If you have a troubled relationship with food, you might feel apprehensive about social eating. A meal out in a restaurant could trigger a tumultuous wave of anxiety that gradually rises weeks before the actual date.
You worry about what you are going to eat. ‘Will they have something on the menu that feels safe and manageable? Will I eat too much and break my eating plan?’
You worry about what others will be eating. ‘What if they all order starters and I don’t want one? What if they all have salads and I want to choose something more filling?’
You worry about what others might think about your eating. ‘Will they think I am greedy?’
You worry about the size of your bottom, tummy, thighs, chin, arms, legs or all of these. ‘I feel ashamed of my body and they will judge me. Everyone else looks fabulous compared to me’.
As the day draws nearer, a sinking feeling of dread rests within your stomach. It doesn’t budge. You think about cancelling. You think about faking illness. You think about doing absolutely anything to avoid going along. But you know that this is one you can’t get out of.
In a frantic attempt to gain a last fleeting stroke of reassurance, you may even stringently examine the restaurant menu online to try and avoid surprises on the day. This doesn’t ease your concerns though; instead it focuses your fears more intensely.
To break free from this fear around social eating, you need to give yourself permission to think about your own personal eating needs and what is right for your body.
To start with, this may feel very uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Making decisions around eating based on the desire to please others or to fit in, will likely lead you to dissatisfaction with the food or eating experience.
You might end up still being hungry after the meal. You may become too full from eating food you didn’t really want in the first place.So despite what others are eating, you can think about what is right for you.
It is okay to say no to food. It is also okay to say yes.
Even when your Auntie has slaved away in the kitchen for three hours and made a special cake, decorating it with lavish cream, you don’t have to have a piece just to please her. You can think about whether you are hungry for the cake or if you genuinely like the taste.
When your friends have ordered salads at the Italian restaurant, but you want food that is hot and filling, you can decide to eat the fare that is going to suit your appetite.
If you need a morning snack due to feeling tired and low in blood sugar, respect your body’s needs and go and get one. It doesn’t matter that no-one else is having one right now.
When there’s only one piece of cheesy pizza left on the plate at the summer picnic, you don’t have to finish it off to avoid wasting it.
When one girl has ordered a black coffee, you can still choose your favourite hot chocolate and sip happily.
Just because the buffet table is groaning with food, you don’t have to feel obliged to try every single dish. You can think about what you are hungry for. There will be other opportunities to eat this food again.
Just because you ate too much and your jeans feel tight, does it have to concern you that much? Does anyone else really care or notice? Continue on with your day and trust that your body will tell you when you need to eat again.
Remember that although your feelings may disagree, other people do not care or notice what you are eating nearly as much as you may think they do. Your feelings are likely rooted in earlier experiences when you felt judged or criticised. You may need to explore this further to make sense of it with a trusted friend or counsellor.
If someone is unusually interested in your eating habits, be curious about what lies behind this. It might be nothing to do with you.
The more you listen to your hunger and respond to your body’s needs, the more relaxed you will start to feel around food.
You will begin to trust your body. You will let go of worrying about what others eat or what they think of your eating. You will begin to find your healthy weight, as you will eat more in line with your body’s needs.
As you do this, be patient and kind to yourself in this process. Learning to trust and listen to your body may take time.