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