Tips on Happy, Healthy Restaurant Dining Post-Recovery

by Gena on August 22, 2011

(source)

The original intention of this post was simply to tell you about my dinner at Josie’s last night. But since I got two interesting questions/comments on the blog yesterday with regards to restaurant dining and ED recovery (or simply emotional issues surrounding food) I thought I’d highlight them in my post today.

It’s no secret that restaurant dining is one of the most feared and dreaded activities for disordered eaters. My own MO was to avoid it whenever I could by saying I was sick or busy, but there are other common responses. These include:

  1. Going, eating, and purging
  2. Going, picking, and pushing food around on the plate
  3. Going, eating, and feeling tremendous guilt
  4. Going, overeating, and feeling tremendous guilt
  5. Going, under-eating, and feeling frustration that one’s experience couldn’t be more “normal”

I flirted with 2-4 at various times, and I’m sure that many of my readers have, too.

Many women and men with ED histories feel that a joyous return to restaurants is one of the hallmarks of true recovery. I share that feeling, because restaurant dining encapsulates many things I associate with being better: socializing, spontaneity, surrendering control, and appreciating food sensually, rather than analyzing its nutrient content with an electrical scale and a food log.

I don’t quite consider myself a “foodie” of the sort who prefers dining out to dining in: at the end of the day, I find cooking to be far more rewarding than eating out, if only because the experience of making food gives me an intense appreciation of what I’m eating. I also find that I eat more food I like when I cook; part of this, naturally, is because I eat a selective diet.

Nevertheless, I do love a great restaurant meal (preferably a great vegan restaurant meal), and feel that I’ve come to enjoy the restaurant experience without the major emotional hindrances that used to haunt me. Yesterday, one of my readers asked:

Seeing that you eat out quite a bit how do you keep track of the calories, fat etc. I am always afraid to eat out cause I do not know 100% what the actual extra ingredients are even if the food appears to be a healthy choice.

To answer your question, I’d have to point out first that I don’t track my fat, calories, and so on. I don’t have a staunchly anti-food analysis attitude: I think that calorie counting is useful in many contexts, including major weight loss initiatives, weight gain initiatives, and for discovering how a diet might be out of balance (for example, if one seems to be gaining weight mysteriously, it can be useful to see where calories come from; if the answer isn’t clear from that, it may signal a health condition that’s going unnoticed). I think analyzing macronutrient intake (protein, fat, and carbs) can be a good exercise for people who suspect they’re eating too much or too little of one of those groups. But for me–a person who is happy with her eating habits and in good health–I don’t feel that counting and tracking are necessary. Eating out isn’t a departure from a norm in that sense.

What can be a departure is not knowing what goes in my food. I handle this uncertainty in two major ways. First, I tend to seek out high quality restaurant food, and I try not to compromise. I learned early in recovery that forcing myself to eat greasy, conventional, and unrewarding food was not the right way to prove that I was “better”; it only reinforced my fears, and it did nothing to foster a harmonious relationship with food. Since then, I’ve sought out restaurant meals that are tasty and nourishing, and I also try to eat at restaurants that offer organic food and vegan options whenever I can. This way, I support my values as a consumer and my priorities as a diner all at once.

When I can’t eat somewhere that will guarantee me such an experience–for example, if I’m traveling and can’t find a restaurant along those lines, or if I’m not the one choosing where I eat–I simply step back and put the meal into a broader context. This is coping strategy number two, and it’s a biggie: one lousy/greasy/measly restaurant meal won’t kill me. I never compromise on the vegan score when I eat out, which means that sometimes I eat tiny salads for dinner, along with a snack bar in my purse, or I eat a plate of white rice with no seasoning, or vegetables that are greasy. But that’s OK. As long as I manage to to find vegan options, I try to remind myself that the rest is nonessential. Yes, I can be dismayed by bad dining experiences, and I’d like for every meal to be pleasing. But they can’t all be. Once in a while, mediocre food is less important than good company, or going with the flow. I haven’t quite mastered this lesson, but it’s one I’m always mindful of, and being mindful helps me to be part of the world. It’s what allows me to dine with so many non-vegan friends and family, and it’s certainly what got me through years and years of publishing lunches at omni restaurants.

