Onions make me sick...help me tell people about it!
February 6, 2009 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Not allergic to onions, but they make me feel sick. This is causing some problems that I'm not sure how to solve.

I was diagnosed with IBS years ago and since then I've identified a handful of foods that really upset my stomach. Onions are one of them. I have diarrhea, gas, and cramping after eating them. I've become quite skillful at avoiding them in restaurants and eating around them, but in some cases I can't because they are mixed into the food too throughly. I seem to be find with foods cooked with onions as long as I don't eat the onions themselves. I happily eat garlic.

I'm not sure how to bring it up with people. I sometimes attend charity banquets and list onions as a food I don't eat, which causes a lot of problems because they treat me like I'm allergic and that means no bullion etc. I'm not sure how to express that I can have things that have onion residues, but not onions themselves.

And with my friends it's quite difficult because I really don't want to go into details about the effects onions have on me and I don't want to seem like a picky prima donna. It's not like I have something like a peanut allergy or celiac disease where any contact with the offending food can cause serious illness or death. Lately I've simply eaten onions and had to leave social functions abruptly when the effects started.

How can I express my condition without being gross or seeming difficult? Bonus question: is there any way to get rid of this condition?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You might be overthinking it. All you have to do is say "Sorry, onions make me sick." You'll only look like a picky prima donna if you go on at length about how sick they make you, what happened the last time, some distant relative with a similar condition, blah blah blah. Lots of people (with or without IBS) don't tolerate certain foods, and most of them just say "No, I can't do yogurt" or "Can I get that without the celery?"
posted by echo target at 8:02 AM on February 6, 2009

I have a similar reaction to insufficiently-cooked onions, so I avoid foods (pico, omelettes, whatever) that might contain them. If questioned, I assumed a pained expression and say, "If I eat raw onions, it... ends badly." No one has yet seen fit to ask for more details.

You may not be able to make a clear enough distinction for event planners - heck, I can't always distinguish for myself what will cause the unfortunate effects and what won't. I'd err on the side of caution (and let your hosts do the same.) Don't worry about what your friends think of you - to be honest, I've heard enough people with the same complaint about onions (or sometimes peppers, which get me too) that I can't imagine there would be too many raised eyebrows.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:06 AM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

As long as you are polite about it, it's totally okay to say "I am allergic to onions." If it's a thing where you have to write out a request, write "No onions (bouillion ok)" or whatever.
posted by radioamy at 8:13 AM on February 6, 2009

Onions don't do anything bad to me, except make me taste them. I've been getting away with "No onions please" and if anyone raises an eyebrow, I follow up by saying "Blech" and sticking my tongue out. This has worked out well for me. I think it's a common enough prejudice that no one will really bother you (unlike mushrooms or peppers or mayonnaise, double blech)
posted by syntheticfaith at 8:18 AM on February 6, 2009

Well, if you don't want to go into details, stomach cramps are enough to mention. Ouch. Everyone who ever had some of those will want to help you avoid them; no need for further elaboration.
posted by Namlit at 8:26 AM on February 6, 2009

"Due to a digestive problem, I can't eat cut-up onions, but I can tolerate onion-flavored foods."

Also, ask your doctor about OTC anti-gas medications like simethicone and prescription products like Reglan which are sometimes recommended for IBS sufferers.
posted by terranova at 8:27 AM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just say "they don't agree with me". I have a few things that I have mild allergic reactions to and I don't have IBS (bananas, cantaloupe, mold cheeses (blue, Roquefort and Gorgonzola) and turmeric. Raw tomatoes do the same thing as bananas and cantaloupe but, I love them so I still eat them. The cheeses cause my esophagus to constrict and turmeric makes me feel like I've been poisoned. I don't think I've ever been looked at as a prima donna probably because I just stick with the "doesn't agree" rather than go into the kind of detail I just did. (Unless someone won't let go of the issue and insists I try whatever because it's so good.)
posted by Carbolic at 8:45 AM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

People asking about food restrictions probably assume everyone is stating an allergy on the form, meaning they (the organizers) start thinking about lawsuits (and also, possibly, their guests' well-being). If you were allergic to onions and they served you bouillon containing dried/powdered onion, that could end terribly. Maybe for forms you could write a longer explanation, like "No fresh raw or cooked onions due to digestive problem, not an allergy: bouillon, powdered onion, onion flavor are all fine"

With friends, you could probably say "It's not an allergy, but onions give me stomach trouble" to get the message across. Who's going to hear that and think "Picky prima donna… 'doesn’t want an upset stomach'…snob!"?
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:46 AM on February 6, 2009

At a charity banquet the food is awful anyway - just take no bouillon and move on with your day. Onion allergy is fine for those events.

