You may be living with or in recovery from an eating disorder or maybe you just know what its like to experience body shame with the diet culture we live in. Spring and Summer can be a trigger to restrictive urges, body comparisons and self-judgement. Learn 3 tools to strengthen your body image this Summer.
I know, I know, it sounds TERRIFYING! Yes, I'm serious - you will not die from eating food in a restaurant ... I PROMISE! It might FEEL like you'll die, it might seem like you'll gain a hundred pounds just from eating the food that is cooked for you back in that kitchen you can't see.
As my friend and colleague, Natalie says, "there aren't calorie ninja's back in the kitchen adding calories to your food"! I understand the fear - I get that allowing somebody else to prepare your food is giving up control in a way that might not feel safe for you just yet. Here's the rub, though - even though it might be hard to admit, I KNOW you want to be able to participate in experiences that involve food. You WANT to be social. You want to hang with your friends while they get frozen yogurt or try the food at the new cafe. You want to live your life again... it's just that ED forbids it. Here are some helpful tips for you to get more comfortable with dining out:
When you find yourself feeling fear about eating in a restaurant, it's sort of like a phobia - a very heightened anxiety around something specific. The way to deal with and cure this type of phobia is through exposure - WITHOUT - re-traumatizing yourself. So you don't want to push yourself to take it all on without practicing and getting comfortable with various aspects of it first.
You might want to enlist the help of your therapist, friend or family member. Tell them some food options that you consider safe. Start small.
It's better to have success with something less challenging than to get overwhelmed with something scarier.
Your support team member could either get you food from a restaurant or give you food that they made without you present. Or if you need to start even smaller, you could watch them make your meal so you know it's safe. Eat with them. Notice your feelings. Use anxiety reduction and grounding techniques. Keep breathing and do your best. Keep practicing this step until your anxiety stays below a 7 on a 0-10 scale with 10 being the worst anxiety you've felt and 0 being no anxiety at all.
Increase the challenge slowly
Once you get comfortable with eating meals made by others, up the ante. If you're still not ready for restaurant dining, try getting take-out or try eating foods you didn't see being prepared. Use an affirmation like "This food is safe and nourishing; I am safe and I can eat this food". Make sure you start off each experience with some breathing and relaxing techniques so that you don't associate fear with the experience.
If noise bothers you, choose a restaurant that's quieter or a time of day that's less intense like lunch. See if you can get a table that's against a wall, in a corner or in a quieter area of the restaurant. This reduces over-stimulation and feelings of vulnerability.
Have a plan
In earlier recovery, it's helpful to have a plan. If you know which restaurant you'll be going to, look up their menu online. Work with your therapist or dietician to determine which menu item you'll be selecting. Most restaurants have portions that are significantly larger than the exchanges on your meal plan. If this is the case, you could anticipate eating half the meal. One tip is to ask for a to-go box at the beginning of the meal so that you can put half away for later and just focus on what's on your plate.
Go with someone supportive
This experience is hard enough, don't add to it by going with someone who doesn't "get it" or tries to sabotage your recovery. Some therapists or dietitians will conduct sessions at the restaurant with you so that you can talk through it as it's happening. If that's not an option, or you're ready for the next step, choose a member of your support group who understands your recovery. Let them know the plan beforehand and maybe come up with a code word in case you need to abandon the mission.
Remember to breathe
Keep taking those deep belly breaths and know that this is just one meal. One meal won't make you fat. If you notice yourself starting to get overwhelmed or anxious, just come back to your breath. While you're eating, try to focus the conversation on something else like the weather, the new movie just out or anything fun. Take a sip of water, feel your feet. You got this!!
Do's and Don'ts:
- Keep the conversation light
- Have some topics in mind to talk about while you're eating
- Get the food down
- Chew thoroughly
- Focus on the conversation, the beautiful setting or anything but the food and body
- Wear comfortable clothes
- Stay at the table for the entirety of the meal
- Set your pace to about 30 minutes to complete your meal
- Count the calories
- Compare your dish to anyone else's
- Body check while you're at the table
- Talk about food, weight, exercise or anything triggering while you're at the table
Keep your eye on the prize!
This experience is not just about today or next week. You are engaging in this exercise so that you can enjoy your life - so that you can HAVE a life! Spending all your time in isolation, feeling lonely, not participating in social events is no way to live. Remember that you are doing this so that you can be happy and free of your eating disorder.
One day at a time
One meal at a time
One bite at a time
You CAN recover!! Recovery from an eating disorder is not a linear process. It goes all over the place, it's messy at times and sometimes you need to take 5 steps backward so that you can get good 2 steps forwards. Even one success is worth celebrating, so give yourself credit for EVERYTHING you do right.
If you're still feeling anxious about dining out and you'd like some support, I'd be happy to schedule a time to help you reach your goals. Contact me now at 610.314.8402 to learn more about how to dine out with an eating disorder. Please feel free to share this post with anyone who is looking for help with eating and body issues.