Yesterday, my reader Heather said,

In my past ED-controlled ways, I was so anal about going to a restaurant that was vegan-friendly because it was imperative that I find place with a “substantial meal.” Now, I just tote a LARABAR or fruit/mixed nuts in my purse and focus on the real deal…the amazing friends I’m so lucky to spend time with.

This is a good segue-way to my next thought. On the one hand, Heather is confirming exactly what I just said. On the other, she brings up one of my own personal challenges as a post-ED restaurant goer, which is that I do tend to get panicked if I don’t think I’ll have enough to eat (this is something I also do when I travel, and it accounts for my tendency to carry eight snacks too many). I often order too much food in restaurants; given my appetite, it’s rarely an issue, but I can go overboard. I also know that my anxiety about having enough to eat can be stressful for people who eat with me, who wonder why I needed a double side of this or extra of that. I think I’m better than I used to be; I hope I’ll be even more comfortable in a few years. I remind myself, again, that no single meal makes or breaks us. And if I haven’t got enough to eat at a restaurant, there’s usually a cozy kitchen to come home to.

A few weeks ago, Elizabeth and Jen and I got into an interesting comments section tangent about how, as post-ED women, we’re rarely dismayed by food that’s rich or fatty or considered illicit in some way or another. I don’t freak out about agave syrup in a dessert, or the fat content in a rich, nut-based raw entree. But I do have a hard time with food I don’t enjoy. I think many post-ED women relate. But that’s all the more reason to approach restaurant dining with eagerness: there are so many wonderful restaurants out there, ready to grant you a night of terrific food. If part of recovery is learning to take pleasure in eating again, there’s surely no better moment to do that than in a wonderful dining establishment.

To wit: Josie’s, on the Upper West Side, has long been a favorite of mine. It’s a health-minded restaurant, and features food that’s cooked without excessive fat or salt, and it offers many organic options. But it’s also a tasty restaurant, with vegan and omnivorous options, which means it’s ideal for groups. I go there often with my Mom and her boyfriend, and it’s where we all found ourselves last night. The restaurant offers a sweet potato chickpea puree in lieu of butter, which is how we started our meal (alas, it doesn’t have vegan breads, so I ate mine with a spoon!).

I moved on to veggie juice for my cocktail: carrot, cucumber, celery, ginger:

For my meal, I made a usual selection: the seared tofu salad, minus the tofu. Weird? Maybe, but the tofu at Josie’s isn’t my favorite (too soft, a little too bland), so I usually just ask for double roasted veggies and beans. It comes with half an avocado and tons of greens:

And since my taste for sweet potato had been piqued, I got a side of the roasted sweet potato mash:

Can you tell I was pleased with my food?

That is one happy eater.

Does Josie’s make it easy to dine out as a vegan, and as a woman with a troubled food past? Sure. And not every meal is effortless. But I hope that the two main points of this post–1) be selective and uphold your standards with restaurants when you can, and 2) let go and remember the big picture when you can’t–are helpful to anyone who’s struggling to get out into the world again.

As always, I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts. Right now, it’s back to some of that proverbial “me” time I waited all summer for.

xo

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

XXX August 22, 2011 at 8:58 pm

There was a time when people used to ask me if I ever ate anymore and I would always respond with so much denial. Any time there was a cookout or a dinner party I made a point of overeating and making sure everyone saw me eating like a “normal” person. Pretty abnormal, huh.

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Rebecca August 22, 2011 at 9:02 pm

I SO appreciate this post, as eating out has been such a struggle for me. I am coming around to your strategy number 2, to accept that one bad meal won’t spin me out of control and am finally able to enjoy a bowl of ice cream after dinner or eating greasy vegetables. I think one of the biggest signs of recovery is when food stops being the enemy or the one in charge but we’re able to have fun with the occasional indulgent dinner out.

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Ashley @ Granola Grrl August 22, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Great post, Gena :)

I will admit, with a bit of sadness, that I have done all five of those tactics at one point or another when I was finally forced into going out. I only went out 1/10 times that I was asked, and even then it felt like torture. (Why did they want to put food in front of me?! Why couldn’t they just leave me to my carrot sticks, peppers, saltines and meticulously measured hummus?!)

I like to consider myself among the ranks of the recovered, but something I still struggle with is being too controlling when we go out to eat. We live in a very small town, and 95% of our options are chain restaurants with limited healthy/veg options. The other 5% are Chinese buffet restaurants and a pricey upscale place that’s meat-centric and wholly mediocre, so those are out of the question from the get-go.

