I’ve singled out the Superbowl, because it’s clearly relevant and clearly approaching THIS SUNDAY. However, this post can really apply to any social event that encourages a “pot luck” style of food options and case upon case of beer (typically, watching sports or even movie nights). Your eating disorder may immediately demand that you avoid the social situation at all costs; yet, by not going, you’re only perpetuating the rules and limitations that your eating disorder has developed for you. This is where taking control over the eating disorder is crucial. We also need to recognize that are ways to attend social events where we can continue to progress in recovery AND still feel safe.
The last thing I would want is for you to over-push yourself to the extent that anxiety becomes unmanageable, and reverting even more to ED behaviors feels like the only solution. There needs to be a “happy balance” of feeling comfortable AND challenging ourselves.
Plan, plan, plan
Yes, the end goal of recovery may be flexibility and spontaneity. However, it’s okay to realize that maybe right NOW in recovery, it’s may not be realistic. Plan ahead so that you can not only progress in recovery by challenging yourself, but also so that you’re able to fully enjoy the actual social event! A lot of times, the food choices available are kind of up-in-the-air or unknown; this might require eating beforehand to ensure that your meal plan is still followed for weight restoration. We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where we assume our friends will have an array of food that we feel comfortable eating, only to discover it is the opposite (and we are left feeling as though we need to wait for what feels like an eternity to get home and prepare our own food).
At the same time, use planning ahead as an opportunity to also plan a challenge. It’s okay (and balanced) to have eaten a full meal and still allow yourself some chips and dip, or the brownie that your body has been craving to have. Always remember that if you feel unable to challenge yourself with the food, you’ve still made a huge achievement in another way: you’ve stepped outside of your comfort zone by actually attending the event. Yay for no isolation!
Bring your food!
A lot of the time in recovery, it becomes easier to bring our own food in a tupperware than to rely on whatever your host has prepared. Raise your hand if you’ve brought a tupperware to a holiday party, to Thanksgiving with family, or to other social events. I know I’ve been there! However, the great thing about potluck-social-events like the Superbowl is that they actually require everyone to bring their own food. Do a little recipe searching for a dish that would not only be a crowd pleaser, but something that you are certain you’ll also feel able to eat. This places accountability on YOU to determine what it is you would actually enjoy, place the challenge on you to become comfortable in the kitchen while preparing it, and also presents the perfect opportunity to socialize and eat with your friends.
Distractions are everywhere
Social events set up a guaranteed opportunity to distract ourselves when we are anxious or experiencing eating disordered thoughts. If you’re going to your friend’s place to watch the Superbowl, you have the game itself to focus on and friends surrounding you that can help redirect your thoughts without even realizing it through conversation. Let’s also work on reframing the social situation itself: your friends have invited you to the social event REGARDLESS of your eating disorder. They perceive you as the fun individual they know you are, and that they enjoy having around. They are not focusing on your eating disorder as much as you falsely think they are! It’s also important to remember that the eating disorder likes to make you believe that everyone around you is paying attention to your eating habits and automatically knows how you’re feeling. The truth is, especially in social situations like this with multiple distractions, they’re more focused on the game (and whether their team is winning) than focusing on your food choices. Enjoy yourself – your friends sure are!