One of my biggest fears is eating in public. People often scoff at this anxiety, but it continues to haunt me. What will others think about my weight? Will they judge my food intake? How are they talking about me and my meal to others?
When I voice these fears, friends attempt to calm them with reassurances. “No one judges you,” they claim while I see a girl eying another’s dress. “But you are so skinny!” They lament but quickly grip about their own weight. The contradictions confuse me even more. Why is it that food, weight, and appearance hold so much power over us?
In my months of treatment, I have met numerous other men and women who also struggle with eating in front of others. Restaurants, parties, cafeterias, even dinner with friends bring the silky voice of ED back into one’s head. The battle begins internally, unseen to others but painful nonetheless.
Thus, I decided to come up with a few helpful tips for eating around people. Some might work for you while others will not. This list will address anorexia, bulimia, over-eating, and everything in-between those diagnosis. Hopefully you will find this useful for reducing your anxiety before public meals or snacks.
- Stay with someone you trust. Do not leave them even to go to the bathroom. Having a buddy might sound juvenile, but it is extremely helpful. Many people would be glad to help if you are willing to ask.
- Talk about whatever would be most helpful. Sometimes, small talk or discussing a light issue can keep your mind off of the meal and others around you. Other times, you may want to be honest about the struggle inside. Either is fine as long as it helps you.
- Find a safe spot. Rarely do I eat out in the open. Often a small corner or unused room is where I have my meals. This takes away from the challenge of eating in front of others but helps me to fuel my body. Slowly, you might be able to eat more comfortably on your favorite bench, a nice coffee shop, a friend’s house – other places that you feel secure despite the difficulty.
- Stick to safe foods. If you are scared to eat in public, now is not the time to challenge yourself even more by eating new or scary things. Just do what you can handle and congratulate yourself for a task well done.
- Bring your own meal. Shopping for food or eating what other prepare can be daunting. Sometimes, having a backup plan is best.
- But try something others are having if you can. Yes, this is pretty much the opposite of what I said above. However, if you are able, joining in the activity by having some carrots, punch, or dessert is a great goal. Difficult, yes, but it is possible.
- Walk away from triggers. If someone makes a comment about food or weight that sets you off, leave. Try not to be rude to them however. Often people say stupid things without realizing their impact.
- Plan out what type of food you will have and stick to your plan. This is helpful to calm your worries beforehand. It also works well if you struggle with overeating. If you are in-tune with your body cues and feel hunger still, then you should certainly have more. However, if you still struggle to know the right amount, try to stick to a previously decided plan.
- Focus on people instead of food. Let other around you be distractions. Laugh at jokes, hug old friends, or watch strangers wander around the mall. Food does not need to be the purpose but an added part of the social experience.
- Talk to someone about your feelings before, after, and during. An worries or triggers can be told to them. Hopefully, they can help to make your experience fun instead of grueling.
There are a few tips. I still struggle to do all of the them. However, some of the help me a great deal. Hopefully you can find some new coping tips to try.