Following last week’s launch of the government’s new legislation to include calorie labelling on menus, we recognise that eating out may come with new anxieties and fears. Will I enjoy eating out in public again? Will I choose what I want to eat or what is the least amount in calories now? Eating out should be fun and this makes it scary and triggering.
If these thoughts resonate with you, know that we get it and understand. Appreciating the honesty and bravery of the individuals who have shared their ambivalent thoughts with us, the Orri team have come together to collate tips on how you can keep strong in your recovery amidst this unsettling change.
Firstly, remember why you are choosing recovery
Eating out is a really important part of eating disorder recovery, as it can provide enjoyment and help reframe something that is ultimately challenging. It can also be an opportunity for you to engage with ‘normal’ behaviours around food, amongst your family or friends, and enjoy the social aspect of eating together.
We understand how the introduction of calories labelled on menus might disrupt your rhythm in recovery and might feel like a bump in the road. If this is the case, ask yourself why you are in the restaurant in the first place. Are you there because this is a step toward a life away from your eating disorder? Are you there to enjoy being sociable?
Remind yourself that you may be there because you realise that, despite how uncomfortable, you realise that life without an eating disorder is so much better and worthwhile than a life with one.
To support you, Zuzanna, Dietetic Associate, has put together a guide on how you can navigate dining out with calories on menus.
Before going out
Remind yourself of your motivations for recovery. Why are you challenging a meal out? What will being able to go out for meals allow you to do?
Reflect on all the parts of eating out that are not food related. What else can the meal be for you? A meaningful time with family? Being able to catch up with your friends? A celebration of a new job, a birthday, or a graduation?
You may find it helpful to set an intention for the occasion and share it with your friends and family.
Choosing a restaurant
Although restaurants and cafes with over 250 employees have to follow the legislation and are required to include calorie labelling on menus, this does not apply to smaller, independent places. When going out, suggest choosing non-chain, independent cafes, or try visiting local restaurants in your area.
Despite calories having to be displayed, even larger cafes and restaurant chains are allowed to keep menus with no such information and provide them on request. Ask for a menu without calorie information when you arrive at the restaurant, or ask a family member or a friend to do so in advance (like when booking a table).
Dining with calories and menus, and how to cope
Remind yourself that calories are not a measure of the nutritional value of a dish.
Ask a family member or a trusted friend to read the menu out to you. Alternatively, they can take a picture of the menu and mark up the calorie information before sending you the picture.
Before you look at the menu, take a moment to consider what dish would be a pro-recovery choice vs an eating disorder guided choice. If it helps, name it to your friends and family. Once you look at the menu, try to stick to the choice you made, regardless of the calorie information.
Keep in mind:
- Nutritional information may make the process of placing an order very overwhelming. Once you look at the menu, give yourself a time limit to choose a dish, e.g. 2 minutes
- Ask your family or friends for support if you are struggling with making a choice. They can help guide you in making a pro-recovery choice
- If choosing a dish takes a long time or is causing you a lot of difficult emotions, try ordering what your table orders
Once the food arrives
Speak to the people you are socialising with – those individuals that you trust – and discuss your fears and concerns, ensuring you can get support when you need it. Remember, you have your safety network of people sitting around you at the table – use them. Engage in conversation with them and shift the attention away from the food.
If you are struggling with intrusive thoughts, try to remember mealtime affirmations which you find helpful. Or, you can choose from our examples:
‘I am enough, I am worthy’
‘My possibilities are endless.’
‘I am proud of myself for all my victories, big and small.’
‘My body is my home.’
‘I trust the community I have around me. I am not alone.’
Lastly, tell your eating disorder who’s boss!
As we referenced earlier, try to remember why you are choosing your eating disorder recovery. Kendra, Head of Therapies, says:
“Remember, in the midst of challenge or uncertainty, your eating disorder may seem very loud as you attempt to navigate your emotional experience but you are stronger than your illness.”
She reminds us that this experience is another opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to your recovery and yourself.