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One thing you may not know about me is that I love dining out. Despite my complicated history with anorexia nervosa, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed going out to eat during my recovery. While COVID-19 did hinder our ability to do this for a number of months, I didn’t allow it to take away the confidence I’d built. Instead, it fueled me to try more places than ever before while it’s still possible to do so.
Ryan and I live in a gorgeous village in the North of Ireland which is within driving range of many beautiful eateries. But there’s nothing I enjoy more than discovering a new town or city through the wonders of their restaurants and cafes. From back alley dinners to fancy bistros, we’ve taken every opportunity to experience as many different meals as possible when enjoying our various staycations.
“While Northern Ireland has plenty of wonderful places to visit, heading to the south is always a simple and safe vacation.“
We recently visited Ireland’s capital of Dublin for the first time in our adult lives. Not only did it offer many sites of historical interest, but Dublin restaurants are among some of the best in the south. It proved the perfect opportunity to push myself in recovery and to step outside my comfort zone with many different foods and drinks. I even managed a three-course meal with everything from a warm starter to a gorgeous, chocolate dessert.
But while this may sound easy, it was far from it. The journey to get to such a place of comfort and acceptance with both myself and my hunger was a long one. And it’s far from over. In fact, I would argue and say I will forever be in recovery, going head to head with the eating disorder every time I decide to nourish myself. That’s exactly what recovery is, and with hard work, support and perseverance it’s not an unreasonable goal.
For those of you starting your journey, or supporting someone with their journey, here are five tips for dining out in recovery.
Top 5 Tips for dining out in recovery.
*It’s important to note that while these have worked for me, they may not work for you. Especially not on the first attempt. Recovery is about finding out what works for you and persevering through.
1. Develop a pre-meal intention.
There’s no getting around eating out in restaurants or cafes. Often these are planned, but there will be the odd occasions where going out to eat might be spontaneous. Whether you’re ready for it or not, having a pre-meal intention can help soften the blow.
When I first started eating out in recovery I was still fairly bare-faced and terrified. Whether it was a place I knew well or somewhere new, the thought of eating a meal in front of strangers and without knowledge of the calorie content sent my head into overdrive. Luckily, my husband and I came up with some pre-meal intentions to remind myself why I’m putting myself through, what I considered, torture.
“Recovery takes a long time, but staying sick takes your whole life.”
“Food is medicine.”
“Life is too short to regret the things you didn’t eat.”
These are just a few, but all of them were used frequently in the early days of my recovery. Even now when I feel intrusive thoughts nipping at my heels, I turn to these and remind myself that I’m here for a good time, not a long time. There is enough pain in the world without denying yourself a side order of fries.
2. Discuss the meal with your friend, partner, family member etc prior to it arriving.
The best way to combat intrusive thoughts is to project them. Whether it’s with your best friend or your brother, it’s best to talk about the thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing. When you think about eating out at a restaurant, for example, what feelings come to the surface? Fear? Anxiety? Why might that be?
While we all may experience different fears when dining out in recovery, voicing them takes away their power. We’re better able to articulate what we mean, work through the specific points of fear and anxiety, and rationalize them into a more manageable state.
Perhaps you’re a more visual person? In that case, carry a journal with you or use your phone’s ‘notepad’ to bullet point your experiences. You can refer back to these each time you’re dining out and go through each point in order to rationalize and remedy.
3. Look at the menu prior to arriving.
While this is a habit I’ve recently tried to eliminate, it can be helpful in the early stages of recovery to have a menu on hand. Most places provide menus online or via their apps. In the early stages of recovery knowing the menu prior to arriving can help to alleviate some of the anxiety you might be experiencing. It’s a good idea to choose multiple things you’d be comfortable eating in case something has changed or the restaurant has run out of stock.
It’s a good idea to try and avoid looking at calories if they are provided on the menu. There are multiple places now showing calories on their menus for multiple reasons. While I think this is a slippery slope, specifically for those of us in active recovery, it’s sadly become the norm for many places across the UK and Ireland.
4. Discuss enjoyable topics during the meal to draw attention away from the fear of eating.
A great way to distract one’s self is to talk about something that we enjoy. Whether it’s the latest Marvel movie or a game you simply can’t put down, it’s a great way to distract from any apprehension you might be feeling.
5. Arrange coping skills that can be used afterward.
Finally, one of the best things to help cope with the aftermath is having a variety of coping strategies. Whether you’re at home and you play video games, or you’re out and go for a stroll after eating. There are plenty of things you can use to help yourself cope with the guilt, shame, and sometimes physical pain of eating.
My husband and I always used to go for a slow, quiet stroll in town or around the general area. If we ate at home and I found myself struggling, we’d play cards or even Mario Cart until I felt able to cope.
Have you any other suggestions that worked for you? How did you combat the dining-out nerves?
** If you like what I do please consider donating to my KO-FI fund. I’d like to be able to reach more of an audience so I can potentially grow this blog to be much more than it currently is. I also hope to bring freebies and eventually toolkits to you all as a way of saying thank you for your support.