It’s been a minute since many of us have had to navigate allergies out at a restaurant, wedding, or conference. I’m sure there are aspects that we’ve missed but for many food allergy folks, it’s also been nice not to have to deal with constant food stress, anxiety, and allergen-induced panic attacks. However, social eating is starting to become front of mind again.
If you’re thinking: “things have been good the last year, it’s been nice to have full control over my food and not have to place my trust in others to manage my allergies safely – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”, I don’t blame you.
At the same time, needing to have full control over your intake at all times will have a negative impact on your quality of life – it’s not a part of normal eating and will prevent you from having a healthy relationship with food and a fulfilling social life.
Here are some tips and strategies to help re-incorporate social eating into your lifestyle.
4 tips to cope with the anxiety caused by social eating
1. Focus on flexibility
Look at the return of social eating as a chance to strengthen your ‘flexibility’ muscle when it comes to food. Having the ability to be flexible with eating is a good sign that your relationship with food is in a healthy place.
2. Stop catastrophizing social eating
Consider the possibility that a return to social eating might be like riding a bike. In all likelihood your coping skills haven’t been lost completely and slipping right back into a normal eating out routine may happen with more ease than expected.
3. Ease back into the swing of things
Plan a set of progressive exposures if you’re feeling uncertain. Identify factors that make social eating feel both safer and scarier for you. Start with a low-level scary experience and surround yourself with things that make you feel safer – it could be supportive people, proximity to a hospital, or a familiar allergen-friendly restaurant. Work your way up to more challenging exposures until you’ve returned to a pre-pandemic comfort level with social eating.
4. Consider the costs
Think about what it will cost to stay in your comfort zone. Avoidance of social eating can take a toll on your relationships with others, making you feel unnecessarily isolated.
It may feel trivial to be bothered about body image or navigating nervous feelings about eating out at restaurants again when many are dealing with social injustices, and the loss of jobs and loved ones. However, anything to improve our mental health during this time will only lead to greater resilience and hope for the future which in turn benefits us all.
Final thoughts on re-entry anxiety from social eating
No matter how you are feeling at this stage in the pandemic, it’s valid. We’ve been put through a lot this last year and it’s taken a toll on our mental and physical health. I hope this post offers strategies to help cope with whatever food and body image-related challenges you may be facing.
If you are also experiencing negative body image and anxiety around re-entry due to the way you look or feel – check out our 7 tips for coping with negative body image.
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Alida is a Registered Dietitian and food allergy girl who is passionate about helping you master healthy living. She loves simplifying nutrition science into realistic strategies. She works with clients to find Food Freedom.