Pomodoro, no.
March 4, 2009 10:36 PM   Subscribe

How did you give up certain foods for the rest of your goddamn life?

Well, it's that time again. The time where my doctor says, "John, this is it..."

Giving up tomatoes is really, really difficult but I have to do it. Even though tomatoes are basically wonderful and in everything. What are some ways that Mefites have given up things they are told to stop consuming, and what are some "fun" ways I can work tomatoes out of my diet?

Let me just add: I hate bell peppers, so please do not recommend them as a substitute. Another bell pepper and I will literally vomit. Also, I already cannot eat eggplant. Basically, I am fucked as a human being.

I should note that tomatoes are not the only thing I am being asked to give up but I have to start with the most difficult thing or else none of the rest of the stuff will be easy. Sorry. However, I think I can handle my addiction to Mentos all on my own. Sorry, I know how lame my life is.
posted by parmanparman to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This probably won't be very helpful, but I find giving up foodstuffs trivially easy, and I'm definitely a foodie. You just stop eating them and find other things to eat instead. I went vegetarian on a whim and it lasted four years. This was after I was a hamburger-a-day carnivore my entire life.

It does get tricky to maintain sometimes. Like, no tomatoes, no pizza. So, you have to find a new favorite pizza place that'll do a "white" pizza. No more salsa, so you switch to guacamole or queso dip. No more ketchup, so you have ranch dressing. You'll have to make your own barbecue sauce that doesn't include a tomato base--most commercial ones are based on ketchup.

The absolute biggest mistake you can make is trying to find a substitute for the flavor. For the first couple years of my vegetarianism, I absolutely had to avoid fake meat of any kind. It almost triggered relapses; I'd have a veggie burger, and three bites in I'd be absolutely craving a nice medium-rare hamburger with thick, crispy slices of bacon. Instead of trying to substitute for tomatoes, you should just find other things to eat or simply make your favorite dishes without tomatoes. Yes, it does mean that those foods may taste bizarre with the absence of tomatoey flavor, but the weirdness will go away as you teach your palate to appreciate the other flavors that go into that dish. You could also throw in another weird ingredient, totally unlike tomato, that could add to the complexity of the dish without inciting longing. If a dish is based entirely on tomato, just don't make it.

The most difficult part of it was eating other people's cooking. I'd go to parties, and there'd be nothing at all for me to eat. I actually started taking Power Bars to every party I attended so that I could have some calories on hand.
posted by Netzapper at 11:02 PM on March 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: to 517, et al.

I have to give up tomatoes because I have a very severe case of acid reflux that I have basically put off treating for 2.5 years. For a variety of factors I have put it off, but more so because it's really hard to give things up. I gave up smoking, I have given up whiskey, and I have given up chocolate, but tomatoes and some other things (pizza, cola) are too difficult.

I have spent the last week in bed with food poisoning and so it has exacerbated my doctor's insistence I start moving things out of my general nutritional plan.
posted by parmanparman at 11:15 PM on March 4, 2009

I haven't been in your spot, but if I was, I'd go wild planning menus and recipes involving the acceptable ingredients, trying to find a new set of favorite, allowed dishes.

I'd take it as a challenge. With weird constraints come new solutions (see also Islamic calligraphy, "Consideration of figurative art as idolatrous led to calligraphy and abstract figures becoming the main forms of artistic expression in Islamic cultures")

Specifically, I'd take a cook book (any that strikes my fancy, from Joy of Cooking to Moosewood to Masterpieces of French Cooking to ...) and start looking at entrees that contain only allowed ingredients. There's a lot out there, and you're going to find a lot of good foods you can make and eat that you might never have tried otherwise.

Good luck!
posted by zippy at 11:31 PM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

The Dread Tomato Addiction is the definitive guide on the evils of tomatoes.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:49 PM on March 4, 2009

Hummus, made by yourself so that you can control the acidity, salt, and fat that you need to. Eat that with celery, carrots, pita bread or anything else you can dip in a dip. Any good recipe site will have a shit ton of hummus recipes, basically Chickpeas+Cumin+OtherSpices+Tahini.

Pesto where you had to give up tomatoes. Pesto sauce on pasta, pesto on chicken, pesto on veggies again, make it yourself with variations between basil and spinach, pine nuts and more common nuts as you see fit. This same pesto sauce on pizza was anathema to me for a long, long time, but it's actually pretty damned good and with thinly sliced tenderized chicken it's fucking awesome.

