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!
We’ve talked a bunch about some techniques and tools to help you navigate some of your eating disorder and there’s so much more to learn! I thought it would be helpful to give you my list of books by women I consider to be Eating Disorder Recovery Gurus. Their influence on treatment for eating disorders has been unparalleled. Here’s my list – I hope you find some peace through reading these books:
Jenni is in recovery from an eating disorder and this book explains how she did it. Jenni took a simple enough concept and turned it into phenomena that the majority of people touched by an eating disorder now know how to use. She and her therapist used a Gestalt therapy technique to have Jenni imagine her eating disorder, which she named ED, sitting in the chair in front of her during therapy. Her therapist instructed her to talk to ED and engage with him. She did this and came to realize that ED was just like an abusive partner – putting her down, berating her, demanding she follows his rule. This book describes the process by which Jenni separated herself from, and eventually divorced ED. It is beyond useful and wonderfully inspired. It’s an easy read and can be used in groups, individually and of course, you can read it on your own. It’s a perfect place to start your recovery journey.
Anita Johnston is an ethereal visionary in this field. This book taps into the archetypal idea of the feminine and how the eating disorder betrays that and distorts what it means to be a woman. She uses metaphor and archetypal fairy-tale stories to explain the spiritual aspects of the eating disorder and guides her readers on how to heal. This is a beautiful, delicate, strong piece of work that will change how you view your body forever. It is a must read for all Warrior Women looking to heal from eating disorders.
Here is another giant in the field of eating disorder recovery. Carolyn Costin recovered herself and then went on to create Monte Nido Treatment Centers based on her 8 Keys that she identifies in this book. Another easy to read and a well-inspired piece of work.
Geneen Roth is an excellent story teller. I’ve listened to her audio books which she narrates and I found myself laughing, hard, often! She comes from the other side of the eating disorder coin. She talks about being over-weight and binging and then the diets and the restriction in such a way that most people can relate to – even if you’ve never struggled with an eating disorder. She’s the one who will explain how and why being in recovery from an eating disorder is NOT the end of the world and it should not make you fat. She uses mindfulness, humor, and real-life experiences to help her clients, readers and anyone listening to slow down and take notice of what they are putting in their mouth and why. She has helped countless people to put an end to over-eating, restriction and body hatred. Here are some of her books:
Linda Bacon does a great job at explaining a lot of the science behind weight and body. She comes more from a clinical perspective and is the author for you if you have a political bone to pick with our culture’s way of dealing with diets, weight, and body. She speaks many important truths and helps you to understand how we got to be this way as a society. Here are a few of her books:
To learn more information on anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or other eating disorders, go here. I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you need any further help, please feel free to contact me at 610.314.8402