Grace Russell, Dietitian, Baulkham Hills NSW
31 July 2018
It is easy to see that food is a large part of our social structure, we meet friends for coffee, have a special birthday dinner, bring cheese and wine to a girl’s night. Since time began, meals have been shared and an opportunity for villages, communities and families to come together. Food is vital to many societal events and celebrations.
Social eating provides us with many health benefits such as:
- Allowing us to bond with others, sit down and relax while eating
- Fostering a sense of belonging by sharing in common interests
- Encourages mindfulness of the eating experience
- Increases variety in the diet by eating foods not normally cooked in the home
- Increases flexibility in eating, leading to a more relaxed view around food
- Marks certain periods of the day to help us stop and nourish our bodies
When social eating is not a picnic
However, for a number of people social eating can be a form of stress and can be severe enough to impede on their social life. For example, someone with very particular tastes may become anxious leading up to a restaurant meal with family if they are unsure if there will be something on the menu they like. Or someone with an Eating Disorder may avoid going out to the cinemas or going out for a friends birthday due to food being involved. This has big impact on the wellbeing of the person and can lead to feels of being withdrawn, isolated, lonely.
Steps to help overcome anxiety around social eating
Challenge unhelpful thoughts
Record or think about thoughts that may come up when eating in social situations. Think of a more helpful thought that may replace the first thought. For example, an unhelpful thought may be ‘everyone is going to notice I am eating xyz’ but challenging that with ‘everyone is focusing on their own food’ may help relieve some anxiety.
Choose ‘safer’ options to start with
At the beginning, it might be helpful to start with one food that feels more comfortable or ‘safe’to eat and focus on just eating that food/meal in the presence of others. As anxiety lessens it might be time to expand and add different meals to your eating experience.
Think of a positive aspect of the social experience
Being anxious can make us narrow in on the anxiety only, trying to think on one positive aspect such as the scenery, friends smiling or the pretty coffee cups can help us to be more mindful and present.
Seek professional help
Eating socially can be a big challenge and it can take time and patience. Having a professional on your support team can make a big difference as you learn new strategies to eat in social settings.
Want more support eating socially?
If you would like additional support managing your anxiety to be able to eat with comfort during social occasions please get in touch.
Dietitian, Baulkham Hills NSW
Grace is enthusiastic about supporting women of all ages to find their own authentic health. Grace brings a caring, compassionate nature to her work and believes that kindness towards the self is a crucial agent for change. She is passionate about blending this with practical skills to ensure her patients can approach eating in a realistic, manageable way.