Even store bought ravioli cooked and then tossed in a hot pan with a little olive or butter and some Parmesan cheese is pretty freaking good. Experiment and add herbs like basil or sage. This is how I prefer my ravioli now. If I have to have a tomato sauce it's on the side and only a condiment to occasionally add to the salt, pepper, cheese, and olive oil that lets the ravioli show itself.

Knowing my personal tastes and not wanting every new item to taste too much like the last I would recommend you pick a main ingredient for every other day at the most. Pesto pizza one day, then another original item, and when you are running late, or stressed or whatever another day a pizza crust with a littel olive oil, salt, and pepper. Maybe alone (awesome) or with non traditional toppings like a white sauce with shrimp or an Indian Fusion style.
posted by Science! at 11:50 PM on March 4, 2009

I believe the trick to accomplishing anything is to keep doing it until it becomes a habit. And then its not a big deal. When I became a vegetarian more than 20 years ago, I had a hard time quitting. I missed meat. I thought about it all the time. But then I just kept not eating it and I thought about it less and less until now it doesn't even cross my mind. (OK, so I actually started eating fish 5 years ago or so, but I haven't thought about eating a hamburger in 20 years - or if I have its been few and fleeting thoughts). Quitting smoking wast the same way. I stopped smoking. I thought about it constantly. I thought about a little less each year. Now I don't think about it. I know this isn't really a 'trick' or strategy - but I think its what quitting anything comes down to.

(I wonder if there are other possible remedies to the reflux problem though? I know the drinking vinegar thing sounds insane and counter-intuitive, but it works for lots and lots of people. I'd love to see a real study commissioned on the remedy. There are dozens of other remedies too - I'm sure you've probably tried a lot of them!)
posted by serazin at 12:42 AM on March 5, 2009

parmanparman, my only idea is the "eat them until you're sick of them" diet. I was unemployed recently and ate hotdogs 2-3 times a day, because they were so cheap. Now the thought of eating one is revolting.

Sorry to hear you have to do this. I too have acid reflux, though not as bad as yours. If I drink caffeine and alcohol and I lie down soon afterward, I can get some wicked heartburn. But I'm still able to eat pasta sauce, spicy food, etc.
posted by wastelands at 12:43 AM on March 5, 2009

For the pizza problem, try gourmet. My local gourmet pizza place offers the following non-tomato bases: sweet chili, garlic oil, pesto, satay, pumpkin and refried bean. My favourite pizza of theirs is a garlic base with very finely sliced potato, prosciutto and rosemary. So good.

I was also going to suggest Asian foods. Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai are great for dining out, and making stir frys at home is really easy. Googling for stir fry recipes brings up over a million pages. They're pretty fun to make, too.

When going out with friends to places you know have a lot of tomato-based foods, you can plan ahead by looking online so you know what your options are. For Italian, you can try the cream- and egg-based sauces, or order a large platter of antipasto as a main. Searching for tomato-free foods also brings up some pages that may interest you, including a recipe for Tomato-Free Ketchup (!) It looks as though tomato allergies are more common than I realised.

Having had to give up foods in my own diet, I know what a hassle it is. Good luck.
posted by Georgina at 12:55 AM on March 5, 2009

I don't mean to recommend this as a substitute for tomatoes (nothing could), but when working on your cooking range, you might wish to try tart yoghurt in some foods which normally have a tomatoey gravy. It won't help with pizza, but it's what Indian food used before tomato came over from the Americas.
posted by tavegyl at 1:00 AM on March 5, 2009

parma: "I have given up chocolate"

I am sorry to hijack without being helpful but how did you do this? this is the most difficult issue I am currently confronting and I was about to ask that question on the green.
posted by krautland at 2:53 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Previous similar question.

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:25 AM on March 5, 2009

Don't feel like this is a lame question- it's hard! Two thoughts:

1. On the practical end, when I had to give up tomatoes I went to the cookbook section in the bookstore and browsed for a couple of hours. I was pretty surprised by the number of cuisines and recipes that didn't include tomatoes at all and still looked tasty. I don't know if you like to cook, but I found my palate expanded when I had to cut foods out. Also, I think tomatoes lend a somewhat acidic flavor to foods, so if you crave pomodoro try substituting a lemon and caper pasta dish instead. (I'm guessing the amount of acid in that wouldn't worsen your acid reflux?)

2. Eating foods not good for me was wrecking my body. I also had people yammering in my ear about how difficult my diet must be and how their food cravings ran their life. So, now when I'm really, really tempted to eat something I shouldn't I say to myself, "This isn't Russia, the food does not crave me! I'm going to make this conscious choice to not eat tomatoes because I have more power over my body than a tomato does."