If we are with the family I do my best to suck it up and either eat something more substantial ahead of time or bring snacks along, but if it’s just us two I prefer to go somewhere that I can find a full + healthy meal. (I consider myself to be a flexitarian, but the once-monthly meat I choose to eat is local and humane…not from Sysco.)

I won’t lie – I still have a tough time settling for mediocre meals, but I’m realizing more and more that the meals matter less than the company. For a person who dealt with an ED for so many years to realize this, it’s BIG. Food used to be the center of my universe; the be-all, end-all of life. Now, I’m slowly adjusting to the fact that it’s not always about the food.

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Hannah August 22, 2011 at 9:17 pm

This post really resonated with me-I like how you combined a restaurant review with an ED recovery post! I definitely agree that not all meals are going to blow your mind, and to have that expectation is very disordered. Even at One Lucky Duck, I didn’t find the “macadamia cheese” to be that great-it was just weird to me. However, I wasn’t totally crushed and it did not ruin the experience for me. Would I rather have a homemade baked cookie than a crappy college manufactured one? Of course. But if I do happen to eat a packaged food, I just say whatever. There are more important things to think about than the guilt of having eating something that isn’t totally pure. As an aspiring vegan, I do love helping myself to some vegan french or sweet potato fries, or deep fried falafel. I think eating those things in moderation is good for my recovery, because I’m not overly concerned about the nutrient value of food when I’m going out on a special occasion.

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Ela August 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I love that you have come to such a place of ease with this. Just got back from my MFA residency, where there were a lot of group meals, and I found it very stressful indeed. On the other hand, I used some of those same strategies you mentioned (like remembering it’s just one meal, and having some of my own stuff around) to mitigate that. Of course, it didn’t help that the food wasn’t very good and that often I had to sit down to a plate of greens with stinky cheese on them–to be fair, whenever I asked for an alternative, they worked something out for me.

Not many places up here in AK that serve food really to my taste: usually it’s all huge, greasy plates. But I manage, one way and another.

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Wendy (Healthy Girl) August 22, 2011 at 9:32 pm

What was so fascinating to me about this post is how similar many of your previous ED (undereating) thoughts are to the thoughts that I am working hard to overcome with my ED (overeating). I would never have guessed that.

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Bitt August 22, 2011 at 9:33 pm

If josie’s has been around over 15 years or so I’m fairly sure my cousin took me there for one of my first veggie restaurant meals! Great thoughs on the ED and restaurants. I relate to a lot of it, just having had food restrictions for awhile.

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Gena August 23, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Yup, it has been around for a good long while!

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Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga August 22, 2011 at 10:40 pm

What a very well constructed post, Gena. I love hearing your thoughts on things like this.

I actually don’t enjoy going to restaurants b/c I don’t want to eat fried food, food with salt/garlic/onions, I am a vegetarian/vegan depending on the year or time of life, I don’t eat much gluten…I just like what I like; some based on ethical decisions, some based on how I feel afterward, food intolerances, etc.

And I just hate having to try to explain it to people. What I eat, how and why I eat the way I do is fine to explain every now and then but I hate having to give the run down over and over so sometimes it’s just easier to cook at home :)

But then again, I do like going out…it’s about the company and having fun and being social that is the best part for me, too :)

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valerie August 22, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Thank you for this post. I used to love going out to eat with friends until I started having to make weight for boxing. Then, it became super frustrating. It’s hard enough sometimes just finding something veggie friendly that non-veggies will enjoy. It’s also hard to share food. Lastly, it is tiring always having to explain my reasons for what I eat or won’t eat. For fight training, I was eating a predominantly vegan diet free of processed foods, that didn’t go over well with most people in Hawaii. Sometimes it was much easier to just eat at home and skip the dining “experience,” yet, once I found myself becoming super crazy about every single meal, I realized that some changes should made. I hope this post can help! Thanks!

