To the average person the idea of going out to eat is a pleasant one, and when someone suggests going out for a coffee and a piece of cake in a local cafe or out to dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant, the usual reaction would be “Why yes what a lovely idea”, or “of course! I think I shall order the lasagne”.
To someone with an eating disorder however, it is likely that the idea of eating food out will be a terrifying one, reserved to the realms of nightmares rather than sweet dreams, and if you are anything like me when it comes to life with my eating disorder, it is likely you would rather dance a tango with a giant hairy spider than go out to “grab a bite to eat”. It is for this very reason that when I was in ward round this week and I was told that I had to go out to a local coffee shop for a snack with a member of staff, I started to wish there was a chance to whip out my dancing shoes and go to a ballroom with an enormous arachnid instead.
It is silly really because like I said, as a rule people generally enjoy going out for food (even if, like my mum, that is simply because you don’t have to wash up at the end of the meal), but for me there are so many things to be scared of and I don’t think people realise just how many things there are to worry about when it comes to going out for something to eat when you have an eating disorder rampaging in your frontal lobes.
First off there is the difficult task of looking at a menu and choosing what you are going to eat. Alright you may have to make some food choices in the home or out at the supermarket, so choosing food shouldn’t be a sudden and new experience, but at least with that kind of thing you can plan far in advance and prepare what you are having yourself so you know exactly what the meal comprises of. When you are eating out however, the ability to plan everything and control each stage of the process is whipped out from under you quicker than a slippery yoga mat on a vaseline coated floor. Ok, nowadays most restaurants and cafes tend to have menus online so in a sense you can prepare for what you are going to attempt and do not have to make a choice on the spot, but even if you make a choice from an online menu you can never guarantee that what you decide on will be available in the branch of the restaurant that you visit in particular. What if you have your heart set on the roasted aubergine spaghetti and then get to the table only to be confronted by a waiter breaking the news to you that they are all out of pasta and severely lacking in terms of aubergine supplies? What if you get your head all psyched up to tackle a chocolate muffin with multicoloured sugar strands and then find that the muffin man got caught in a traffic jam on the way to deliver his cocoa rich rainbow sprinkled delights? HOW CAN ONE RELAX AND MAKE A DECISION WHEN THE WHEREABOUTS OF THE MUFFIN MAN AND AUBERGINES ARE ALL UNKNOWN?
Then again, what if the aubergine harvest has been plentiful and the chef can prepare your chosen dish? How are they going to prepare it? How much pasta will they use? Will there be oil? Will there be butter? How will it be arranged? Will the sauce be served on top of or mixed into the spaghetti? Exactly what kind of concoction should you expect? Also what if you can’t even get that far and can’t make a decision as to what to have in the first place, either because there are too many options or not enough safe ones? When it comes to people going to restaurants a little bird told me (a very little bird. about half the size of Tweety Pie to be exact) that people chose what they “fancy,” but again when you have an eating disorder and find most of your decisions controlled by calories and grams of fat, what exactly does it mean to “fancy” something?
Even when food is chosen and aubergines can be found in abundance, the worries don’t end because then you have what I would say is the hardest thing about going out for food and the thing that I worried about most after this news about a snack out had been broken to me: eating in public. Indeed the choosing from a menu worry wasn’t even what made me anxious about the excursion as when I went out for snack with my nurse I actually took the food with me to the coffee shop from the hospital (not that that is technically allowed in terms of coffee shop table taking up without making a purchase regulations, but when you are terrified and have an eating disorder you don’t give a damn about the rules!), so it wasn’t the menu issue but the eating in public part that was troubling me.
Truth is, when I eat I prefer to do it in private because even though I am well aware that other people have too many things on their minds and in their lives to have space to think about what is on my plate, I am always paranoid that everyone around is looking and judging me for every mouthful that I consume. Why do I care what random strangers have to say about my choice of snack of an afternoon? I have no idea. Why do I think that a business woman on her lunch break or a student cramming for an exam over an espresso and a laptop, care about whether or not I eat a hobnob? Who knows, but regardless of the reason, I do care and I care a lot. For other people I do not see the act of eating as something to be ashamed of at all but when it comes to me there is something so guilt and shame filled about it that the idea of eating in public is sort of how I imagine the idea of showering in public would feel to most people, aka self conscious and like you want to throw a sponge and curl up in a ball so nobody can see you.
No matter what you do or what you eat, it feels like everyone is staring at and judging you, even if you can see for a fact that others around you may even be eating more than what you have on your plate and are not actually looking anywhere near your direction. When I was out for snack there were plenty of people busy reading papers over plates far fuller than mine, yet still I thought that they were somehow looking at me with some kind of laser vision and thinking that I was greedy for attempting what I had before me. It was so bad that just to get through the snack I had to close my eyes and play that childhood game where you imagine that because you can’t see other people ,they can’t see you either (side note: it is surprisingly hard to eat a snack when you can’t actually see it…).
Somehow I got through it using my head down, eyes closed, just keep munching method but still it was a horrendous experience and one that I am not planning to repeat in the near future or ever if I can help it.
Overall then, though it would seem that the idea of eating out in public, either for a snack or a meal, is some kind of treat to be looked forward to, when you have an eating disorder, it really isn’t that simple a task nor is it a particularly enjoyable one either. Like I said, I know I for one am not going to be attempting such a thing again voluntarily simply because even without the ordering stress and malarky it is the actual act of eating in public and being judged (however irrational that thought may be), that causes all of the anxiety. A snack out in a coffee shop may be a piece of cake physically, but in practice I can assure you that it certainly isn’t! PLEASE DON’T EVER MAKE ME DO IT AGAIN!
Take care everyone x