Tips for Eating at Restaurants
Every summer, my Dad and I try to eat at a new restaurant or cafe every week. I love this because not only does it force me to meal prep and cook for all my other meals, but it also broadens my culinary horizons. We have gone to restaurants specializing in everything from Portuguese to Italian, from Indian to Thai and so much more! Even more, all of the restaurants are unique; I always leave eager to recreate the dishes I loved.
While I love to eat out now, this was not the case two years ago. I had been eating out so much after my first year of college and largely blamed this habit for the reason I lost my flat tummy (or, what I believed was a “lost flat tummy”). So, I started preventing myself from going out to eat. I refused to eat out with my family, missed a ton of birthday celebrations, and restricted myself from a tradition that I really loved.
Eating out can be incredibly difficult when you have an eating disorder. At home, when I cooked for myself, I could control exactly what went into my meals. I could make the exact amount I wanted to eat so there was no chance of me over-eating. At restaurants, I had no clue what my food was cooked in. I couldn’t control myself when food that I never let myself eat, such as bread or dessert, was put in front of me. I had no sense of portions, always cleaning my plate completely.
For a while, I was stuck in this back and forth pattern. When I had no choice but to go out, I would punish myself for days afterwards. I limited what I ate and I went to the gym for hours at a time. I honestly didn’t know how to get out of this mindset. So what changed? When I started meeting with my nutritionist, my mindset towards food began changing. She helped me come up with ideas on how I could become more comfortable when eating out. Over time, I also developed tricks of my own that I still use to this day!
One thing I always do before going to a restaurant is see if their menu is online. I love looking through menus, not only to see if it is a restaurant I want to try, but also because it helps me get a better sense of what I will be seeing when I’m there. I won’t be thrown off if I see tons of bread on the table or lavish desserts. I won’t feel anxious. I can also figure out what dishes sound good to me beforehand. I don’t do this to restrict myself from certain dishes, rather so that I am mindful in the moment of what my body really loves and craves as opposed to “ordering with the flow.”
While I used to always feel incredibly obnoxious being picky at restaurants, I’ve learned that for my sanity, there is no harm in asking if a substitution can be made, or if something is made with dairy or not. Questions like this prevent my anxiety from arising, as I feel more control over the situation. Of course, I always try to not go overboard!
I also have stopped getting multiple courses, unless of course it is a set or price fix menu. Why? Because I realized I was always stuffed at the end of a night out. Stuffed to the point where I regretted eating because I physically felt sick. I am much more inclined now to share appetizers or taste whatever my family or friends order. The same goes with dessert. First, I ask myself if my palate is satisfied or not. Then, if I do want something for dessert, I will order a few different ones for the table. Why? Because I usually can’t decide what sounds best and I know I will be satisfied with just a few bites. Yes, there are times when I do want my own, and I will allow myself that as well! But this trick helped ease me into eating out and allowing myself to eat food I had for so long restricted.
My last trick is to always order an extra side of vegetables. Whether this is by starting with a salad or ordering the delicious roasted carrots, I always try to get a large amount of veggies into my meal. Restaurants often are very creative with veggies- they take the time to make them shine (as opposed to rushed meal prep).
These tricks have helped me become extremely comfortable with restaurants. While there are times I definitely feel discouraged and frantic, particularly when it is a restaurant I have no say in choosing, at least one of these tips always comes in handy. I feel my anxiety diminishing, slowly taking control of my mind once more. That being said, its also okay to not feel okay- just please remember you are never alone!
What tricks do you have when eating at restaurants? Would you try any of these?