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Sara August 22, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Wow. I recently discovered your website and am so glad I did! I can definitely relate, as I struggled with eating disorders for most of my teen and 20-something years, and have made great strides in the last few years to get to where I am now- a healthy, happy-go-lucky vegan who loves and appreciates delicious high-quality whole foods. I remember going to family gatherings and bringing my own tiny frozen meal, and I definitely recall bailing out on restaurant plans many times because I was terrified to eat anything that I didn’t prepare myself. I’ve come so very far and am really happy being in the place that I’m in now with food and health and fitness and life, and your post made me smile. Recovery is possible and it is beautiful! This was a fantastic post. :)

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QC August 22, 2011 at 11:21 pm

I can totally identify with your (past) struggles. I don’t have an ED history and I’m not vegan, but I do have fairly extensive food allergies, so eating out is a constant struggle. It’s very emotional, and I have to grieve the loss of being able to eat where ever, when ever. Did vegans here find that?

The issue is compounded by the fact that I eat healthily! There are often allergen free options for me, but I don’t choose them cause they kinda suck in the health department. So yeah, like you mention, I have to watch out for my allergies, and like vegans, this is a not an option, but I have to learn to let go when it comes to prioritizing friends and family over a decent meal. An iceberg lettuce salad will do just fine sometimes!

I do get scared often of being hungry though and stuck somewhere where there’s no allergen-free food available. I tend to over-order as well… from that fear and a sense of release from deprivation. What commercial bars do you guys carry around just in case? I don’t like too much sugar – little to no banana, agave, or maple is good for me – so that leaves so few emergency purse bar options! Great post as usual Gena :)

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Laura August 23, 2011 at 2:01 am

Usually 3-4 for me, if there’s any problem at all. I LOVE dining out if it is either A) super ethical healthy food or B) super delicious amazing food- or if I’m extra extra lucky, A-B at the same time. However when it’s more B and not A or A-B the guilt and anxiety build up even as I’m enjoying the food. If I eat a moderate portion I can usually let is pass, but if the enjoyment and/or anxiety are too great and I over-eat, it can be very problematic. It’s a trade-off for me between allowing enough anxiety to steer me back to healthy eating, and not letting the anxiety get in the way of enjoying a meal that fits in my overall diet. Luckily my friends enjoy ethnic restaurants, and these usually have good compromise options- I do well at mainstream thai restaurants, ethiopian, sushi if there is brown rice/tofu, etc.

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Sarah August 23, 2011 at 4:03 am

Great post Gena! I couldn’t agree with this statement more:

“Many women and men with ED histories feel that a joyous return to restaurants is one of the hallmarks of true recovery.”

As someone who started flirting with number 1 on the list and ended up mostly with 2 and occasionally 5, moving to just plain avoidance, this article hit the nail on the head. I now delight in going to a good veggie restaurant and indulging in ethically guilt-free food. There’s always that little nag that occasionally bites, but otherwise it is a new and lovely experience.

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Susan August 23, 2011 at 4:54 am

I don’t get the chance to dine out often since I’m a poor college student, but when I do it is such a treat! I get to try foods that I don’t know how to cook myself or don’t have access too, I get to enjoy the food properly instead of rushing between classes, and I am usually in great company. It’s a pleasure for all the senses!

I have a few food intolerances/allergies and I’ve found that if you call ahead or are just upfront and honest with your waiter you can almost always find something to suit your needs!

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Abby August 23, 2011 at 7:23 am

All such valid points, and ones that give me a sense of comfort in knowing that I’m not completely alone in my line of thinking. While I rarely ever eat out-I’m not in a community that has many vegan restaurants or options–I often have to when I travel for work. The hardest part of my trip was finding something that would “fit in,” going out, under-eating, and feeling frustration that my experience couldn’t be more “normal.”

Like you said, I’m “rarely dismayed by food that’s rich or fatty or considered illicit in some way or another.” I’m simply hyperaware about eating food I know I will enjoy. If a meal leaves me less than satisfied, I feel like it was “wasted.” Although I realize it’s only one meal and that that thinking is disordered, I can’t help but feel that it was a lost opportunity. I would rather have a fatty avocado sandwich at home than a skimpy restaurant salad that might have been the only viable option. This is something people don’t understand, but also something I know I need to work through. It is simply food and yes, there will be another meal, but I have a hard time making myself vulnerable to that disappoint.

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Abby August 23, 2011 at 7:23 am

*disappointment. Ugh.

