Does a friend asking you the question, “Hey, let’s go grab something to eat?” make your stomach drop with fear, anxiety, and shame?
Do you wonder to yourself, “Why is it so hard for me to eat in restaurants and relax…it seems so easy for everyone else.”
Eating out is something that I used to absolutely hate. When I was in the thralls of my disordered eating/weight obsession days my anxiety would go through the roof if I didn’t know exactly how many calories I was eating or exactly what the ingredients were. These strict rules and regulations made eating out pretty much impossible to enjoy. It was torturous, actually.
And until I started to implement these tips to enjoy eating out again, I avoided eating in restaurants as much as possible.
If you have anxiety about eating out, this post is for you. You’ll hear my story about how eating out at restaurants used to feel overwhelming and how I have been able to cultivate joy while eating out with friends and family. And Gorgeous, with the included tips and strategies, you can too.
Let’s dive in!
I used to have anxiety about eating out (big time!)
Why did I have so much anxiety about eating out? For me, I used to HATE going out to eat because I felt like:
- I had to be in control of EVERYTHING I ate. I mean, how much oil did they use?! How many calories were in the potatoes?!
- I felt so much guilt over ordering the food that I ACTUALLY wanted… like a juicy burger instead of a salad…
- And if I DID get the burger I felt SO out of control and I’d eat WAY past fullness only vowing after the restaurant to “cut back” tomorrow
Oh my, how things have changed since then!
Now, I’ve learned how to enjoy eating at restaurants
Going out to eat used to give me such anxiety. But not anymore! And thank GOODNESS. Yes, food is nourishment, but let’s not forget that it serves so many more purposes beyond basic survival like cultural expression, bonding, the economy, and – the best in my opinion – enjoyment!
These days you can find local restaurants that feature tasty and unique cuisine from around the world. What an exciting way to explore the world from your own hometown! And before I felt comfortable eating in a restaurant, I was missing these delicious and fun opportunities. What a shame! I’m so happy that I’ve re-learned how to enjoy eating out without becoming a hot mess of anxiety. Plus, date nights out are way more fun now!
Now, I love going out to dinner. My husband and I just went out for date night this past weekend – we went to a new brewery in our area and the food was AMAZING! We usually try to go to new places vs. the same place over and over again. And with food freedom, exploring new, uncharted territory feels like a welcome adventure.
You may be wondering…does this even apply to me? I just love food and love looking at the menu beforehand. Let’s do a quick pop quiz to see how much eating out might be stressing you out more than you realize.
Pop quiz: do you have anxiety about eating out?
Here is a little chance to investigate your own relationship with eating and eating in restaurants. Sometimes people can cover up food anxiety with other, more socially acceptable reasons than they have fears of being out of control around foods.
Do you scrutinize the menu ahead of time?
There is nothing right or wrong with looking at the menu ahead of time, but I would ask you to state your intention. Is your purpose to get excited about all of the choices that will soon be available to you?
Or is your purpose to know in advance which choice is the lowest-calorie, “healthiest” or easiest to manipulate – dressing on the side, please – to meet your regular food rules?
It’s different to look at the menu before you go to a new place to check out what they offer, but it’s a whole other thing to obsess about it and overanalyze. A lot of times that sense of planning can CAUSE anxiety. And heaven forbid that they run out of what you planned to get. That would cause a whole other wave of anxiety.
I used to spend HOURS looking at the menu beforehand, analyzing it, cross-referencing it with MyFitnessPal, making sure I got an extra-long workout in to “earn it.”
It was exhausting and stressful! Can you relate?
Also ask yourself: after looking at the menu online, do you feel excited? Ashamed? Worried? Consider your intention to best understand if this habit is best serving you and your food freedom.
Are you able to make memories and connections?
When you’re in the restaurant, seated at your table, and spending time with friends and family, are you able to tune into the conversation? Are you able to ask thoughtful questions and provide insightful answers to the questions asked of you?
