Eating is something that I find hard to do. On a daily basis I struggle with negative thoughts and judgments throughout each of my three meals and snacks. With these tasks being distressing enough, you can probably imagine the inner turmoil that I face when eating in a public setting.
Prior to even sitting down at a restaurant I am overwhelmed. Menus typically have very many options on them, to the point that it becomes a difficult task for me to navigate through it. Thoughts race through my head about anything and everything.
“What should I order?”
“Is this considered too unhealthy?”
“Will I be judged for ordering this particular item off the menu? Especially in comparison to what everyone else is ordering?”
All of this, and more, cloud my mind by simply looking at a menu. I have an indecisive personality to begin with and throwing my eating disorder on top of it makes picking an item from a menu extremely difficult.
By the time it is my turn to order, I am red in the face. I typically have the menu narrowed down to two or three items but I can never truly decide until I am put on the spot by the waiter. Sometimes this works in my favor and gives me minimal time to regret my decision, other-times not so much. Regardless of my feelings in that moment, I breathe a sigh of relief. But only for a moment.
Prior to my meal arriving, I am anticipatory of what will be placed in front of me. I do my best to engage in conversation and keep myself distracted but it is difficult to get myself out of my head. I wonder what my plate will look like, especially in comparison to others.
Once my food is in front of me, the real challenge begins. Not only am I overwhelmed with negative self-talk, but my mind is flooded with potential judgments from others dining in as well. I constantly wonder what strangers around me are thinking.
“Do they think I’m eating too fast?”
“Are they questioning the item that I chose?”
“Can they be thinking that I am ‘too fat’ to be eating such a thing?”
This goes on throughout the entirety of my meal. And once I am finished, I feel slightly relieved that the agony is over.
If you’re still following me, I hope you can imagine how overwhelming this can be. I got flustered simply writing about it. I bet you are wondering how can I handle all of those thoughts without loosing my sh*t mid-restaurant. Luckily, I have had plenty of practice eating in public settings with therapists and dietitians which has prepared me for real life situations that I face on a weekly basis.
When it comes down to it I use my skills (cue eye roll). I’ve heard it time and time again; use your skills, use your skills. But it’s true. In stressful situations, such as eating in public, I use my skills to make it through. My go-to is called thought diffusion. I simply have to remind myself that I am having these judgmental thoughts. They are just thoughts though, and not necessarily fact. So rather than automatically assuming that onlookers are thinking that I eat too fast I say to myself, “I’m having the thought that onlookers think I eat fast. But it is just a thought and not a fact.” This helps reassure me that not everything in my head is true. This skill stays true to its name and diffuses my thoughts.
Aside from thought diffusion, I also have to remind myself that in reality nobody is looking at me. The people surrounding me at the restaurant are involved in their own conversations and meals to worry about what I ordered or the speed that I’m eating at. In the moment it is hard to automatically remember, but I continually remind myself to breathe and think with my logical brain. This helps lessen the anxiety of the situation and reassure me that I will get through it.
Eating is a difficult task for those of us who suffer with an eating disorder, and being thrown into a public setting does not make it any easier. At the end of the day, however, plenty of social situations involve food. That is something that I’ve grown to accept, although I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled about it. I know that I’m going to be in public situations and it’s my meal or snack time, which means I have to eat. Using my skills and logical thinking help lessen the anxiety in these types of situations and allow me to make it through. I know that if I continually practice this type of thinking, one day I will have the ability to eat in public without a thought. And I damn look forward to that day.