If you’re in the US, you probably notice that more and more calorie counts are popping up on restaurant menus.
That’s because a law went into effect mandating franchises with 20+ locations to list their nutrition information on the menu. As a clinician and consumer, there are a lot of reasons that I find this problematic.
But the bottom line is that for now, these numbers are mostly unavoidable if you’re eating out.
And if you’re someone in recovery from an eating disorder, it can be really challenging to avoid these numbers and listen to your body. So what can you do in those moments when you’re eating out and find yourself feeling trapped by numbers?
6 tips for ordering at restaurants with calorie counts:
Here are some tips to remember in those moments:
1. Take a deep breath
It may be helpful to remind yourself of some positive affirmations. I am worthy of recovery, I am allowed to listen to my body, I am safe no matter what I order, this situation is manageable, etc.
Try to create some space for yourself in that moment to make decisions based on your body’s needs rather than some arbitrary numbers floating around.
2. Keep the numbers in perspective
Recognize that these numbers don’t have any bearing in your value as a person. They don’t have the power to make you good or bad.
Numbers and calories can’t make you a failure.
3. Think about what sounds appealing to you
Do you want something hot or cold? Crunchy or soft? Salty or sweet? Are you having any cravings?
Use these answers to guide you towards the things that sound good to you in that moment.
4. Give yourself a time limit
It can be easy to get sucked into a world of complex food math:
Maybe I should get that salad because it’s X calories. Or I could get 1/2 of that sandwich and a small order of fries and that would be Y calories… but if I do that, I can only have Z calories at dinner which throws off my whole day because I had ABC for breakfast. And then what about my nighttime snack… and on and on and on.
To avoid (or at least shorten) that moment of uncertainty and panic, give yourself a time limit to decide what you’re going to order.
For example, if you’re in line at a coffee shop, give yourself 30-60 seconds to decide on a pastry and then stick with it when you go to order. If you’re out to lunch with a friend, let yourself look at the menu for 3-5 minutes before making a decision and closing your menu.
Set a physical timer if you think it will help. This isn’t designed to be stressful, just a way for you to avoid getting sucked into that food math vortex. Give yourself enough time to look at your options and then make a decision.
5. Don’t overthink it
Think about what sounds good, look at the menu for a couple minutes, and then order what sounds appealing and manageable.
Remember that not every meal needs to be “perfect“. Remember that you’re allowed to eat all foods. And remember that every time you make choices that go against ED rules, you’re taking one more step into recovery.
6. Stay grounded when the food comes
If you’re with out with someone, try to focus on your conversation with them. Your conversation with them will be far more meaningful than the internal dialogue of calorie counts that your mind may be pulling you towards.
And if you’re alone, consider bringing a journal and writing your way through the experience. Or if that feels too intense, write about something different altogether!
A new opportunity
Seeing the calorie labels on menus can be challenging but it is not an excuse to let your eating disorder call the shots. However, have compassion with yourself and know that if that ends up happening, it’s okay.
See this as just one more opportunity for you to honor your recovery and make decisions that feel satisfying to your mind and body.