As is inevitable when it comes to social interaction is the situation that for those with a similar history as me might shudder: eating out, in restaurants, with others around.Let me tell you, I am currently writing this while sneakily eating a banana I had in my bag mid-flight. You know, because eating fruit is very tense and embarrassing, right?
As much as I am reminded that people don’t really care about what you’re doing (they’re often thinking the same fears from others, too), I cannot help but get anxious about something as simple as dining with others.
A peek inside my mind might make more sense. When I’m at home, knowing what, when, and how much I’m eating, I don’t feel the need to dwell on the little details. I can feel comfortable knowing it’s a “safe space.” It’s food I enjoy eating, and I can eat with my immediate family no sweat.
But start pulling in new factors. Different people with different eating patterns and appetites and diets as you. Going to different restaurants that, unless I’ve looked at the menu beforehand, is a shot in the dark of what I’ll have. And whatever ends up in front of me, how much do I eat? What is considered a normal portion? Are people looking at me or judging me?
Going vegan has helped tremendously in this struggle. If it’s vegan, it’s good to go. I can enjoy it without much other thought. But that still doesn’t necessarily prevent feeling self-conscious, especially if that means deviating from others, making different requests. And I still automatically think people are watching and judging me, that they can see me hesitate and overthink a function that should be innate but isn’t. Add more people, and the anxiety increases tenfold.
It’s as if there is a disconnect between my stomach and brain. They act independently and don’t understand each other often. So in a new dining situation, simple becomes complex. What is choosing an item from a menu or partaking in a buffet becomes endless questions and difficult decisions.
This comes back to my discussions regarding life as a constantly recovering individual in terms of my eating disorder. The network of nerves and signals in my brain will most likely always behave the same way, but from these patterns, I can address them accordingly. The fact that I don’t enjoy restaurant and large dining hall environments is not necessarily an out-right phobia. It’s definitely more anxiety-driven, making me on edge and uncomfortable.
I’m all about pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. It’s important to not always steer away from what scares you, especially if you feel held back. This pertains to truly anything, regardless of your mental health. But I also think there’s compromise out there. It goes back to my discussion and thoughts about triggering situations that provoke unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. It’s not like all social situations have to involve food. You should not feel guilty if you don’t want to eat out or eat in a certain situation if you don’t want to. And others should understand that it’s okay, that the presence of being close to others and the effort into taking the time and energy to see others is worth it.
Because yes, I would not feel sad if I never ate out again. If I have the choice and we have to order from a restaurant, I will always go for takeout so I can at least be in a comfortable environment. So that means that if I’m actually present in a restaurant, regardless if I’m eating or just sipping or drink or just hanging out, then kudos to me.
Chances are, this is will always be my normal. Just as I am always generally in a lower mood than most others, I have come to accept that I have to make adjustments to live a full life, and that’s okay. The people who are in my life will hopefully understand that, and anyone who enters my life will be people who will come to accept that, too. It doesn’t make the whole predicament less annoying, but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. I do hope I can continue becoming more comfortable with the inevitability of eating out with others.
Basically I’m here to voice my frustrations and let others know who might be in the same boat that it’s okay. It doesn’t make you broken. If it’s something that really bothers you and hinders your life, then it’s something to work through with yourself or a therapist. You do you. Either way, you are validated in your struggle.
Theme of today: keep on keeping on. Celebrate the little victories and be okay admitting if you need help or just need to leave a situation. Ultimately, if doing something like dining out in a busy place brings discomfort, there are always options and alternatives. It’s the awareness of your personal well-being that truly matters.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie