This topic is very near and dear to my heart. The fear of social eating is definitely one of the hardest issues I have to overcome in my recovery from an eating disorder. Now everyone is different, and for some people in ed recovery social eating is not a problem. However the majority of people with ed’s struggle greatly to eat with and in front of people.
Roughly 70%-80% of the eating disorder population struggle greatly eating in social situations.
Every time I eat with others it feels like my brain goes into chaos mode. A barrage of eating disorder voices telling me I should worry because my plate is bigger, or because I ordered more. Or its maybe because I ordered less or other people aren’t eating as much. I can always find something to compare or worry about when it comes to eating in public.
However, there are some ways I have been able to approach these challenging and scary situations. And granted, these are only things I have tried and have worked for me. Which means they might not be helpful or relevant for everybody. Nevertheless, I hope at least one resonates with you.
Here are my 5 ways to cope with fear of social eating:
1. Start Small
Simple advice, but so, so helpful. The last thing you want to do is to throw yourself into the deep end and end up drowning in anxiety and panic.
For instance, instead of going out for a meal with someone right away, try having coffee or smoothies. This can be helpful for me get over some initial anxiety over dining with someone.
It also takes less time to grab coffee together than to eat an entire meal. So, it shortens the time commitment, which can lower anxiety. There is no reason to rush the process, unless you want to of course. But sometimes taking baby steps can accomplish more than cycling through extremely high anxiety situations and feeling triggered.
2. Plan Ahead
It can be really helpful to look at the restaurant menu and decide what you’ll order before you get there. Now, this one does take some planning. However, It can’t really be used for on-the-whim decision making. This tip works well if you are making arrangements to a restaurant later.
Try and decide on a restaurant with your friend/family in advance. This allows you time to look over the menu, pick a dish, and mentally prepare. Having a plan when it comes to eating can help with adding structure to meal times. And it decreases the likelihood of being caught off guard.
You can also pre-plan meals when eating at home if you get nervous eating in front of family members. I find this helps as well.
3. Speak Up
This can be anything from needing to go outside to get some fresh air or requesting no negative or diet related food talk while dining. Standing up for yourself by letting others know what you need is essential to protecting your recovery.
This tip can be very hard to do (especially with new people), but I find most people are actually quite understanding.
4. Avoid Loud Restaurants
When you are brimming with anxiety and ed voices, the last thing you need is a loud environment to add to that.
I find a quieter restaurant lets me relax more easily and calm down quicker. I already have so much noise in my head, the additional auditory stimulation often becomes too much quite quickly.
5. Keep Your Eyes On Your Own Plate
I know what you’re thinking, “that’s literally impossible to avoid” and you are right. You will probably glance at the other person’s plate during the meal, probably many times. However, it is beneficial to try to focus on other things, like the conversation rather than what others are eating.
I find most of my social eating problems arise because I’m hyper-focused on what others are eating, the way they are eating, and how much they are eating.
The thing is, I can’t control what other people eat. Comparing my meal with every else’s is ultimately a destructive habit.
Instead, distract by engaging in conversation, and maybe even include a table game.
Taking the focus off of the food onto the company makes the experience so much more enjoyable, not to mention allows you to really connect with others.