From Fear to Freedom: Eating in Public During Eating Disorder Recovery


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Most people who are struggling with an eating disorder will tell you that eating around others is difficult. However, with the right tools, you can face these situations with confidence. 

Common Social Eating Challenges During Eating Disorder Recovery

Eating disorders will distort someone’s thoughts about food. Food events that are enjoyable for most people can be stressful, anxiety-provoking experiences for someone who has a strained relationship with food. 

First of all, they may feel overwhelmed by deciding what to eat. The overwhelmingly large number of options on most restaurant menus can make it challenging to narrow it down to one selection. They also may see the number of calories on the menu and feel like any option that they choose is going to cause weight gain. 

Potluck dinners present a special challenge. Trying to build a meal from a random array of items is challenging for someone who struggles with disordered eating, especially if they don’t know what foods will be available in advance. Then, they may have difficulty deciding how much to eat. 

Besides the logistical aspects of what and how much to eat, someone with an eating disorder may experience a lot of anxiety, fear, or shame about eating. They may feel like other people are watching how much they eat or judging them for what they have on their plate. As you can imagine, all of these factors can make eating within social settings very challenging. 

Tips to Handle Social Eating Situations with Confidence

  1. Bring your support people. When you are trying to gain more confidence in eating around other people, start by sharing a meal with people who are supporters of your recovery. 
  2. Talk with your loved ones in advance about how they can help you at meals. Friends and family often want to help but don’t know how. If you know you have an upcoming social event with food, tell your loved ones what you need. This might include helping you narrow down opinions from a menu, reminding you of your coping skills, or keeping you distracted during the meal. 
  3. Consider eating at a local restaurant. Large chain restaurants will usually have calories posted on the menu, which can be triggering for someone suffering from an eating disorder. Local restaurants are less likely to have calories posted, making it easier to choose a menu item based on your preferences and cravings.
  4. Practice your coping skills. Mindfulness, grounding exercises, and breathing techniques can all be helpful if you are struggling with the meal. Also, practice these skills prior to any particularly stressful event so that you know what works best for you.
  5. Talk about things that bring you joy. Trying to process your emotions about the meal can be challenging when you are still eating. Consider discussing topics that have nothing to do with your eating disorder or other stressful situations. You can always process the meal afterward with your loved ones or later with your therapist.
  6. Feel free to change the discussion away from triggering topics. Unfortunately, talking about dieting and weight loss has become commonplace in our culture. If these topics arise during the meal, don’t be afraid to change the topic to something more comfortable. 
  7. Remember that people are not judging you. When you are suffering from an eating disorder, it can feel like people are watching your every move during mealtimes. However, this simply isn’t true. Most people are focused on their own food or their own issues. 

Another key element of managing these social eating events is to prepare for these situations with your treatment team. Not only will this help you manage your next family dinner, but it will also equip you with tools for lasting recovery. To learn more about treatment at Selah House, contact us by calling 866-324-8081.

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