The second part of cutting out the bad foods was to recognize I was doing my body serious harm when I ate them. Your doc is probably concerned about you developing Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer if your acid reflux is that bad. If you still struggle just weigh eating that tomato now with not being able to eat anything that hasn't been in a blender because you can't swallow. Maybe that's too weird, but that sort of imagery has helped me avoid foods when all else failed.
posted by Mouse Army at 4:34 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Treating acid reflux via selective dietary restrictions?

Seems like an odd approach, but what do I know? Have you gotten more than one opinion and/or recommendation and/or tried something else? Tomatoes aren't THAT acidic, it seems. Anything you eat gets treated with the same stomach acids. Something does not add up.

Bodies are wierd things, of course, so your's may be particulary whacko, and if so, I feel for you. However, reasoning skills are normally distributed, even in the medical profession, and your doc may be as full of shit as a Christmas turkey. Life shouldn't be this picky. Remember, for years, docs zealously recommended dietary changes for ulcers, out of ignorance and reason, and were pretty much revealed as other that 'the possessors of all health knowledge' once it was discovered that most ulcers were caused by H. pylori microbes. Just saying....

It's your life, your body, your responsibility to get knowledgable about how it works, and your quality of life. You hand it over to a "pro" at some cost. At the very least, have someone check his work.
posted by FauxScot at 4:34 AM on March 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

There are low acid varietals of tomatoes -- they're usually yellow/orange rather than red, though not every yellow/orange varietal is necessarily low-acid. You might ask your doctor whether those are acceptable, and then find a source or grow your own.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:18 AM on March 5, 2009

FauxScot doesn't directly answer your question, but what he says is worth thinking about. If you want some similar advice, you can get it from the director of Stanford's Esophageal and Small Bowel Disorder Center.
posted by TedW at 5:39 AM on March 5, 2009

Do you have a significant other or someone else in your life that really, REALLY loves you?

I have a dear friend who is deathly, deathly allergic to peanuts. I haven't seen her in years but back when we spent a lot of time together, I realized the only way that I could remember to try to help her avoid food products with even the smallest trace of peanuts in them was to just give them up myself. I mean, it seemed pretty cavalier to be having a PB&J across the same table from her, and it didn't seem like the hugest deal to just quit eating anything with peanuts, so I did. When we were first friends in college she was always embarrassed about her allergy for some reason so she'd ask me to ask waiters if this or that dish had any peanuts in it, but not long after I gave them up I found myself doing it automatically before she would ask, for my own self, which saved her from having to prod me in the first place.

I think at first she thought I was doing it because I wanted us to be more than friends (I didn't, she's too much like my sister, which she knows now), but after a while it wasn't really that big of a thing, and I like to think it might have helped her in some way.

Seems like if you had someone in your life who could help you make this effort (might be kind of weird having to ask them), it might be an easier road to hoe. Food for thought (natch).
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:13 AM on March 5, 2009

This isn't practical, but one of the tricks to giving up something FOREVER is not to think about FOREVER. This is where the "one day at a time" philosophy comes in. For a while, you just have to get up every morning and ask yourself "Can I eat stuff off the OK list today and skip everything else? Just for today?," remind yourself of the reasons you want to do that, and accept the task. If you can't accept the whole day, then just ask yourself "Can I do it until lunchtime?" and ask yourself again at lunchtime. Gradually the question becomes less difficult to answer as the habit gets more entrenched.

But you also need to develop alternatives, and there are lots of good ones in the thread, to prevent you having the empty holes in your day where you long for the missing habit. ANd finally, you have to predict pitfalls - for instance, you may do fine at home with a larder stocked with good stuff, but one night maybe you're out with people and they want to get pizza. You don't want to be a spoilsport, so you go along. What do you order? Have a plan in advance for all these kinds of situations so you don't just make an excuse for yourself to indulge while you're standing there hemming and hawing.

I third the idea of getting a second opinion.
posted by Miko at 6:31 AM on March 5, 2009

Do you mostly eat out or mostly cook for yourself?

Either way, try to get out of your box. Start eating in very different restaurants. Don't go to the place where you'd get the tomato pizza and the tomato soup, go to the middle eastern place instead. Or, if you're cooking, maybe take a cooking class that features some very different type of cuisine than what you're used to.

It won't work to keep repeating to yourself "don't think about tomatoes." You have to just start thinking about something else.

