What to Do When You’re Afraid to Eat in Public

eating at a restaurant

Fear is a distinctive feature in eating disorder cases, even in the recovery stage. Some patients are afraid to add certain food in their diet because, for the longest time, they’ve only felt shame and guilt eating such. Others get anxious over serving sizes, fighting the urge to calculate carbs and calories. But the fear that’s not often talked about isn’t in the food itself, but on the social aspect of eating.

A lot of recovering patients are afraid to eat in front of people, say, at a restaurant or a cafe. Suffering panic attacks, even. This proves to be a real struggle since eating is essentially social. You can’t just opt out of the norm. You don’t want to do it either, as you’ll be more vulnerable to relapse if you isolate yourself.

It’s possible to overcome this fear, though. The key? Take hold of your thoughts. Take one step at a time.

Anxieties Pinned Down

One of the worst things you can do when dealing with fear is sweeping them under the rug. They won’t be resolved on their own. So rather than dismissing them, acknowledge them. Write down the worst-case scenario that could happen when you eat at a public place.

Someone coming up to you and giving unsolicited comments about what you’re eating? A waiter getting annoyed at your fickle food choices? Feeling the urge to go to the bathroom and force vomit? As you take note of all these, come up with a game plan for each.

For instance, when someone nearby suddenly talks about how good the pasta is, smile, thank them, and tell them you need peace and quiet as you enjoy your meal. When the waiter rolls his eyes on you, you can choose to ignore or let him know that you just want to have the best dinner ever.

With you taking control of your thoughts, you get a grip of the situation also. This is what most treatments for bulimia in Westport, CT clinics promote in psychotherapy sessions. Remember the thought-restructuring skills you’ve learned.

A Few Baby Steps


Now that you’ve taken hold of your thoughts, it’s time to make the actual action steps. Eating at a public place is indeed overwhelming. There’s an abundance of food here, there, everywhere. There’s a lot of choices on the menu. There are a hundred or so people seeing you eat, most of which are strangers who can be rude in eyeing you and your full (or empty) plate.

To make all this organized chaos a little less overwhelming, break up the whole thing. Start taking small steps only. Maybe today, check out the menu outside of the restaurant. Choose the kind of pasta you want. No need to go in at the restaurant. No need to order just yet. Evaluate what you feel. If you feel alright, then proceed to the next baby step.

Come back to the restaurant tomorrow, walk by outside, and just look at the people dining. If you’re okay after that, the next day, go in, pick a seat, ask for the menu, and just take in the atmosphere. After that, leave. If you’re not panicky or anything, the next time you go, go with a friend or a close relative.

And then, the baby steps go on until you’re less overwhelmed that you’re comfortable to eat. The principle is to take one step at a time. Don’t rush yourself.

It’s hard to overcome fears when you’re recovering from long years of eating disorder. But it’s not impossible. The key is to be mindful of your thoughts and be patient with yourself. Eventually, the fear will no longer be there. Or at the very least, it won’t matter anymore, even though it’s there.

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