I don’t know how many excuses I invented during my eating disorder for not having to eat out: “Oh sorry, but I have a skype date at 8pm., I can’t go and have dinner with you”, “I really have to save money”, “I have been sick all day, I think I’d prefer a cozy evening at home.” I even remember going to a Mexican restaurant with friends and finding literally NOTHING without cheese, chips or meat on the menu. So I pretended that I spontaneously got a really bad stomach pain and left the restaurant while the others were ordering their meals. On the way back home, I started crying. I hated myself for having let the Ana win, because I would have actually loved to sit with my friends, chatting and laughing.
To be honest: eating out is still a challenge sometimes. Why?
Because it means uncertainty: For somebody with anorexia, letting go of control is one of the hardest things to do. If the plan was to go to a restaurant, I would google the menu several times and think about what to order already hours before we actually went there. I was always relieved when they had rather “save” meals – which would mostly be salads or light rice dishes. But still: you can never be sure what you get. Sometimes I ordered a “vegetable curry” and got a plate with 90% rice, swimming in a fatty sauce.
Because of the time before eating out: Dinner invitations have always been the most difficult ones for me, but they are also the most common ones. It was not a problem because I am more scared of typical dinner foods than of breakfast, but because of the time before eating out. Because I knew that I would be expected to eat something at a certain time in the evening, I would structure my whole day according to that. When will I have breakfast? Will I even have breakfast? And then a light lunch? Or the other way round? If I eat something now (let’s say at 4pm), won’t I be full when it comes to dinner?
Because it’s a social event: It’s not just the eating itself that causes anxiety. But also the social factors that comes along with it. Eating in a restaurant means to eat in public. I guess, most people would prefer having a meal together than eating alone, but during my ED I was always scared because of the pressure to fulfil some expectations. To order a soup or an appetizer before the main mail. To share a bottle of wine. To have dessert. I never wanted to be the awkward one who refuses all of this. But it was freaking hard sometimes to pretend that everything is alright and to have a conversation while Anas voice was really loud.
Because it’s a breaking of routines: When you eat out, you may eat at different times than usually. You are not at home, within your known surroundings. During my ED, I developed some compulsory behaviours and I was always afraid that somebody could discover them while eating out together. For example, I always had to go on the toilet right before eating (well, Ana told me that I had to). But I didn’t want to stand to just when the food was coming because then the others would have to wait.
At some point, I decided that I would never do it like I did it when going to the Mexican restaurant again. I set some rules. When I feel that the pressure gets too high during the day before a dinner invitation, I eat my main meal at home so that I am mainly satisfied and just order a salad or a starter in the restaurant. When I start panicking, because there is nothing on the menu that I want to eat, I ask the waiter for other options. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but your right as a guest. There are also vegans or people with certain allergies that get special dishes. If it is possible, I also try to decide in what kind of a restaurant we are going. An Italian restaurant may be more challenging than going for sushi. But the most important thing is: I never ever again want to sacrifice a nice evening with friends for Ana. Until I can be totally carefree in this issue and actually enjoy eating out (as most people do, I guess), it might still take some time. But the only way to break your fears is to actually face them!