Good luck and enjoy!!
If you have any questions or need support, please feel free to call me at 610.314.8402 for a free 15 minute phone consultation.
Please comment below and tell us your story!
West Chester, Pennsylvania is just south of The Main Line – an area rich with resources, beautiful settings, history and academic prestige. With all this knowledge about … well, everything - in our town, why is it so difficult to fully grasp what eating disorder therapy actually is? What does it do? How does it work?
And the most important question of all – WILL – IT – MAKE – ME – FAT?
You may have found counselors in West Chester that were kind enough and surely helpful. Understandably, you’ve got lots of questions.
It is so normal to be scared.
It is completely understandable if you’re wanting help – wanting support, but you can’t quite get yourself to take the plunge – and for MANY reasons (including the fear of getting fat). There are other reasons you’re probably scared:
you know there’s a bunch of things in your past, or perhaps your family, that may have contributed to your anorexia, but you don’t want to blame them.
You know you’ve got some difficult memories stored away, but that’s just the point – they’re STORED neatly away and the thought of walking into a counseling office and TALKING about them seems like the worst idea ever! Also, the commitment!
The binging and purging takes up ALL OF YOUR TIME –
every last ounce of energy you have to get to the grocery store, buy your binge foods, bring them home, make sure no one’s around and then the binge. Eating and purging and eating and counting and cleaning and being COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED! Who has time for therapy, let alone has the ability to commit to a specific time every week to show up?
But you’re so tired!
Tired of this dance you are doing with a gorilla – he won’t let go and you just keep spinning and you’re out of control and you want help, but it all just seems too overwhelming.
I hear you – it’s a dark way to live
You don’t have to feel like this anymore
Here are some debunked myths about eating disorder therapy:
1. Will my therapist try to make me fat?
No. We are not here to make you fat, contrary to popular belief. Geneen Roth says that recovery is about finding balance in food, weight and life; it's not about gaining weight. Recovery from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder is NOT about making you fat. My focus, when I work with clients struggling with ED, is to help them break free from the obsession with food and body. To help them learn to love their bodies and live inside of them. To find peace around food and this is NOT done through binging! This is done by UNdoing the diet mentality. Diets make people with eating disorders either fat or nutty or both.
The goal for someone trying to find recovery from anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder is to eat when you are hungry, to eat enough food, that you enjoy, to SATISFY you and to stop eating when you are SATISFIED.
If you practice this way of normal or intuitive eating, your body will follow suit. If you are not restricting all day, every day and then binging and purging up your food, your body will do what it was born to do naturally – it will process the food and use the calories to give you energy and help your hair shine and your skin retain moisture. It will also alleviate the depression and anxiety you are experiencing from malnutrition.
2. If I go to therapy, will I spend all my time digging up the past and talking about my mother?
No. As a therapist, I believe your history is one important component of what makes you - YOU. I usually spend some time exploring things that happened in the past, but only as I find it helpful for the present – or if my client wants to explore or use EMDR to process an upsetting memory, then, of course we go there. But this is not the focus. As a therapist, my job is to help you identify YOUR GOALS and I am the guide that helps you reach them.
Another thing to consider is coaching. One of the differences between a therapy and a coaching is that coaching is usually much more directive and there’s virtually no history that comes into play. Coaching can be very useful especially for help with navigating things like grocery stores, restaurants or meal times. I incorporate coaching techniques when my clients are in need of this sort of direction. Whatever it takes to reach your goals and so you don’t need to be in therapy for the rest of your life.
3. Won’t I just be put on another diet?
No. Not when working with this type of eating disorder recovery, anyway. Some clinicians believe the way to heal an eating disorder is through rigid meal plans and restriction of certain food groups. Perhaps this works for some people, but don’t you want freedom? REAL freedom? As Jenni Schaeffer said, “How free do you want to be?” YOU CAN FULLY HEAL FROM YOUR EATING DISORDER. You CAN find freedom from all sorts of restriction. The beginning stages of recovery may involve a meal plan from a registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorders. We usually work on the exchange system. Rather than counting calories or measuring amounts of foods, we use exchanges to help you get away from the diet mentality.
And we meet you where you are at.
If you are not ready to eat 3 meals a day, that is okay. It is our job to help you mediate your anxiety around food; not to overwhelm you. Middle and late stages of recovery often move away from meal plans and move more towards intuitive and normal eating. (whatever that is right?) But honestly, the goal is to help you find freedom to enjoy meals with friends and family – to put food in its place in your life instead of allowing it to dominate and terrorize you. Dieting is not part of eating disorder recovery.
I hope this helps debunk some of the myths about eating disorder therapy, and hopefully, it will help you in your search for the right eating disorder therapist in West Chester Pennsylvania. If you are still feeling stuck, please don’t hesitate to call me at 610.314.8402 for a free 15-minute phone consultation. I’m happy to hear about what is happening and help direct you to the right person. If you are looking for help with eating disorders, you can read more about how I can help here.