For any of you following me on Instagram, a few weeks ago I posted a hike+chat on my stories where I mentioned a recent victory.
This post breaks down my fear of eating in public.
Desensitization and Behavioral Therapy
My hiking shoes have touched the red soil found near Mpumalanga, South Africa. They have wandered through the back woods of Colorado near Mount Massive and several other Rocky Mountain stomping grounds. They have ventured into the dark, damp, narrow lava tube known as Ape Cave, a remnant from the Mount St. Helens’ eruption. And those shoes have explored countless trails near my home in Pittsburgh. My hiking shoes have experienced a multitude of emotions scattered through our many adventures together.
I wasn’t always an adventurer. I still feel embarrassed and overly critical of myself when I’m trying something new. Realistically-speaking, this probably won’t ever fully go away, but I do believe that I can lessen the intensity of the experience through desensitization. Afraid of being underground? I made myself wander through a cave. Doubted my hiking abilities? I made myself hike a 14’er with a group of friends. Fear of eating in public places? Well, I’ve got to make myself eat in public.
For starters, I can’t stand eating in public places. Restaurants, bars, grilles, pubs, you name it. If I must order something and look at a menu, I’m avoiding the situation at all costs. My brain screams, “EVERYONE IS LOOKING AT ME,” when my recovery voice whispers, “Nobody cares what you are eating.” Avoiding social situations with food ruins any opportunity to make friends. It destroys healthy relationships and it wreaks havoc on the potentially new relationships. Sometimes I wish that socializing with food wasn’t so ingrained in our culture. It is an inevitable situation.
I have tried to hide my disordered eating habits from family and friends. Being in public makes it ten times harder because someone is always asking, “So what are you choosing? What are you hungry for?” Um, I don’t know; where are the healthy options? Or the non-messy meals? Or anything that isn’t a finger food? Can I just pass??!!!
The choices are overwhelming.
Visualize Your Goals
I had all of my excuses ready for my friend as to why I couldn’t go out to eat. As we were hanging out, it dawned on me that I wasn’t going to be able to reach my goals if I kept letting fear get in the way. I could go out and have a great time with my friend or I could leave and never face the fear of eating in public places. There is not one particular unit for measuring progress of eating disorders. Instead, I can say that I’ve grown based upon my decreasing food anxiety levels.
So I went to a pub with him. He led me to the bar (I nearly died) and we ordered. I was embarrassed to be eating a salad and drinking a Coke at a bar, during a Penguins hockey game, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I did it – I walked into a pub and ate food. Nobody was looking at me or what I was eating.
Why am I anxious?
Let’s break down the anxiety surrounding eating in public. Why am I anxious about people watching me eat in a public place? I worry that they are judging me for my food choices, asking, “Why is she eating that?” We are quick to judge each other’s bodies. Whether someone is thinking this or has said it aloud, we have all been around a ‘food cop’. This person will obsess over anything that is going into someone else’s mouth. The food police don’t mess around; they will tell you all about whatever fad diet they are on, what they have been consuming, or why you should live their lifestyle. I was a food cop in the past and I have family members that form the food police force. My past relationships have been full of people who are highly restrictive with food. So I’ve left these people behind and don’t sit with them at the table. Sometimes you have to set physical boundaries with people.
Additionally, I’m always concerned that there won’t be anything on the menu that I want. My default choice is a salad.
How do you react?
To be honest, I didn’t know that my friend was following my WNB Instagram account. I believe that he viewed my ‘Life Update’ post that I shared on Instagram an hour prior to meeting him. He didn’t know of my eating disorder or the ramifications of POTS on my life – which is from me not feeling 100% confident in telling my friends about these things. He never brought it up when we were hanging out.
I think he sensed my discomfort when we arrived at the pub. He asked me what my favorite foods were and recommended different items on the menu. They were casual questions. Looking back on it, he had to have read my post describing what I was going through or else he wouldn’t have asked those questions. Ironically, I sat there trying to hide it in the ways I’m accustomed to: lying about it. “Oh, I don’t know what I’m hungry for. I’m a salad kind of person.” “I’d like something light.” “I just started eating meat again, so I’ve been sticking to preparing it on my at home and avoiding it when I’m out in public.” “Oh yeah, my body is still adjusting to the new foods I’ve been incorporating.” If he already knew, my ‘hiding’ tactics instead made it blatantly obvious. He remained kind and respectful, not prying into my life.
I wish everyone would react like him. Kind and respectful. Courteous of space.
I could choose to count ‘hiding my eating disorder’ as a loss, allowing it to overpower my victory, but I’m not going to do that. I’m brushing it out of the way because IT DOESN’T MATTER. How we look at our progress will affect our steps moving forward.
Saying, "You don't spark me joy," to my eating disorder.
Avoiding certain situations, people, or things is a protective action for yourself. Usually it can be beneficial, i.e. when you’re at the beach and the riptide sign is in place, you know to be careful when you’re in the water. If avoiding the action or situation is negatively affecting your life, like my food habits have been, it’s time to Marie Kondo that feeling and release it. Tell your heart, “Thank you for protecting me through many ups and downs. But you no longer bring me joy. I cannot hold onto you anymore,” and let go of it. I told myself this before I walked through the threshold of the pub.
I’ve been doing the Marie Kondo catch-and-release method to many things in my life lately. I’m trying to not let it take over my recovery progress. I need to be asking myself the bigger question.
Are you dwelling on your successes or failures?