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Dining Alone, and loving it!!!

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I have vivid memories of eating alone in my college dining hall during my struggle with food. I was on high alert from start to finish. Not only would it take me 15 minutes to pick out what I was going to eat, I also scoped out the most hidden area to sit down. I constantly looked around at other diners to see what they were eating and in fear that they would catch glimpse of my own tray with judgement.

Which, by the way, no one does. Frankly no one cares.

Just the other day I typed “eating by yourself” into Google’s image search. The result? Various sad looking people dining solo and individuals in front of a table covered with food, as well as a suggestion to narrow my search with the word “alone.”

This can’t be true.

When I go out to eat and see others eating alone I admire their courage and am curious about who they are. I think it is a common feeling to fear dining out alone, at least it makes me nervous. For the same reason we ignore our feelings, dining alone is a breeding ground for insecurity and vulnerability. We have to keep ourselves company. For these reasons I have never eaten out by myself since college. Although I was fearful of my college experience repeating itself, my Google search was not the resolution I was looking for.

I pinpointed where it was that I wanted to go out for dinner and I grabbed my legal pad and favorite pen. I was nervous about being unplugged from interaction, whether it be through my phone, headphones or conversation. It was just me.

“Are you meeting someone here?” Nope!

After taking a seat, I realized I was already on high alert. I could feel my cheeks turn a little red and my heart beat a little faster. I perused the menu and picked out what looked good: a quesadilla (with apparently a lot of kick)! Once my food came, I tried approaching it like I would any other meal, why wouldn’t I? I caught myself thinking about the balance of the quesadilla: tortilla, cheese, vegetables, beans. I analyzed the taste and texture of each bite and reflected on the mystery of spice. My nervous state slowly relaxed. I was actually enjoying myself! My own thoughts and journal were perfect company for me to enjoy my experience. I was eating mindfully and taking in the experience all by myself.

Challenging myself to face a raw fear turned out to be rewarding for my body, mind and spirit. We can only get comfortable with the uncomfortable through exposure therapy.

Time to go out: ● Do some research to find a restaurant you have always wanted to try. The yummy menu options will hopefully give you the boost you need! ● Enjoy time by yourself: think by yourself, people watch by yourself, eat by yourself, be gentle with yourself, love yourself.  ● Bring a journal, book or magazine with you. This will allow you to engage yourself without being plugged into electronics.

P.S. Check out Christy Harrison’s recent ​Podcast​ “Intuitive Eating and Rejecting the Diet Mentality,” where she interviews Evelyn Tribole, co-author of ​Intuitive Eating

Insights and Awareness from Geneen Roth’s Books and Work

   

If there is one thing I took away from reading Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything
by Geneen Roth, it is that our bodies are our generator of feelings. I sometimes convince myself that my bodily feelings (tightness in chest, racing heart, etc.) will just pass if I ignore them. I will occasionally fall asleep to the television to avoid my feelings that crop up in the silence, or I will procrastinate certain things that I am too fearful to face, such as a large bill or tough conversations with those I love. This book is a good reminder of the importance of listening to our feelings without judgement, and more importantly, to take care of ourselves in these difficult moments. Rest assured though that the habit of numbing our feelings is TOTALLY NORMAL, but the goal is to start tuning into our feelings.

Our bodies are where our feelings stem from and our minds generally react to these feelings. We are most often our harshest critics, including talking down to ourselves internally or judging our own feelings. This is the trick! If the feelings stay in the body and we acknowledge them, no harm done. If we let our minds judge those feelings, however, harm may be done. Just like Geneen Roth says in her book, “our minds are masters of blame but our bodies don’t lie.” Our thoughts turn to habits, some of which surround our relationship with food. Depending on our certain thoughts and personality traits, these habits can become binge eating or restriction, sometimes both, as a way to escape the raw and uncomfortable feelings in our body. Our response to uncomfortable feelings is sometimes avoidance and instant satisfaction, our relationship with food, or distracting ourselves with television for example. Begin to challenge the avoidance and instant satisfaction by not letting your mind take over those feelings in your body. Let your body handle the energy of your feelings.

Tuning into our feelings without numbing them is not easy, and requires patience with ourselves and practice. I have been working on this for years and am still far from mastery. Again, patience and practice. Next time you have an overwhelming feeling of sadness or anger, instead of drowning it out, name your feeling (as psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel says “name it to tame it”), in order for your strong feelings to remain in check and not take hold of you. Once you sense an uncomfortable feeling in your body, acknowledge it: I feel anxiety and tightness in my chest. Maybe ask: Where else do I feel anxiety or tension in my body? Be sure to use the words “I feel” instead of “I have” to keep these feelings at bay. Next, sit with the uncomfortable feeling and self-soothe: It is okay that I feel anxious, that is my response to the events that have just occurred. If you drift towards the cravings of binging or abusing your relationship with food, ask yourself: Why do I feel the need to binge right now? What will that binge bring me other than instant satisfaction? What will I feel in 15 minutes? Externalizing these cravings and thinking aloud gives those urges less power over your decision-making process. It is okay if you are unable to resist those thoughts that lead you to over-indulging, but do not let that discourage you. Continue practicing your acknowledgement of your feelings. Take extra good care of yourself.

 

Ideas to feel feelings, not feed them:

  • As Geneen Roth suggests, welcome all of your feelings with tenderness and acceptance, free of judgement.
  • Create a list of questions that you can use as prompts to help you sit with an uncomfortable feeling, like above. I personally like to create a mind map to understand my feelings.
  • Consider meditation or pockets of your day to dedicate to calmness and introspection. Our true feelings often get lost in the busyness of the day.
  • Lastly, pick up Geneen Roth’s Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. This is an engaging and quick read for all who need the next push into food freedom.