A buffet survival guide
You've been invited out and there's going to be a buffet. Buffets are great for lots of occasions: birthdays, engagement and anniversary parties, funerals; there's always plenty of different food and they encourage mingling and conversation- all things that can really freak you out if you're struggling with an eating disorder.
DECIDING TO GO
Chances are pretty high that your first impulse will be to turn down the invitation. Here you have to cut through your own bullshit and work out why you're really thinking about not going. Is it really because you hate birthday parties/can't stand her fiance/find uncle Drew incredibly annoying? or is that your anxiety sky-rocketed the moment you heard about it and your eating disorder is trying to insist you stay at home? You can't let your eating disorder make your decisions if you're ever going to recover. You need to practice social situations (and let's face it, many of them are going to centre around food) and if you give into your anxiety on this, it's only going to spread, like a virus, through every part of your life.
PREPARING TO GO
Firstly,If you're going out to eat at a buffet or at a restaurant, don't restrict beforehand. It won't help. It won't make the meal out any easier, and it won't help your recovery.
Regardless of what your ED voice is telling you, a meal out is just a meal out. It's the same as you eating at home, but someone else has cooked it, and the options will probably be different. Oh yes, and you may be paying for it; but none of this is anything to panic about, or to feel guilty about.
Buffets are a little different from eating out at restaurant. I recommend that you plan your approach beforehand; planning can really help lessen the noise in our heads. Decide that you're either going to go to the buffet and be completely unrestricted in your eating and totally get your money's worth (even if you're not paying!), or you're going to fill your plate and eat like you normally do at home. So decide: are you going to go for the 10 mini cheesy pizzas, or a couple of chicken fillets, potatoes and rice and vegetables?
Knowing what you're going to choose from the buffet can really help, so you know (or have some idea, at least) what you're going to take before you even go in. It's not hard to work out roughly what's going to be on offer at the buffet beforehand, based on what the invitation was for and where it's being held. This can help with the pre-anxiety. Otherwise, really aim to eat what you feel you want at the time. You know how much you should take from the buffet. You know how much you should be eating-you're just scared to trust yourself. This environment is actually a great place to test yourself: to push yourself that bit harder, to trust the messages your body is sending out, to trust your appetite (if you're at that point in your recovery yet) and to trust your ability to decide on a 'normal' portion.
AT THE BUFFET
There is a lot of food out on show at a buffet. There's that much, if not more, at a restaurant; it's just not all out at once. Try not to let it scare you into restriction. Don't just take a little broccoli floret and a cocktail sausage or a little strip of chicken. Eat a 'normal' portion. If you don't feel sure yet about what that is, look at other people's plates. Remember it's food. Just food. There's a lot of it, but all you have to do is eat what you would be eating at home in terms of quantity and filling your plate. The choices will probably be different, and it may be cooked differently, but this is such a good time for one of those challenges I like to set so much, for instance by choosing something you wouldn't normally have chosen,or if you don't know how it's been prepared.
And if you want to go back to the table for some more (yay!!) , go and take some more. People really aren't watching you, judging you or keeping a running total of what you've eaten. They're far too busy worrying about their own stuff.
Visualisation is a great technique to prepare for any event that's freaking you out; so before you go, it can be helpful for you to mentally rehearse going into the room, talking to people, choosing the food and putting it on to your plate. Make the visualisation as detailed and specific as you can, and practice things going the way you want them to go and experiencing how that feels.
Have a mantra or affirmation ready so you can repeat it to yourself if things start to feel overwhelming. Effective affirmations need to be positive, active words in the present tense , things like "I am strong, I am in control"; " Tough times don't last, tough people do"; "Food is fuel, fuel is energy" are good.
If you start feeling really anxious or you start to panic, (or guilt starts to overwhelm you), try timed breathing. Imagine you're breathing the shape of a square: breathing in deeply for four draws the top line of the square; breathing out slowly for four draws the right side down; back in deeply for four draws the bottom line and breathing out for four draws the left side, back up to the top. You can do this easily and discreetly in a social setting until the sensations of panic subside.
Work to join in the conversation around you. Don't let yourself just sit there feeling guilty, uncomfortable and anxious; this will help you stay distracted from getting stuck in your head counting calories or worrying about what you just ate.
Going to social events will get easier the more you do them. Don't be hard on yourself because it's difficult for you or because you need to prepare, be proud of yourself for getting there and getting through it. The next time will be a little easier.
if you need advice,support or help for anything covered in this blog, you can get in touch with me. And remember to like and share