When I was anorexic, I hated eating out. I was always torn between either spending time with my friends or staying in my room. It wasn’t uncommon for my roommate to suggest we grab Mexican food between classes, or for a group of my friends to gather at Olive Garden on Saturday nights. Whenever someone proposed we “grab food somewhere,” I immediately began to silently stress.
How was I supposed to eat only “safe” foods when I went out? Was I strong enough to order a salad when all my friends were ordering pasta? And Mexican restaurants provide unlimited chips and salsa!
Eating at friends’ homes was even worse. I remember one Saturday afternoon, I was eating lunch with a family in their home. The whole time I helped the wife prepare the meal of spaghetti, garlic bread, and salad, I was dying inside. So many carbs! When we sat down to eat, the husband dumped a massive load of spaghetti onto my plate. My heart sunk to my feet—how was I supposed to eat all of it? I couldn’t say no; that would have been rude. I was torn.
I never recognized how irrational my thought processes were until I looked back on my anorexia and restricting. While I know it seems so silly to let the fear or eating dictate whether or not I will spend time with my friends, I continue to have those same fears.
A couple of weeks before I finished school for the summer, my mom, who suspected I was struggling with something, put the pieces together and guessed that I was dealing with an eating disorder. When her fears were confirmed, she freaked out, told my dad, and apparently cried a lot.
I was absolutely furious. I had only ever told my closest friend about my struggles, and when my parents found out, it felt like a massive invasion of privacy. I began having anxiety attacks at school, and the idea of going home was less and less appealing. I knew my parents would be constantly looking over my shoulder, wondering what I was eating. I imaged them counting every bit of food in the house so they would know when something went missing. I imagined them silently judging my food choices and worrying about how much or how little I was eating.
Worse than that, I would have less control over my meals. My mom likes to cook and make food for my dad and me. Although her cooking is typically healthy, the mere fact that I am not making my own food makes me anxious.
I have been home for about three weeks now. Yes, it can still be very stressful when meal time comes around or when I’m tempted to binge or restrict. But here are a few tips I try to keep in mind. They might be helpful if you’re ever in a similar situation:
1. Make plans ahead of time to prepare a meal.
“Mom, I’m going to make a salad and sandwich for lunch. I can make extra for you and Dad if that’s helpful.”
2. You can typically control quantity.
While you may feel that a meal is unhealthy, remember that a small serving won’t hurt you. If you’re hungry later, eat some fruit or make yourself a salad.
3. The experience is worth the calories.
Spending time with friends and loved ones is always worth it. Going out to eat or eating at someone’s home may be intimidating, but remind yourself that you are not there for the food—you are there for the people.
4. Don’t be afraid to share.
Serving sizes are so large these days, it’s perfectly appropriate to share a meal. The other night, my parents took me to a Thai restaurant. My dad and I split an entree. At school, my roommate and I will often share a meal when we go out. This decreases the likelihood that I will eat more than I need or binge on my leftovers (it also costs less).
5. Remember to consider your needs.
It is easy to get overwhelmed trying to please others. Just remember, it’s not wrong to put your needs first. If you know a particular food or meal will make you sick, trigger binging/purging/restricting, or cause you to feel uncomfortable, politely excuse yourself.
Don’t stress about your fears or beat yourself up over them. Just recognize that these feelings are very natural and common for anyone struggling with an eating disorder. The important thing is to take a step back and consider why you may be feeling a certain way. When you do this, you give yourself the opportunity and power to override your irrational instincts to make a rational decision.