With friends, just say you have a mild reaction to onions - a little favoring is okay, but actual pieces of onion are a problem. If something comes out of the kitchen which is suspect, don't eat it at all. Eat the other stuff on the plate instead. I've got a problem with wheat which finds it's way into everything so I feel your pain.
posted by 26.2 at 8:57 AM on February 6, 2009

Can you claim severe heartburn? A lot of people will commiserate and it's not all that personal.

At formal functions I think the only graceful way out is to not eat the offending dishes without bringing any attention to it.
posted by agentwills at 9:58 AM on February 6, 2009

I have the same problem with dairy stuff. Lactose intolerance is a weird beast in that it (for me, anyway) isn't *all* dairy products that set me off, just some. It got overly wordy to try to explain my list and reciting it to people made me, too, feel like a picky primadonna. So now I go with the ol' allergy routine: "Sorry, can't have sour cream. I'm allergic to it." People are content with the allergy explanation, whereas going into a detailed explanation of what goes on bodily is embarrassing for me and probably blechy for them, so I just don't even get into it that way.

In formal situations, like the charity banquet thing, I just let them do what they do. If they want to remove the boullion, so be it. I don't think it's necessary to get into the ins and, uh, outs with people/kitchens you won't encounter again (assuming that's your case). As for friends, I'm more jovial about it and will specifically refer to the offending food item as my Kryptonite. If a friend offers me offers me something I can't eat, I respond, "Sure, I'll have some if you're up for a trip to the emergency room!"

As to your bonus q: unfortunately, no. You're stuck with it and just have to learn to meander around the landmines. Make friends with Gas-X (I recommend the tasty mint flavor).
posted by December at 10:12 AM on February 6, 2009

You might have fructose intolerance - check some of my previous posts on the subject. I have this and onions are a huge offender. Before the actual intolerance was diagnosed, my write-off diagnosis was, for years, IBS.

That said - I personally prefer to tell people it's an allergy if they ask. First, I think it's rude that they're asking in the first place - "No thanks, I can't eat onions" should be the end of the conversation, but as you know, it rarely is.

If you really want to avoid the offending substance(s), you'll need to get used to being perceived as being difficult. Personally I'd rather be misunderstood than sick - YMMV.
posted by chez shoes at 11:10 AM on February 6, 2009

Oh, and I meant to say that onions are really high in fructose, even more so when raw.
posted by chez shoes at 11:11 AM on February 6, 2009

Hell, I say that I'm "allergic" to broccolli even though I'm technically not (in the sense that I don't go into ancephelatic shock). But brocolli DOES give me seriously bad indigestion, and I find saying "I'm allergic" does help other people get it through their heads that "no, this isn't just someone being fussy about what they eat, they're serious about this".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:25 PM on February 6, 2009

"If I eat raw onions, it... ends badly."

I have a similar reaction to soy and I've used restless_nomad's line or something similar, and no one's pressed for details.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:30 PM on February 6, 2009

Tell people you have a wild sex life and kissing fresh breath 24-7.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:56 PM on February 6, 2009

My girlfriend is the same as you, with onions. I take detours around onions when I cook, it's a fun challenge.

I would happily go to any length to avoid causing my dinner guests pain. The point, in the first place, is to please them. Happy bowels are in the sturdy bottom tier of Maslow's Dinner Pyramid. Just give me the info I need. Don't say diarrhoea, anything else goes.

My body's reaction to scallops is quite grave. Diarrhoea. For me, the fun little challenge here is to find an appropriate and hopefully charming way of letting people know. At the grungy little sushi bar, I say "Please no scallops, they cause death for me", and I get laffs. At family occasions I quietly whisper to the resident mom "I'd love to eat those scallops but my body won't let me I'm afraid" (belly pat). Then we're partners in scallop. No death, no diarrhoea and a new friend.

People like taking care of people.
posted by krilli at 8:45 AM on April 25, 2009

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