27 June 2016
One Meal Out at a Time...
The most common social event, yet unfortunately, the most common trigger of overwhelming anxiety. Vast menus containing dishes with unknown ingredients, and being served in unknown portion sizes; the whole process is full of daunting notions.
In my progressive decline, the thought of going for a meal out would cause an extreme increase in damaging behaviours, both before and during the event. I would try desperately hard to avoid this situation, but if I were obliged to attend, I would only go to one of three restaurants; where I would pick one specific meal. These eateries were chosen after completing an extensive amount of research into an exact dish; the preparation of the food, the nutritional information and the portion size. Once I had selected a meal at one of these establishments, I would repeatedly choose it, to the point where I did not even open the menu upon arrival.
As previously described, my eating disorder inspired the creation of meticulously calculated lists of foods that I could and could not eat. As more ‘food rules’ developed, so did the extreme lengths that I would go to when planning meals. These lists developed into exact meal plans. For example, if I knew what we were having for dinner, I would already have a list of what foods I could eat throughout the day; making sure that all rules were adhered to. You can now see why a meal out would cause such distress, as I had no rules, lists or plans that would accompany a spontaneously chosen meal.
Throughout my time in treatment, I stressed how much I wanted these behaviours to change, as I knew that eating out was going to be a huge element of me rebuilding my social life. I suppose this started almost immediately, as I was faced with a meal plan devised by the hospital that had no place on any of the lists that I had archived mentally. Every Monday, I was required to face a menu and choose 8 elements that I would have to eat throughout the day, for the next 7 days. I cannot begin to describe the overwhelming emotions that I experienced for the first few weeks during this process; anxiety, confusion, distress, guilt, regrets; the list goes on. This is one aspect of my hospital admission that took a long time for me to challenge. During the first few weeks, I started to develop these harmful lists; picking the same foods repeatedly in relation to what I felt were the ‘right’ foods. With time, I began to acknowledge that the majority of the options I was choosing, I did not like at all. This encouraged me to start utilising the support I had in the unit and select foods that I wanted to challenge, in order to dispel the fear I had around them. Consequently, this would allow me to build up the courage to try new foods once I had been discharged; particularly when attending a meal out.
As with all aspects of recovery, I am aware that even after taking these steps at hospital, and continuing to pursue them at home with support from family and friends; eradicating the researching behaviours and feeling comfortable in new settings, is going to take a long time. Every week I try to enjoy a meal out, or even just a snack out; varying the individuals that I partake in this activity with. Doing this without the comfort of having my parents there has been a difficult phase that I have had to endure, as I became very attached to them at my weakest point. However, I am proud to say that I now have the ability to ENJOY a meal out; and this is through learning to acknowledge, discuss and deal with the distressing feelings before, during and afterwards. I do need constant reassurance, and I am not ashamed to say that this mainly comes from a supportive text from my mum. I normally detail my anxieties around my meal choice and the other elements that I know I have to eat throughout the rest of the day, and she always knows what to say to calm me down. In the future, I know that I will be able reassure myself, and this will be another aspect of attachment that I can progressively let go of.
I look forward to a point in my recovery where I can be excited about visiting new eateries, without prior research, without anxieties and without being influenced by the nutritional information that is now being displayed everywhere!