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elizabeth August 23, 2011 at 8:18 am

I eat out, a lot, but I’m very picky about where i’ll eat. I’ve found, over the years, I’m happiest eating from the appetizer menu of a high end restaurant. I may end up with only one or two choices, but they’re guaranteed to be delicious, carefully prepared, and aesthetically pleasing. And there are some surprises: a vegan would dine very happily at Oleana (http://www.oleanarestaurant.com/eat-and-drink.asp) in Cambridge, for example. Whereas, in a mediocre restaurant, I might have more menu choices, but I’ll be afraid of the salad dressing, the freshness of the greens, etc. The downside is that my favorite restaurants are prohibitively expensive for many of my dining companions. If I have to eat on the cheap, I’ll try to steer us towards places with safe options: Asian (avocado and cucumber maki), Middle Eastern (hummus), or Mexican (guacamole and romaine). Otherwise, I’ll play sick and eat when I get home.

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cv August 23, 2011 at 8:25 am

Great post! I’d love to read a post about BYOP–Bring Your Own Protein–as I often find that to be the missing link when restaurant dining. Perhaps include other add-ons that one might discretely include. Thanks!

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veganlily August 23, 2011 at 10:45 am

I love the BYOP concept – I do that a lot when I travel. I’ve been known to add chickpeas or tofu from my bag to restaurant salads…

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Johanna B August 23, 2011 at 11:22 am

What a great idea! Wish I had the “ovaries” to pull it off. Nevermind I do have them and I will do it at the next opportunity.

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Laura G August 23, 2011 at 8:42 am

Awesome post Gena!
I stuggled with very disordered eating all through my teen years and still struggle with some of the symptoms left behind. I became a vegetarian two years ago and a vegan eight months ago and I have avoided talking about with my family and friends because I don’t want them to view it as just another symptom of my eating disorder.
My question to you and to any others who suffered with EDs is how comfortable did you feel talking about your veganism/vegetarianism with family and friends?
Did they view it as just another ED issue arising or did they recognize it as a real change that you had made to your lifestyle and your values?
I am anxious to show my family that while I may suffer with bits and pieces of my ED at times, I am much stronger and mature individual now and my veganism is something I strongly believe in and value greatly in my life.

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Sarah August 23, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Hi Laura,

I know exactly what you mean. I became vegan about 2 months ago, which is about 2 years later than I wanted to! I’m a former ED sufferer (pretty much all variants of it!) The big worry was telling my mother. When she first spotted something on Facebook which alluded to it, she was straight on the phone and I was shaking with nervousness and a small amount of indignation. It was the first thing my best friend said too.

I’m not so selfish that I don’t recognise that there was concern there, and that is appreciated. But it can be frustrating feeling like I have to prove myself whenever I eat with them. That having been said, I’ve cooked them both some awesome vegan food (if i say so myself!) and I’ve hopefully got them convinced.

Good luck to you with both your vegan way of life and your continued recovery :)

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Laura G August 23, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Thank you so much for the response Sarah. I have hope that my family will be excepting of my choice when they see how important it is to me and hearing a success story like your’s gives me more confidence in be more open about it.

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Gena August 23, 2011 at 2:51 pm

I think my family was simply happy (IS simply happy) to watch me enjoying and taking pleasure in my food. They may not see my veganism as unrelated to my ED (and in fairness, it isn’t unrelated), but they’re more interested in what it’s done for my health and happiness than anything else. Always try to drive that point home — as long as you’re healthy, at peace, and happy, isn’t that the most important thing?

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Laura G August 23, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Thank you so much Gena and thank you for not being afraid to talk about EDs and veganism. So many people work so hard to keep the two as far apart from one another and for so many of us that isn’t the truth. I love reading the green recovery series and seeing how veganism has transformed lives knowing that it certainly has for me!

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Karen August 24, 2011 at 6:59 am

Indeed…”and for so many of us that isn’t the truth.”

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Sarah August 24, 2011 at 11:01 am

Well said Gena!

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Jami August 23, 2011 at 9:10 am

Thank you for this post! Like others have commented, I can relate to that terrible anxiety that surrounds a dining experience out of my own hands. These days, by choosing vegan and needing gluten-free options I am generally able to have a bit more control over my out-of-home dining without seeming overly “strange” to my dining companions, and that helps to ease some of the worry. This post comes at an excellent time for me, as next week my boyfriend and I will be moving out to California from New England – in a U-Haul! I thought I had all but overcome my fear of not being able to control every bite that comes into my mouth, but I find myself feeling rather anxious about this trip. I’m planning to carry lots of fruit and vegan snack bars, but I’d absolutely LOVE to hear some suggestions on how to a. feel comfortable with my eating experience and/or b. maintain a wholesome and nourishing diet along the way!

