Five Tips for Dining out In Recovery.

For those of you starting your journey, or supporting someone with their journey, here are five tips for dining out in recovery.

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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.

Image from Maddi Bazzocco.

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.

Just breaking out of lockdown? Situated in or around Cambridge? Check out these resturants!

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?

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  1. Looking at the menu beforehand is always a massive help, even now it still makes me feel very anxious when I don’t know the menu! Love the tips x

  2. Good post! Malaysia just open from lockdown and we are now allow to dine in. But my family and I haven’t dine in at any restaurant yet. We only order take aways and eat at a park nearby.

  3. Having a pre-meal intention is something I really need. It’s great to be spontaneous but sometimes I regret the choice of food, resto and end up spending more than planned.

  4. Such a insightful and helpful post for those who are in recovery! Sending you lots of love Xo

    Elle –

  5. Beautiful and honest post. It’s important to care for yourself and set boundaries in this way. Makes social events like going out to dinner so much easier.

  6. These are very helpful tips! It is indeed very important to plan your meals with whom you will eat with. It will be an opportunity for both parties to consider options and their own suggestions.

  7. Your recommendations are very helpful for people under-recovery, and their mates to be informed too.
    Keep safe and hoping for your fast recovery. Can’t wait for your next update!

  8. Great tips, this will definitely be a big help for people in recovery. Thank you for sharing!

  9. I’m pretty sure that this is an aspect of recovery that those of us on the outside of it may not consider. Thank you for this reminder to be considerate and knowledgeable about how eating out in public has its own challenges for those we care about who are working through an eating disorder. This has been a really valuable resource!

  10. Sorry to hear about your anorexia.. I have a friend who was diagnosed with the same condition. We initially thought that she was just very picky with her food and didn’t realized her condition right away. I can see why it can also be a challenge to dine in a restaurant. I like these approaches. I myself will always look on the menu before heading to any restaurant. It gives me idea of what exactly i will order when i arrive
    Thank you for sharing this with us

  11. I don’t know very much about eating disorders, I can see how going to a restaurant would/could be quite troublesome. Your tips sound spot on from my limited knowledge of the topic. While I love spontaneity with food choices, that can certainly lend itself to anxiousness for someone recovering. On another note, I can’t wait to visit Ireland someday.

  12. Nice to know that you are doing well with the recovery.. I do love dining out too with the family as usual! But since pandemic, limited going out mostly ordering online and getting the food delivered to our house..

    keep safe and hoping for your speedy reco..

  13. I always look at the menu before arriving to make sure there are a few food options I’m comfortable with, it has totally helped, especially when having dietary restrictions. Proud of you for recovery!

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