Dining out in restaurants whilst in recovery
Eating out can be a big fear for those living with an eating disorder (ED). Something considered to be a fun and relaxing social occasion for many of us may cause stress and anxiety for others.
Mealtimes have been a central part of human civilisation since as far as we know. Today, going out for brunch, lunch, or dinner has become a crucial part of modern life. However, people living with an ED may find excuses to skip out on dinners, not wanting to engage in this activity for fear of losing control of their food intake.
Going out to eat again can certainly be another hurdle on our recovery journey. So, how can we overcome this and learn to enjoy meals in restaurants? Read on to find out our top four tips for minimising fear and guilt when eating at restaurants.
Explore your options beforehand
You may wish to choose a familiar restaurant or food you know you will be comfortable eating. A big part of our fear around eating out may come from the lack of control over a meal and not knowing how it is prepared or what goes into it.
Nowadays, the internet enables us to search and check out any menus before, and dish descriptions allow us to know more about what has gone into each option on a menu.
Alternatively, you can contact the restaurant ahead of time to learn more about specific dishes and inform them of any dietary requirements or amendments. This way, you can bridge the gap by having more certainty about what you’ll be eating, and over time, feel more comfortable with eating out.
Feel free to browse menus beforehand if you find it gives you more comfort; however, if a restaurant’s menu contains detailed nutritional information such as calories and macronutrients, this may be triggering, and it may be better to refrain from reading or avoid these restaurants altogether.
Choose your dining companions wisely, and be open with them
When in recovery, our support network is a crucial part of the journey. Our interpersonal connections have been shown to create further neural integration and stability, boosting our emotions, attention, mood, thoughts and behaviour. (1)
Studies have found an inverse correlation between social connectedness and ED symptoms – meaning that the more socially connected we are, the fewer ED symptoms we may present. (2) This may also have implications for reducing the chance of relapse.
Be sure that the people you are eating with are compassionate, loving, approachable people who will continue to support you in this next phase of your healing – particularly in the initial phase.
Good company and conversation can be a good distraction whilst eating, and a caring friend will ensure that you are feeling comfortable during the ordering process, will avoid any judgement, and assist you in confronting any fear foods.
Be aware of eating with people who may have a continued record of strict dieting or openly place harsh labels on foods – as this may create more fear and not be ideal when re-familiarising yourself with eating out.
Inform your diners of your feelings and reservations around going out to eat, as it may have been a long time since you last did, and they may not fully understand your situation and mindset behind avoiding them, especially if they have not been in your shoes themselves or have no other relatives who have lived with an ED.
This way, they can be aware of any triggers or give you flexibility in choosing a place and your meal without judgement.
Think up some conversation topics
By this, we don’t mean you need a rehearsed script for your dinner. However, being in the company of someone else and being out of your head can be a perfect opportunity to take the focus off of food for a few hours.
Ditch the discussion on diets, calories, and food labels, and why not discuss a movie or TV show you recently watched? Perhaps you or your friend(s) picked up a new hobby this year and are keen to share? Conversation can involve anything and everything, and we guarantee you’ll be feeling calmer if the focus is not on food.
If challenging topics come up, protect your mental health and stop to think about how much you feel like sharing – particularly if you happen to be in the company of someone who isn’t a close friend.
For more guidance on how to navigate some difficult conversations, why not check out our two-part article on how to respond to diet talk?
Remember – it’s ok to step back and change the subject if you don’t feel comfortable. Being transparent and authentic is a true sign of strength, and your guest will be grateful for your honesty.
Be patient with yourself
If you are feeling anxious about having to dress up, converse with strangers or just generally being out in public, remember that you don’t need to! Whilst going to a restaurant may be a crucial stepping step, it may not always be the right time for it.
Trust your instinct, and if you feel like it may be more valuable to order in and enjoy foods in the comfort of your own home, then maybe that’s the right decision for you. You can always invite a friend or companion over to share it with you and watch a TV show or movie to take your mind off of things.
Be gentle with yourself – you are taking a big step, so offering yourself kindness and compassion throughout is essential.
We are so proud of you wherever you are in your journey, so remember to take a moment to think about how far you have come and all of the incredible things you and your body are capable of.
For more support on how to confidently eat in restaurants and even in the comfort of your home, our team is here to support you. Book your no-strings-attached discovery call and we would love to guide you towards food freedom!
Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr
EHL Team x
- Siegel, D. (2014). Interpersonal Connection, Self-Awareness and Well-Being: The Art and Science of Integration in the Promotion of Health. Lecture, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
- Nunez N. Social Connectedness and Eating Disorder Symptomatology. Psychology. 2019;38.