Good luck!
posted by alms at 6:31 AM on March 5, 2009

Treating acid reflux via selective dietary restrictions?

uh, how else would you do it?

i had to give up all tomato-based things for a while because "we" thought that's what was triggering my allergic reactions (woo salicylates!). so, i know from whence you come. tomatoes are in fucking everything!

are you having to give up just fresh tomatoes on sandwiches, or that plus ketchup, spaghetti sauce, etc.? my suggestions would vary...
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:40 AM on March 5, 2009

It occurred to me that it might be helpful for specific suggestions if you mentioned a few of your favorite tomato-containing foods. Are you an Italian fan? a ketchup junkie? a salad lover? a Mexican / salsa fiend? What kinds of food do you like to eat in general?
posted by musicinmybrain at 6:41 AM on March 5, 2009

I had to give up all seeds and nuts. I'm not allergic. I just can't digest them without ending up with an intestinal infection. I thought it would be easy to give up these things until I realized that I'd also have to give up berries. Strawberries, raspberries, black berries and blue berries were deeply loved and regularly consumed. It was also the beginning of berry season and I make tons of jam.

I went cold turkey. The berries kept coming in the house and I'd miss tasting a fresh, juicy berry straight from the fields. When making jam, the smell used to really tempt me. I would just remind myself of the agony that led me to the ER after a two week bout with an infection. I specifically would recall the pain from a butcher job a horrible nurse did when installing an IV. I missed the berries very much that first year.

I continue to make jam. I give away about 90% of what I make each year. I no longer miss the berries and rarely miss the other seeds and nuts. I try to avoid them as best I can but know they slip in from time to time.

My advice: Go cold turkey. Just give them up and remember the pain they cause you.

When eating out, pay attention to the food description. Ask the waiter if your selection has the forbidden item in it. If they say they need to go ask, let them. If they send a chef out to speak with you, do not feel bad about it. The restaurant does not want their food to cause any customer discomfort. The waiter and the chef may offer alternate suggestions. These are greatly helpful. I've learned a huge amount about the food and its preparation from these exchanges and always walked away well served and very happy.

Let your friends and family know that tomatoes are off your list of foods. You don't have to inconvenience them. However, if they're good hosts and caring people, they'll want to factor your dietary restrictions in when planning a meal where you'll be a guest.

You will miss the forbidden items. Let yourself sigh and then move on. The pain really is not worth it. If you, once a year, allow yourself to indulge in ONE special item, know you will suffer for it. I allow myself a single slice of my friend's pecan pie each year because it is SO amazingly good. It rocked before I had to give up nuts. I blows me away now that it is such a rare and special treat. I eat it, savor it and suffer a little for it. It is so worth it for that one piece.
posted by onhazier at 7:00 AM on March 5, 2009

Mr. WanKenobi has celiac's disease and a billion food allergies of varying intensities (including: corn, soy and eggs). I'm mildly lactose intolerant, but can get away with eating milk sometimes. I've asked him many times how he does it and he replies, "It's not a matter of will. I'll die if I don't."

Take the acid reflux seriously. I lost a dear family friend years ago to esophageal cancer. GIve up foods that irritate it and remind yourself that you're prolonging your life, if not for you, then the people around you who care about you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:07 AM on March 5, 2009

My brother is allergic to wheat and doesn't eat anything with wheat in it. When he had to give it up, he first focused on how awful eating wheat made him feel and how much better he feels when he's not eating it. It's been several years and it's easier because he just feels so much better all the time. If he eats wheat now, he just feels so terrible it's rarely worth it. You might find after a few months that not being in pain all the time outweighs the loss of tomatoes. I'm guessing maybe you still have problems even though you've given up some foods, so it's hard to see any benefit to giving up all the foods? You really may need to give everything up to see any benefit at all, unfortunately.
posted by min at 8:12 AM on March 5, 2009

Tomatoes are very acidy; I know ayurvedic diets tend to avoid them (along with bell peppers and eggplant, FWIW - the "nightshade" vegetables). As above, asian diets generally get along fine without tomatoes, and there's plenty of indian food that doesn't include tomato, too. If you're cooking for yourself, it shouldn't be a problem - just don't buy tomato or tomato products and get some cookbooks to habituate yourself to some new recipes, and you probably won't even notice what you're not eating. Stir fries are super easy to do and you'd be unlikely to want to throw tomato in even if you could.