Or is your brain spilling over with questions and concerns about the food and worries about if the cook will follow your instructions?
Food freedom allows you to be more present and in the moment, to focus on making memories, not meeting diet culture guidelines.
Do you vary what you’re allowed to order based on physical activity?
If you’re modifying what you order based on how much physical activity you have (or have not) had, then this is an example of making yourself “earn” food. You don’t! Your body is far smarter than needing to micromanage your intake of food and your movement.
This kind of behavior just increases your chances of a binge. And in case you were wondering, yes, I know this from personal experience. But just like my relationship with food and eating has evolved for the better, so too has my relationship with movement and exercise. For more on this, check out my 3 Tips That Helped Me Love Exercise Again.
Maybe you’ve discovered that you have some anxiety about eating out in restaurants. What can you do about it? Here I’ll offer you action-oriented tips before you go to the restaurant, while you’re there, and after you’re all done. Like any new skills, these take practice: be gentle with yourself as you get more comfortable and confident with new skills.
Tips for how to enjoy eating in restaurants: before you go
A fun and enjoyable meal at a restaurant can actually begin with the prep you do ahead of time. And as we looked at earlier, it doesn’t involve obsessing over the menu! Here are my tips for what to do before you enjoy your next meal out.
1. Don’t restrict
It is pretty common to hear people saying that they’re “saving their calories for later,” but the trouble is, that mindset just makes you more likely to binge eat when the meal actually arrives. Just eat a regular amount and look forward to your meal!
2. Paint a mental picture
Visualize how you’d like the meal to go, how the environment and energy will feel, and your own mood. Creating this vivid mental picture helps to guide your mind and body towards a specific and concrete goal – and it is powerful, to boot. If it works well for elite athletes to visualize their wins, it is a winning strategy for your amazing self.
Okay: so you have your game face on and you’re ready to have a lovely meal. What to do once you actually get there?
Tips for how to enjoy eating in restaurants: while you’re there
You’ve arrived at the restaurant. Before you walk in, start with step one.
1. Begin with a deep breath
Your mind and body are deeply connected. When we feel fear and anxiety pump up, that is our fight or flight mode kicking in. Our body feels unsafe and so your blood is rushing to your muscles so that you can escape.
But this conversation is a two-way street. Let your breathing guide your sense of peace and calm. Before you enter the restaurant, take a few minutes to center yourself with some slow deep breathing exercises. By calming your breathing, you calm your body’s fight or flight mode.
2. Order what you truly want
Order what you WANT. Truly. And OWN it. It’s NOT to pick the healthiest thing on the menu. If I’m going out to eat for the experience of it I’m probably not going to worry about implementing Gentle Nutrition. I also always say that some foods feed our souls more and some our bodies. When I go out to eat I’m looking for my soul to be fed.
Don’t order a salad because you think that is a “better” option. If you ignore your desires you’ll end the meal dissatisfied. This may very well cause you to go home and finish off the last of the cookie jar or ice cream carton – leaving you feeling worse than if you would have just ordered the burger that you were craving in the first place.
A quick note about eating on a regular basis or for nourishment VS enjoyment/experience:
Let’s say you’re going out for lunch and you do this daily or maybe it’s more for “I just need food” VS “Oooh I want to experience this!”, then sure maybe I would implement some gentle nutrition there because I’d probably FEEL physically better. But for our occasional date nights? I’m looking for my soul to be fed.
A meal here and there that’s more “indulgent” is not going to make or break your health. It may actually have more cons than pros if you avoid what you want for the sake of health because you may eat MORE trying to “hit the spot” and wind up eating way past fullness.
3. Acknowledge anxiety, if she visits
If you’re feeling anxiety while you’re there, maybe you ordered the burger in place of a salad or you’re worried about how much oil will be used for cooking take a DEEP breath and remember what you’re experiencing.
Acknowledge the anxiety – I see you, anxiety – and just let her know that she doesn’t get to run the show.
Take a second to reflect on who you’re with, the environment, the memories you’re creating! Or repeat a helpful mantra of progress and releasing food rules to help ground yourself in the moment.