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Jen August 23, 2011 at 9:44 am

I love when you write about topics like this, because it brings to light what a lot of people are feeling (and think they’re alone in feeling).

It’s so easy to lose sight of the social aspect of going out, and only focus on the food. The people in our lives matter just as much, and we typically don’t get to see them three (or more) times a day like we get to eat food. Obviously, we would all prefer every meal to be a great one, but what it really comes down to is that each meal is only one of the millions of meals we’ll eat in our lives. There is always tomorrow.

By the way, thank you for mentioning me! That last topic is definitely one I have strong feelings about.

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blossjoss August 23, 2011 at 10:35 am

Thanks for this post. I guess you could say I’m in “recovery” or coping better these days. Fighting urges. But I’ve had a really rough time eating out recently.

On one instance, I had a challenging time finding something vegetarian, and when I did I ended up eating around little chunks of ham. And eating too many potato fries. Didn’t feel very good about myself, and didn’t get a balanced meal.

Our family also likes to go to buffets about twice a month to celebrate. I try to have a plan before hand. For example, chinese buffet: hot and spicy soup, plate of veggies and mushrooms, maybe rice if I’m feeling it, 1 eggroll w/ mustard, and fruit. But its hard with my family encouraging me to eat eggrolls-friedness, cal bomb. (ok, so maybe not a bomb but it feels like it). I feel compelled to eat to not look like I’m starving, and to stick w/ my plan to nourish myself. But I feel so uncomfortable I lose my appetite and don’t feel good afterwards.

Not knowing whats in my food bothers me, as I’ve been back to counting cals recently. I wish I could have a healthier attitude all the time, but now I’ve been having a rougher time in the mental department. I have the tendency to have no appetite or restrict, so counting has been good for now to make sure I’m getting enough and replacing workout fuel. In general, it just gets too stressful eating out. I think my city needs to get with the vegan/raw thing. I would feel much more at ease in a restaurant of that sort. Now I feel more comfortable eating at home. With food I can mostly control. Lots of veggies. And eating alone. The socialness heightens my anxiety. Judgements on vegetarianism. How I’m eating. What I’m eating. In what quantity. Doesn’t help that my madre who I live with is cutting carbs aiming for ketosis, and looks to what I eat as a sort of example/guidance. When eating with people I like to share the education I’ve come across without sounding like an obsessive fact spouting freakazoid, which I feel like happens, especially to less than receptive audiences. My doggies don’t judge me. :/

I thought I was doing a bit better than I thought. Reading this post, I did a little reflection/reality check. Thanks again for having a positive attitude. :)

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Sarah August 23, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Hi Blossjoss,

I hope you don’t mind me replying but my heart went out to you reading this. I totally understand where you’re coming from, and I’ve been there. You must try to get past this though and don’t let anyone around you influence you. Sounds like your madre is going to do herself some harm and that is not not NOT a good role model. I had a friend a couple of years back for a while who was also ED and we both fed off each other, almost competing and looking back I wish so so much that one of us had had the strength to stop it. But on a positive note, we are both on a good path now (to my delight she has two kids now – not something we foresaw happening ever at one stage :( )

If there is anyone around who can help you, I hope you find them. There is so much more to life than calorie counting (though if that helps to ensure you have enough food at least, then maybe it’s a start).

Wishing you good health and happiness :)

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Kaitlyn@TheTieDyeFiles August 23, 2011 at 10:37 am

This post hits close to home for me! I’m overcoming a disordered food relationship, I’d say closer to recovered than not, but sometimes restaurants are tough for me. I only see the boyfriend on weekends, so I eat out then more than usual. I’m not willing to budge on my veganism, and when I’m with just him it’s usually not a problem. We can generally find a place with vegan options that we’ll both enjoy and feel good about, or at least a place with easily veganizable meals (breakfast is another story). But when eating out with other people, I often end up with a crappy iceberg salad with bland dressing (happened this weekend). The worst part for me is that’ll keep me full for a little while, and soon after I’m ravenous and mowing down tons of guilt-inducing food that could have been thwarted by a good meal. Honestly I need to start packing up some Larabars to take with me so I can be prepared!

