It’s that time of year when everyone, and anyone wants to go out for ‘a nice meal,’ or pop out for a ‘few drinks,’ as it is Christmas. Yay, for ‘normal’ people, not so ‘Yay’ for anyone with food related issues. I still struggle with eating out sometimes, as obviously all chefs like to secretly deep fry everything and then cover it in sugar and lard.
Hopefully that isn’t actually the case but I guess it does come down to the control, or lack of it, and not being able to see how things are prepared. That being said, it can sometimes be a blessing and actually take the stress out of cooking yourself. When I was in recovery I’d plan to make a nice meal, and follow an actual recipe. Why go out when I can make something really nice, and really tasty at home? Then you read the recipe- ‘well I don’t need to add all that olive oil…..maybe I could substitute the sugar…..cheese?! Who needs cheese?’ And on it goes until slowly but surely you end up with something that is NOTHING like the recipe- but you’ve counted each and every gram, and each and every teeny tiny calorie. Anyway, this is why I sometimes find eating out easier than cooking myself.
Off point a little, but since recovery I have adopted the 80/20 approach I guess- eating ‘well’ the majority of the time, and then having 1-2 treat (not cheat, I’ll talk about that in another post maybe) meals a week. Sometimes it’s nice to go out for these meals, and to try have just what I fancy, but even when I’m not having a ‘treat’ meal it’s still nice to eat out with friends. So many social occasions seem to revolve around eating and drinking, and it often makes you feel even more isolated than usual, because you don’t think you can join in. If all my friends told me they were going to a curry eating, pint drinking competition I’d probably sit it out, but it’s good to feel you can join them at the local pub, Pizza Express, etc. Eating disorders are isolating enough, and feeling like you can’t ‘join in’ makes it all worse.
Eating Out During My Recovery
In the very early stages, eating out was a total no no, absolutely not. Then the further into recovery you get the more you release that super tight grip on yourself. Then after a while you actually enjoy it, and it isn’t some hideous, anxiety filled episode anymore. While in recovery I’d try and push myself, and eat out at different places. Sometimes it would be good, and sometimes it would be pretty bad. I’d ask for something slightly different, a salad with no dressing for example. Yet it would still arrive covered in dressing, with the waiter acting like you’d asked him to perform open heart surgery when you wanted it changed. There have been times when I just haven’t been able to eat the meal. In Carluccios for example, I asked for my salad without olive oil, but there it was COATED in it. There is obviously nothing wrong with olive oil, but it wasn’t what I’d asked for. It was after a Christmas shopping trip with my mum, and we then ended up in an argument, which promptly ruined the whole evening. I couldn’t concentrate on anything because of this clearly hideous amount of oil, and I would obviously become at least a stone heavier from eating it. Anyway, as I said, the further into recovery you go, the less you let it control you. If that happened now, I’d probably eat it, and just have a bit less fat in my other meals.
How I Approach Eating Out Now
Firstly, eating out is a social thing, and something that should be fun to do, not a chore. At first it may seem scary but it’s meant to be enjoyable. If I’m going out for a ‘treat’ meal, I try wholeheartedly to have what I fancy- 3 courses, little chocolates and maybe a glass of wine, or something along those lines. If I’m having a more ‘standard’ meal then it’s a bit different, but that doesn’t mean that I have to miss out on going out with my friends, or spend the whole evening worrying about what I’m eating. That’s almost the worst bit, as you don’t actually enjoy any of it, or take in what everyone’s chatting about as you’re too busy dissecting the little bit of cheese foccacia you just ate! If you do worry about eating out, these are some of the things that have helped/still help me:
- Check the menu before you go. An obvious one, but most places will have an online menu, and there is nothing wrong with having a look at it before you go. If there’s no menu, just give them a quick call and ask for some example dishes. There is no shame in doing this, I know people who do it, and they’ve never had an ED, they just like to know what they’re eating- you are no ‘odd’ for wanting the same.
- Ask for something slightly different. A lot of the time I will ask for no sauce on my meal, or for the dressing to be on side. Equally swapping chips for green beans is always a good option, and if you don’t want butter on your veggies, just ask.
- Be confident. I know it’s easier said than done but try and have confidence in yourself. You are the paying customer, and if you want a plain salad of just lettuce, you can ask for it. Most of the time the things I request seem easier than what’s actually with the standard dish, so it’s not usually a problem. So many people have intolerances, and various dietary requirements these days, most places are happy to accommodate you. Obviously there will be some who aren’t so accommodating but they seem to be in the minority. If the food arrives and it’s not what you asked for, send it back. I do get nervous doing this but if my steak was over cooked, or my pizza was cold I’d send them back, so what’s the difference?
- Take your time when ordering. This sounds silly but often when you go out for a meal it’s with a big group of people, all talking at once, and anxiety levels can go through the roof. Have a look at the menu, and then excuse yourself and pop to the toilet, take a few deep breathes, think about what you’d like to eat, and try and counteract the ED part of your brain, with the logical part- you’re just out for a meal, that’s all.
- Most importantly, remember it’s meant to be fun. Eating out is a social thing, and it’s meant to be enjoyed. If you find yourself having to eat something that you wouldn’t usually, or is a bit off your radar- DO NOT PANIC. It’s not the end of the world. I know this is hard to see in the grip of an ED, as I’ve been there- a few miss-weighed Cornflakes sent me spiralling into big dark hole once. Take the control back, if what you’ve eaten is a bit too ‘carby,’ or probably has a whooooole load of calories you’re not used to, it’s ok. You can counter it if you really, really want to by having a smaller meal the next evening, but even that is by no means necessary.
I have come to think that I will always have my eating disorder, it’s just managing it. It’ll always be there, but it doesn’t have to always control me. Live is for living, and it’s happening right now- don’t let your ED hold you back from all these social situations, which could actually be fun!