I love going away for the weekend. One of my favorite activities to share with my husband is exploring new places, eating at restaurants, and trying new things. I have an adventurous spirit, especially when it comes to food, and I think it’s so fun to try out new restaurants and dishes. But that wasn’t always the case…eating out at restaurants used to completely derail me. I’d spend the whole day worrying about what I would order, how many calories were in it, and how much I’d have to exercise in order to “make up” for it. While eating, I’d worry about what others thought about my order (“Does this salad make me look fat?”) and compare my food to what others were eating. Even worse, I’d compare my body to the bodies of the other women around me.
“She’s thin and fit, but ordered a sandwich…with bread! How does she do that?”
“She’s thin and fit, and ordered a salad. That’s probably why she looks so thin and fit!”
Comparing and watching others, added to the worry of what would happen after I ate the “high calorie” restaurant food, eating out was a miserable experience that often even carried over into the next day. I literally could not enjoy some of what are now, my most enjoyable life experiences, because of my disordered relationship with food.
In recovery, I learned the valuable lesson that even if I ate exactly the same and exercised exactly the same as the women around me, I still wouldn’t look like them. My body is my body, my genetics are my genetics, and my needs are my needs. Making peace with that truth was fundamental in making peace with my body, and being able to go to a restaurant without obsessing over food.
Another problem I ran into at restaurants when I was stuck in a cycle of disordered eating was food guilt. At home, I followed an extremely restrictive diet (barring binges of course). At restaurants, there were very few, if any, menu items that complied with my strict food rules, and that only complicated the comparison. Eating at restaurants would go something like this:
- Order something very restrictive, like plain salad or steamed vegetables, then go home and binge—or…
- Order what I truly wanted, and stuff myself silly because that was my “one chance” to eat that food. I’d often go home and binge later, too because I’d already “blown it”—or…
- Order what I truly wanted, feel guilty, and go home and self-sabotage with a binge.
The common denominator in all of those things was soul-crushing shame and an inevitable binge. But contrary to what I thought, it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault. It wasn’t even the food. The real reason for my suffering was my food restriction, and my false belief that my body would be “better” if it was smaller. Once I stopped restricting, started including foods like burgers, pizza, and ice cream in my normal, everyday life (along with salads and steamed vegetables) the binges went away. When no foods are off limits, they lose their allure.
Putting it into practice
Of course, it’s not realistic to suddenly stop restricting at restaurants and order what we’re craving if we’re stuck in a cycle of restriction at home. I truly believe that the reason that restaurants don’t lead to overeating, guilt, or binges anymore is because I eat what I’m craving at home, too. Pasta at an Italian Diner doesn’t feel like a “splurge” or “being naughty” anymore because I eat pasta all the time at home. A luxurious scoop of ice cream from a downtown shop doesn’t feel all disruptive to my routine anymore because dessert is already part of my routine. I eat intuitively at home—foods that I’m craving, starting/stopping when I’m full—and that sets the precedent for how I eat when I’m out at restaurants. When my husband and I go away for the weekend and every meal is eaten out, the only difference between the way I approach my food away versus at home is the price tag. (Intuitive eating aside, restaurants really are just more expensive.) In the past, disordered eating ruined vacations for me. As an intuitive eater, they’re enjoyable again.
Not being restrictive at home is fundamental in being able to not binge at restaurants. My previous mindset of “eat it now while you can” doesn’t apply anymore, because I can eat my favorite foods any time I want. I keep candy in my pantry, pizza in my freezer, and real, full-fat mayonnaise in my fridge. I eat sandwiches at home, and feel free to order them at a lunch cafe. My husband and I have a routine of Saturday pancakes, so ordering them from brunch feels totally normal. Pasta, potatoes, and buttered bread aren’t only for special occasions—I eat those things every day.
A weekend of intuitive eating
In my own recovery, it was helpful to see examples of what/how others ate. It wasn’t about comparison, but about seeing an example of how eating my forbidden foods wouldn’t end up ruining my life. I struggled to believe that it was truly possible to eat without restriction until I saw others doing it. In that light, I wanted to share what I ate for an entire weekend when my husband and I went away.
We stopped for lunch at Panera on the way, and grabbed dinner at Culver’s on the way home. My dinner (buffalo chicken tenders + broccoli) was the only thing I didn’t get a picture of, but I did get the ice cream. Priorities.