While I still worry about calories sometimes, and ingredients when we’re not at a restaurant that flaunts its healthy values, my biggest obstacle is ensuring I get a substantial meal.

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veganlily August 23, 2011 at 10:42 am

I feel like I could have written this post. Thank you.

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vanessa August 23, 2011 at 11:05 am

Thank you so much for this post, Gena. Since my ED, I have never been comfortable dining at restaurants. Just a few of my fears: not getting enough to eat vs. eating too much, not being able to get EXACTLY what I’m craving and ordering the “wrong” thing (I get super anxious if I feel I have to eat something I don’t feel like eating, regardless of how good it tastes), enjoying the food TOO much (what?!), feeling trapped into eating mediocre food because I’m embarrassed to send it back/not eat, and just plain old “losing control.” I could go on.

That said, there was a time in the beginning stages of my ED where I actually *preferred* to eat out. Back then, I think it was an “ignorance is bliss” thing: rather than being afraid of what might be in the food, I saw the food as “safe” *because* I didn’t know what was in it. In the later stages, I became too fixated on control to eat at unfamiliar restaurants. Now, even in mostly-recovery, I worry about the quality of the food and over/undereating, though there is still a push-pull between that and giving up control and letting someone else make the food. I pick my battles.

These days, like you, I’m working on just eating and moving on. Though food is one of life’s joys, FOOD IS NOT LIFE – it simply gives you the energy to enjoy it!

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vanessa August 23, 2011 at 11:10 am

P.S. Thank you for sharing the part about the fear of not getting ENOUGH to eat. As an anoretic, you feel like that’s not something you should be worried about – “eating less is a good thing, right?!” But as was mentioned above, there’s always the potential to binge later on out of hunger. It’s still a constant battle for me to fight the urge to restrict, to ensure that I eat a proper meal, in order to prevent the binge monster from rearing its ugly head.

Thanks again Gena :).

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Karen August 23, 2011 at 11:35 am

As you articulated so well, restaurant dining can be fraught with all sorts of emotional and practical complexities that test many of us, no matter how “recovered” we may consider ourselves. Your sentiments and those of others are so relatable and insightful, making this another all-time favorite post and an excellent contribution to our running dialogue on these sorts of sensitive life-food issues.

I am so happy to read about the joy you are experiencing during your visit home…this break is so well deserved, Gena!

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Just Audrey August 23, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I can definitely relate to this. Not so much from an ED perspective but just as a vegan. I sometimes get a lot of anxiety about not having something to eat if I go out with my family or go to a wedding or other get-together. Usually it works out, though. I just try to eat something filling before I leave so that I’m not famished, I then eat what’s available (veggies, fruit, guac, whatever) at the event, and then munch on snacks on the way home. At least that’s what I’ve done so far.

Now I’m craving mashed sweet potatoes!

You look beautiful in that photo, Gena. :)

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Marlena Torres August 23, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Hey Gena,

I loved your explanation on the importance of sticking to your values (for you: always vegan), but being flexible as well (such as eating greasy vegetables) when dining out. I also appreciate that you are honest about enjoying meals at home more than meals out. Sometimes I feel that ED sufferers equate healing with picking up the eating habits of friends and family. My experience is that this can be incredibly destructive and dis-empowering. I spent a lot of time feeling like there was something wrong with me because I prefer dinner at home rather than out (with exceptions, of course!).
.
I think that healing means we are true to ourselves and our beliefs about what is good for our bodies, from a self-nurturing place, not a place of restriction or deprivation (obviously). Healing also means that we feel a sense of certainty regarding our own ability to decide for ourselves what we eat, rather than listening to what the experts say, or what is outlined in a health book or weight loss program, or by what is deemed appropriate by our elders or mainstream society.

You exemplified my idea of healing from an eating disorder so beautifully in this post. Thank you!

XO,
Marlena

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Christine (The Raw Project) August 23, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Great post, Gena. I can relate from my ED days and eating out, it wasn’t a fun experience. I do so enjoy not tracking my fat and calories anymore. :-) My sister is doing Weight Watchers and even counting points doesn’t look fun to me.

