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Dining Out with an Eating Disorder

dining at a restaurant

For many of us, dining out at our favorite restaurant is a real treat. But for those with an eating disorder, just the thought of dining out can cause anxiety.

Eating disorders are serious, treatable mental illnesses characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. The most diagnosed eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), approximately 20 million women and 10 million men in the U.S. will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Without treatment, an eating disorder can be fatal.

Up to 50 percent of those with an eating disorder also suffer from an accompanying disorder like generalized anxiety disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or substance use disorder.

Breaking Old Habits

Eating at a restaurant or another social situation is challenging no matter where you are in your illness or recovery. If you are dining in, you may feel others are watching and judging you, you may be afraid you’ll panic or fail or you may be trying to keep your disorder a secret. If you’re eating take out, you may feel guilt or anxiety with ordering, picking up, and eating the food in private.

In coping with your eating disorder, you may have developed patterns of eating that have become deeply ingrained habits. During your recovery, you learn to change those habits and accompanying beliefs as you develop a healthier relationship with food and your body.

Habits and deeply held beliefs are not easy to overcome, but with professional guidance recovery is achievable. Eating food from a restaurant is a big step, but some pre-planning can help lessen your anxiety. Always keep your recovery plan and goals firmly in mind.

Planning to Dine Out

  • Review key skills for managing triggers, food portion control, and more.
  • Regularly practice stress management techniques, which may include meditation, yoga, mindfulness, and deep breathing.
  • Review the menu beforehand. Most menus can be found online. Read about all the foods offered and decide what you will order before arriving at the restaurant.
  • Rely on your support system, including family, friends, support group members, therapist, nutritionist, and others. Have one or more people you trust accompany you to the restaurant or outing. Discuss with someone in your support network what coping skills you plan to use if needed.
  • Be kind to yourself. If you are not ready to actually go and eat at a restaurant, wait until you feel ready. It may help to visit the restaurant but stay outside. Do some trial runs with a supportive friend. The more you visualize a positive outcome, the more likely it is to occur.

Turning Point of Tampa has been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. Our Eating Disorders/Food Addiction Program for clients with Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia Nervosa, and Anorexia Nervosa is nationally recognized.

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