Try miso paste instead of ketchup on your burger. Try guac or hummus or maybe tomatillo salsa instead of red salsa; pesto or alfredo instead of marinara; avocado, mushrooms, cucumber slices instead of slices of tomato on your sandwich... Explore the stuff you don't usually try instead of missing what you can't have.
posted by mdn at 8:15 AM on March 5, 2009

psst, onhazier - strain the seeds and make jelly!
posted by peep at 8:32 AM on March 5, 2009

Well, my Mom can't eat tomatoes (they trigger her migraines). After she had cut them out for a while, she discovered she felt better and didn't miss the tomatoes nearly as much as she didn't miss the headaches. She misses pizza, but luckily lots of places have started making 'gourmet' pizzas with white sauce. So, basically, just do it, and let not having acid reflux be it's own reward. (also, if you cook more at home, you can make substitutions more. If you make vegetable soup at home, you can leave out the tomatoes, and make your own marinades instead of grilling things with barbecue sauce, make guacamole instead of having a jar of salsa with your chips.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:32 AM on March 5, 2009

I don't have an answer for you, just solidarity. I recently figured out that I have a sensitivity to tomatoes and have decided to cut them out of my diet. They make my mouth itchy and I feel awful after I've eaten them raw. So you're not alone on this one, but none of the alternatives I've come up with are nearly as satisfying as a delicious ripe tomato. Incidentally, avocados do this to me too, so I've sworn off them as well.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 9:36 AM on March 5, 2009

Please pardon me if this is completely ignorant of food chemistry, but are sun-dried tomatoes out of the question? They taste very sweet and oily to me - not at all like normal tomatoes.

A way to make it 'fun' is to play around with spices you've never used. Find out which countries don't have access to tomatoes and cook their traditional cuisine. That way it's a culinary adventure involving new things and the focus isn't on 'giving up' a particular food.
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:48 PM on March 5, 2009

I found this recipe by Googling:


1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 jumbo onions, cut into large pieces
6 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
2 pounds carrots, in large pieces
2 small beets, peeled and quartered
2 bay leaves
2 tsp dried basil
1 1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp thyme
3 TBL barley miso, or more to taste
1/4 cup umeboshi paste

1. Heat oil in a large stock pot. Saute' the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute.

2. Add the carrots, beets and bay leaves. Add water to 1 inch below the surface of the vegetables. In this case, less is more. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered for 45 minutes.

3. Add the basil, oregano and thyme. Simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Remove the bay leaves. Remove and reserve most of the brothe. Remove about half of the beets and set aside.

5. Transfer the vegetables, miso and umbeboshi paste to a blender. Process, adding just enough broth to reach a tomato suce consistency. Add the beets, one at a time, to simulate the color of tomato sauce.

also, what about roasted red peppers? You can puree them and use them as a pizza base or what-have-you...
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:51 PM on March 5, 2009

Also: Nomato says it's specifically for GERD and allergy people.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:52 PM on March 5, 2009

Best answer: Well, honestly, you give them up because you have to. There really isn't another answer.

About 12 years ago I was diagnosed with multiple severe food allergies. I'm allergic to wheat, corn, soy, milk, chocolate, and a few other foods and preservatives. I gave them up the day I was diagnosed because of the 'this stuff may kill you next time you eat it' observation made by my doctor; as a motivating factor, that one works pretty well.

Does one cope? Absolutely. There's a world of food out there, and over time, you'll find the substitutes you can live with; there are some good starting point suggestions made already. That said, I'm going to tell you my truth - not being able to eat 'normally' sucks. I haven't eaten in a restaurant in years; I can count the number of prepared foods I can safely eat on one hand. No quick stop after a long day for a convenient hamburger or a burrito. No take out. No gum. No mints. No cola. No tasting anything at a potluck. No slice of cake at a wedding or birthday.

I've developed a real hatred of food holidays (which is darn near all of them). Socializing is difficult when one can't join people for lunch or dinner or a movie. Business lunches take real finesse unless one wants to become the subject of the meeting. It's awkward, annoying, embarrassing, and generally speaking, entirely inconvenient. I have to think about food far too much, without the enjoyment of actually eating the foods I like.

I'm not saying this as a who-has-it-worse comparitive with your situation; I'm saying this because I think you have to actually accept that this particular portion of your life is not fun. You can turn some of it into a game (adventures in experimental cooking), but if you're anything like me, there will be days when you'd give your left arm for a slice of pizza.

You already know how; you've given up smoking, whiskey, and chocolate. You'll mourn a little every time you crave one of those things, and then you'll shrug and move on to something else. If it helps at all, I think doing so with good grace is over-rated. Give yourself time to be cranky about it all.

Good luck.
posted by faineant at 2:20 AM on March 6, 2009

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