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Ali (urbanfruitbat) August 23, 2011 at 7:01 pm

“I learned early in recovery that forcing myself to eat greasy, conventional, and unrewarding food was not the right way to prove that I was “better”; it only reinforced my fears, and it did nothing to foster a harmonious relationship with food.” – I really loved this point. I made the same mistake when I was recovering, eating food that I did not like just to appear better. It is important to realize that you are still allowed to care about your health after an eating disorder! In fact you should care about your health – not your weight – but on getting healthy. Feeding yourself nutrient dense food as much as possible is more important during recovery than ever. But that said, restaurant dining can be an excellent opportunity to let things go, see the bigger picture, and enjoy the company of those you are dining with, rather than letting the food be the focus.

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Melissa @ TryingToHeal August 23, 2011 at 7:31 pm

this entry totally read my mind. I remember when it used to be worse going to restaurants but has gotten better. still have those days though, where i just can’t eat out…especially if i already have the day before or meal before. Great post as always Gina. I can’t tell you how much it calms my mind knowing that i’m not alone in recovering from this issue.

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meghan @ struggle muffins August 23, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I can very much relate to this post, especially the part about over-ordering in an attempt to ensure that enough food is provided. That satisfaction is obtained. But, to your point, the goal of satisfaction or adequate intake isn’t always reached when someone with a picky palette is in a restaurant setting and so I often carry a larabar or two or twelve with me everywhere I go. But I’ve learned to unapologetic about my food choices and demands. Its like anything else in life, if you want to feel/ be/ act a certain way, then it’s on you to take control of the situation. I really appreciate your shedding light on this – well said. As per. :D

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Heather August 24, 2011 at 6:34 am

Gena! I am so honored that you featured my comment on your blog post. Made my day. I can’t wait to feature YOU and your amazing wisdom on my soon-to-be blog. (:

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Gena August 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Can’t wait for your blog to arrive, Heather!

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kate August 24, 2011 at 7:48 am

I am still laughing about your eight snacks too many admission.. I too have a fear of not having enough provisions when travelling/ needing to buffer small portions/ substandard meals. I have just returned from Geneva, and can safely say that the biggest part of my carry on luggage was allotted to 2 bags of crackers and raw fig bars. My shoulder is still sore from lugging them round the airports.
In terms of how I view and value food, it is principally in terms of taste, my incessant cravings for green veg, and as a back up position, the nutritional values of the foods. I keep a running but not obsessional check that I am getting my quota of protein/ good fats/ various different minerals. The rest generally sorts itself out.

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Teresa August 24, 2011 at 11:46 am

Thank you for always posting with such honesty on topics that many of us (or maybe it’s just me) are too afraid to talk about with others. I really appreciate the conversations you’ve opened up. During my days of disordered eating my excuse was usually “I’m tired, ” which, ended up always being true anyways since I was not nearly properly nourished.

You look so happy in that photo, and I imagine that’s exactly how you felt to be with those you love, eating food that fed the soul. I’m always a fan of healthful restaurants that offer options for all sorts of eaters. It’s nice to feel like no one is compromising, and makes me feel less selfish about taking my omnivorous family to a veggie joint.

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Gena August 24, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Thanks Teresa. I think it’s so important to write about the little details of the ED mindset, and not speak in glossy magazine generalizations. It helps us all to feel stronger.

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Lisa August 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm

gena: i loved this post. when i was reading it, it made me realize how far i have come in recovery from my eating disorder. your experiences on eating, enjoying food, and eating out and when to put it all in perspective really resonated with me! now that i am a mom to my 9 month old daughter, i go out to lunch often with other moms and our babies and sometimes wish i didn’t have to, knowing the restaurant won’t be healthy, vegan or raw. yesterday i did exactly what you described: had an extra bar in my bag (which i ended up not eating), ordered a double house salad (for fear i would go hungry with just a small) added a side of avocado, asked for olive oil because most of the dressings had dairy in them and i ordered some steamed veggies-and i was good! it didn’t have as much taste as when i make them at home, but as you said, i would be home soon enough and if i needed anything else it was there for me. i had a banana and a green tea at home later when my baby was napping-and most important, i had a really nice time connecting with the moms who i feel so grateful to have in my life. thanks for sharing your insights with us. i get so much out of them and don’t feel alone! lisa

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