Choosing what and where to eat can be daunting because it isn’t always easy to tell what you want versus what your eating disorder- and all of its food rules- want. As if dodging ED thoughts wasn’t enough, more and more restaurants are including calorie counts and nutritional information that can be triggering, especially early on in recovery. Here are tips for eating out that will (hopefully!) make the experience both enjoyable and easy:
P.S. These tips are specifically geared at those with disordered eating/eating disorders, but can (and should!) be used by anyone looking to improve their relationship with food, exercise, and their body.
Don’t look online beforehand
Looking online beforehand can not only make you obsess over what to choose even more, but online menus often have calories/nutrition information listed, even if the actual menus at the restaurant don’t. The pressure of picking something out, being potentially triggered by the online information or using calorie counting behaviors, and the potential to second guess yourself are negative side effects of browsing online beforehand that aren’t worth the risk. This doesn’t mean you can’t think of a few things beforehand that you would like to eat (or feel comfortable with if it is a difficult restaurant or high anxiety social event) but it does mean you should try and be present in the experience of choosing a meal at the restaurant instead of letting your disorder/negative food thoughts work you up before you even get there.
Know the menu well? Order without looking at it
Calories can be triggering everyday, some days, or barely ever- it depends on you and your recovery. If you know a menu well and also know that the calories listed will trigger ED thoughts/behaviors, try ordering without reading the menu. This is especially easy at places that you frequent or have a specific cuisine, like an Italian or Mexican restaurant. Being okay with seeing the calories and not making a decision based off of them is an important part of recovery, but it doesn’t happen right away and there may be times where you’re more vulnerable than others. Ordering without reading over the menu can help alleviate some anxiety over making the “best” or “right” choice and help you focus on getting what you would enjoy.
Ask a friend to choose where to eat
Sometimes the easiest option is to let a friend choose where to go! Not only can this lead to new opportunities for breaking out of your comfort zone, but you may find a new favorite place to eat. If going out is way out of your comfort zone and you’re with friends/family, you can also just begin with ordering what they order until you find your footing.
Ditch the phone
Putting the phone away while you’re eating out with friends/family will help you connect and be present in the moment. Good conversation can go a long way in helping to make the experience an enjoyable one and take your mind out of a negative or anxiety filled space. If you’re struggling to stay present try noticing five things around you or ask them a few fun questions to get the conversation going in a direction you can engage with.
Set up some accountability
Just because you’re out of your usual space doesn’t mean it’s easy to not engage in behaviors or listen to your eating disorder. Recovery is a long process and accountability from others, whether it’s an app or support system, plays a huge role in your success. A few ideas are using the Recovery Record app, eating with friends/family, or texting meal photos to someone on your support team or in your family.
Eating out is a huge part of our daily lives whether it’s for entertainment, convenience, or social reasons. Because of this it’s important to come up with ways to make dining at restaurants a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable experience! Lately this has been shaken up due to COVID-19, but I still wanted to cover this topic as more and more places open up again. Plus, all of these tips can be used for takeout, too. Let me know in the comments or on social media (@recovroad) what you do to make eating out easier for you!
All content on RecovRoad is based on personal experiences, research, and ideas. Please do not repost/share without credit and be aware that nothing on this blog takes the place of professional help. This is also a formal trigger warning: content about and relating to eating disorders may be triggering to survivors. Please see the “RESOURCES” tab, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237, and remember to take care of yourself.