Do you get anxiety when eating out? Dining at restaurants, other people’s homes, or in any environment that you are uncomfortable with can be terrifying during eating disorder recovery. But, it is a huge stepping stone that you have to find a way through.
Feeling anxious when eating out is not solely related to eating disorder recovery. People suffering from social anxiety disorder sometimes have an irrational fear of eating with others or engaging in dinner conversations. This is called Deipnophobia. When eating and drinking in company causes severe anxiety someone might start avoiding these situations which then becomes a vicious cycle that is hard to break.
Underlying a lot of this type of anxiety is the fear of being negatively evaluated by the people you are eating with. I remember the anxiety that came along with going out to dinner with family or friends. It would always feel like everyone was watching me. I was so self-conscious anytime I ate with other people and at a place other than home. At home, I had thought I had control, comfort and security.
But it was only feeding into my eating disorder. By not getting out of my comfort zone, I was helping the eating disorder self instead of developing my “healthy self”.
Eating out was anxiety-provoking and terrifying
It was so hard for me to find a way to enjoy going out to eat instead of fearing it. When I was little I used to love going out and choosing whatever drink I wanted the food I wanted to eat. My eating disorder stole that joy from me. But I’m living proof that it’s possible to overcome the fear of eating out and find the joy of sharing a meal with others once again.
That said, here are 5 tips to begin the process of feeling comfortable eating out and eventually wanting to go out to eat.
1. Say yes to eating out (even when you don’t want to)
Say “yes” to fun opportunities and experiences. In doing so, you are saying “yes” to recovery. You are also breaking the negative cycle of avoiding the situation altogether. Actively choosing to do something that causes anxiety is a way of not giving in to the anxiety, ultimately lowering its power.
When you say “yes” to going out to eat you step into unknown territory.
Saying “yes” means you are intentionally stepping out of your comfort zone. I know this is hard- but it’s absolutely necessary for your recovery.
Once you start to stop listening to your eating disorder self you start to slowly give control back to your healthy self.
2. Breathe when you feel anxious
When you sit down to eat and start to feel anxious, take a second to breathe. In and out. Breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, and release. This is an effective way to calm down your nervous system.
But it’s crucial that you take a second to just breathe. Remember that this is one meal, one moment, one step towards a future where food can be food again.
3. Focus on yourself when you are eating out
Focus on you and you alone.
I know how difficult it is to only focus on what your body needs. I would always let what other people get to dictate what I was going to order.
Then I would always try and calculate calories up in my head.
I was so focused on what I was ordering and if other people were watching me, that I could never be present.
I could never create memories that would later bring me joy. So, I encourage you to focus on your body’s needs instead of what everyone else is doing around you.
4. Take baby steps in overcoming your fear of eating out
Saying “yes” to eating out is already a huge step. But as time goes on, continue to challenge yourself while you’re out eating in a restaurant or other place.
For example, actually order something that sounds delicious to you. This is hard to do. You may have forgotten what actually brings you joy to eat.
So, start small. Experiment with new things. Order a drink that you like to drink (not just water). Eat the appetizer that comes out. In small steps, you can slowly get back in touch with your taste buds and slowly rediscover foods that you like to eat. This process can be empowering too and help you feel more comfortable when you are going out to eat in eating disorder recovery.
5. Keep yourself accountable in recovery
If you have a family member, friend, or doctor who knows what you are going through I encourage you to talk to them about your struggles. Maybe even plan to go out to eat with them.
Let them know what your thoughts are and what you’re scared of. Ask them to help you stay accountable to your body and your needs. Every step is a positive step forward.
Ask people to help you push past your comfort zone into unknown territory. And maybe, if you’re up to the challenge, let someone else choose the restaurant or place to eat.
Remember this when eating out in recovery gives you anxiety
I know how scary it is to go out to eat. It seems like such a simple thing, but it is not. It is hard and stressful for someone in recovery.
It is terrifying. But it is necessary.
Once you can begin to go out to eat, you’ll begin to realize that over time you said no to someone you missed out on memories, you missed out on life.