. This feels like a great victory (or really sneaky)! I feel like I ought to try eating whatever, though, and not worrying about it so much. At least things like red sauce on pasta or pizzas. It’s really limiting to eat out when you put these sort of restrictions on yourself.

How about you? Any food or dietary OCD restrictions you have imposed on yourself? 

One thought on “Sketches: Eating out”

  1. Yeah, I hate seafood so I don’t eat it. It’s good to be as strict as you feel you should be about how you treat your body and what you put into it. It’s a gift after all and what you put into it greatly effects how you feel.

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