On a previous post I asked if anyone would like to read a post on why my anxiety prevents me from eating out and lots of you said you would love to read about it.
As I’m sure you’ve heard me say countless times; my anxiety prevents me from being able to eat out. I tend to say this a lot but have never really spoken about why I feel this way and how the prospect of eating out makes me feel.
I’d also like to know if anyone else suffers from this and if they have overcome it.
This isn’t the first time I’ve struggled with eating out when my anxiety flares up
I’ve previously struggled with eating out when my anxiety flared up. During the first year of my A-levels the stress aggravated my anxiety. I remember one particular day I had just handed in my English Literature coursework and had plans to go out for dinner with a friend to celebrate. We sat down and I could feel my anxiety rise, by the time the food was put in front of me I was having a full blown panic attack. I tried to pick at my food but I physically could not swallow it. My friend recognised that something was wrong and we went outside for a moment. I immediately felt better being away from that situation but I knew I couldn’t return and instead I went home. I remember spending the following day lying in bed and crying annoyed at myself and scared. I was suppose to be going out that night to a concert but I had to cancel. I couldn’t face another panic attack like that.
My previous experience gives me hope because I did manage to get over my fears of eating out. Until recently I loved going out for a meal. However, this time feels different, I’ve had a bigger break down due to stress and my anxiety is a million times worse.
Why does eating out make me feeling so anxious?
There’s a couple of reasons why I think eating out makes me feel so anxious. The first reason I believe is connected to the fact that I suffer from Emetophobia (you can read more about it here), the second reason is that the feeling of being trapped somewhere sets of my anxiety.
In addition to the reasons mentioned above when I’m suffering from an anxiety flare up I like to be away from crowds of people. I feel very self-conscious about myself and don’t like to draw any attention to myself and the possibility of potentially having a panic attack in public and having people witness it is very scary.
Before I go any further I’d like to take this opportunity to say that whilst I struggle with eating out I don’t have a problem with food or eating. I’m a huge food lover – albeit I’m rather fussy and have some strange ways with food textures and cutlery. I truly believe my funny ways with food stem from my phobia of vomiting as opposed to having a toxic relationship with food.
To put it simply Emetophobia is a phobia of vomiting.
This therefore could be closely connected to my problems eating out. Around the age of 11 I got food poisoning from eating at a fast food restaurant. For a while this negatively impacted on my relationship with food – I went from being a very chubby child who would often have two dinners of an evening to only having a spoonful of dinner.
However, when I was most recently ill I had barely eaten that day and was still really sick. This somewhat made me realise that food wasn’t the enemy and that whether I eat or not if I’m going to get sick it won’t have a huge impact on it. Whilst this has helped me continue my healthy relationship with food it has not influenced my feelings on eating out.
I’m not sure whether my phobia does directly affect me eating out, I think it’s more a side effect of my general anxiety. However, it is something that I am aware of and believe it could somewhat be contributing to how I’m feeling.
It is also worth me mentioning that when I get anxious it tends to make me feel unwell, I swallow a lot of air which results in being bloated and a stomach ache. In addition to this it often brings on indigestion (bet you’re all dying to go for dinner with me after reading this haha! My boyfriend is so lucky to have a catch like me…). These symptoms tend to then make me feel sick which further aggravates my anxiety. It’s a bit of a vicious circle which leaves me both mentally and physically not wanting to eat out.
Feeling of being trapped –
A huge trigger for my anxiety is the feeling of being trapped somewhere.
This is something I have always suffered with and over the years I’ve made small changes in my life so that I feel less trapped in situations. Realistically if I go out to eat I know I can leave at any time, however if I leave I think I’ll have let myself down, anyone that I’m eating out with and worry what other people think when I run out of the restaurant crying without eating my dinner? I know that none of these things really matter and my friends and family would understand and in no way make me feel like I was letting them down.
However, my anxious brain doesn’t want to accept this and thinks it’s a problem.
Before I caught Norovirus back in October I was beginning to struggle with eating out and so my partner and I were taking small steps to overcome this. We would often go to places like Nandos or Gourmet Burger Kitchen where you order and pay for your food before sitting down. In my head this made me feel a little less trapped – we had already paid and so if I had to leave before we got our food then there would be no hanging around trying to pay a bill and explain why we didn’t want our dinner anymore.
However, when I got ill it really knocked me back and I knew I had to tackle my severe anxiety before I could even consider eating out again.
How do I feel eating out?
At the moment I’m slowly trying to get myself back to eating out by eating in food courts and occasionally cafes where you purchase your food and then sit down. I don’t feel anywhere near able to tackle a restaurant environment but I’m taking baby steps.
We’ve eaten in a pub since and I’ve had to sit and wait for the food. We sat outside in the pub garden, which was quite busy. To begin with I felt okay, however as the time went by my anxiety began to creep up on me and tell me I couldn’t do it. My palms began to get sweaty, I was feeling ill, I wanted to cry and I felt like everyone was staring at me and knew there was something wrong. Eventually our food came after a half an hour wait and I managed to eat it. I’m very proud of myself for achieving that, however I’m not sure it’s something I feel I could do again right now.
Another aspect of eating out that makes me anxious is the size of the portions. I feel that I’m unable to leave until I’ve at least eaten the majority of the food in front of me. Therefore, when a large plate of food is put down in front of me it makes me anxious. However, if I’m eating at home I’d probably demolish that plate and go back for seconds. Because of this I try to go for things that I can pick at – such as a bowl of chips. However, being gluten free AND vegetarian is severely limiting. On our last trip to Wales we couldn’t find any chip shops that sold gluten free chips so I then had a panic attack over not being able to eat.
Apparently my anxiety can’t make its mind up as to whether or not it wants me to eat.
My gluten allergy is not a contributing reason for how anxious I feel eating out – thankfully I’m yet to be glutened eating out (touch wood). However, it does make it so much more difficult. I’ve been a vegetarian for close to 15 years now and so eating meat or fish is not an option. Most chain coffee shops do not cater for allergies. Starbucks do a gluten free chicken panini meanwhile Costa do a gluten free three bean wrap – it’s grim but I guess in an emergency it’s food! Lunches are less formal than dinners out, however due to my dietary requirements I’m often unable to have lunch out anywhere. It sometimes feels like life is playing a bit of a cruel trick on me!
I hope this had made sense – I get quite emotional writing about my mental health and often go off on a tangent! If you have any questions feel free to drop them in the comments below. I’m hoping that when my anxiety is a little easier to handle then I’ll be able to make further headways with eating out again as it used to be such a treat. It’s also quite socially limiting as I have to make all arrangements around lunch and dinner to ensure that I don’t have to eat out. The joys of mental health problems!
I know a few people commented on a post of mine asking for this post and I was wondering if anyone who suffers with eating out would like to inbox me their story so that I can write a post of other people’s experiences? I believe this is an issue that many people have but it’s often not discussed because eating out is considered a luxury and so it’s just ignored.
My email address is Anxietyandliz@gmail.com