4. Pay attention to your food
Eating out is social, so be sure to engage with those you are with, but also be sure to actually TASTE your food. It’s easy to mindlessly gobble down a plate of fries while chatting, only to realize you don’t know if you actually enjoyed the taste because you were too busy gabbing.
How to tune in? Notice the look, taste, texture, and smell of your food. Chew slowly and take a breath or two between bites. These all help you to stay present in – and enjoy – the experience.
Did you know that the first bite is supposed to taste way better? When we start a meal our bodies need energy so they make the food taste amazinggggg but as we get more nourished the taste gets less intense… that’s a subtle fullness & satisfaction cue!
Noticing changes in satisfaction helps us to tune into, and respond to, our hunger and fullness cues.
5. Check-in with your hunger
Along the same lines as taste, be sure you are checking in with your hunger level. Keep an eye on your comfort level as you go, throughout the meal. Are you approaching fullness? Past fullness?
As you eat your dish notice the signals your body is sending you and pay attention to them. Are you starting to feel satisfied? Are you already feeling full? If so, take note. Put down your fork, acknowledge your satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) and honor that. Your body will tell you if it needs a couple more bites or if it’s time for a doggie bag – but only if we listen. (Psst: it is totally normal for this to take practice. Plus, we never need to be “perfect” at this.)
6. Fight the FOMO
Don’t treat this meal as the last opportunity for fun or enjoyment. Fight the FOMO: this is not now or never!
You could take leftovers home, go back again, or make a recipe inspired by what you’re eating! Search Pinterest; there is a recipe for everything! Knowing you can get this again can really help with eating past fullness.
7. Move on
Did you forget to do any of the above? Maybe you ate your dish so fast you hardly remember the actual taste or ordered dessert despite being stuffed from your main dish.
Guess what? No biggie!
One meal does not determine the state of your health! Remember that, so don’t sweat it.
8. Relish the experience
Eating out is an experience. From the people you are with, to the décor of the dining area, the entire event is something to take in. Take a second to acknowledge these things and be grateful that you are able to take part in the experience!
Okay! You’ve had your meal out. How did it go? Some experiences will feel better than others, and that is okay. As you’re releasing an unproductive relationship with food, it takes practice in different environments to build confidence. This is 100% normal.
Here are a few things to think about once the meal is over.
Tips for how to enjoy eating in restaurants: after your meal
The meal is over – how do you feel? No matter what, you got out of your comfort zone and I’m proud of you.
Here are my favorite tips for once the meal is over to keep the progress moving forward.
1. Have a support system
Call a friend, journal it out if you’re alone – no matter what it takes, get those thoughts out of your head. Getting the thoughts all laid out helps you to begin to process them and identify them for what they are: disordered eating thoughts, NOT the truth.
We talk about this kind of thing aaaalllll the time in the SociEATy.
2. Don’t try to “burn it off” or “cut back”
Your first instinct after finishing a delicious meal might be to plan the intense workout to burn it back off again. While I know that this is easier said than done when this has been our routine: don’t.
This will just lead you to the restrict binge cycle.
If you DID eat past fullness or what you ordered didn’t make you feel good, reflect on this, learn from it! I say this to members of the SociEATy all the time: nothing is “bad” everything is just a learning experience if we let it be.
Key Takeaways: why is it so hard for me to eat in restaurants?
Above all, this is an important opportunity to focus on developing an overall healthy relationship with food and eating to truly allow ourselves to stop saying “Going out to eat gives me anxiety.” You deserve the peace and fun of an enjoyable dinner out. You deserve to start enjoying it!
This is exactly what I teach you how to do in The SociEATy membership community and I do this in a very specific way that has helped thousands improve their relationships with food and enjoy going out to eat again. You CAN do this too, I’m so so confident! I’ll put more info on that in the description for you.
Comment below with which of these tips is your favorite and which you’re going to implement the next time you go out to eat!