When we talk about social anxiety, we commonly think of not being able to leave the house, fear of public speaking or staying away from crowded places.
But what about a fear of eating in public?
Anxiety over eating in front of other people is a form of social anxiety and can really make life frustrating and difficult, especially when you consider that social eating centers around a lot of life and work related events.
Do you say no to dinner dates?
Do you absolutely hate work functions?
Do you get anxious when you know that you have a family dinner?
Do you struggle to eat in front of people that you know well like friends and family?
If you can relate to any of these, then you may have social eating anxiety.
I have struggled with this at times, but it's not something that dominates my life.
However the times whereby I have experienced it, it has made me feel very awkward, and has caused me to do things such as eat as slowly as possible, be extremely mindful of table manners, make me chew as quietly as possible and cover my mouth while chewing, and even has caused me to leave a bit of food on my plate for fear of people thinking that I am gluttonous!
These are all normal feelings. I have heard of people who cannot swallow and some may actually throw up at the thought of having to eat in front of other people.
So what can we do to minimize these awkward symptoms?
1. Choose restaurants that are quiet. Go in off peak times. So don't opt to go for lunch during the peak rush hour. Rather choose to go for an early lunch or a late lunch instead.
2. When choosing a table, always choose the one at the back of the restaurant, in the quietest corner that you can find. If you feel nauseous, choose a table near the rest rooms
3. Try eating a meal in front of one other person who knows about your situation and you know will not judge you. This will build up confidence about eating in front of others.
4. When it comes to choosing a meal, go for something small, a light meal such as a starter or a salad or something very plain. This will enable you to take your time by chewing slowly, and because you'll have less food to have to eat, you won't feel pressured by being the last person who is eating.
5. Avoid foods like spaghetti, or very saucy and messy foods which are awkward to eat.
6. Eating slowly is your best friend in this situation. Not only will it help you to eat in a more controlled manner, but it will help those of you who struggle to swallow. Cut your food into small pieces and chew chew chew! It'll make swallowing a bit easier.
7. Mindfulness can really help here.Try and be mindful of what you are eating by really tasting the flavours of food and inhaling the smells. Take note of the colours on your plate. If you don't want the focus to be on your food, then focus on the colours and smells of your surroundings.
8. Take something natural and safe before you have to go out and eat. My go to natural remedy is rescue remedy, but you could also try something like st johns wort or any of the other natural products out there that works for you. Remember to consult your doctor first, especially if you're taking other medication.
Below is a video that I did on this exact topic.
I discuss these tips in a little more detail, and hopefully they will help you somewhat!
Always remember, when you have to social eat, that SLOW is key! :)
If you can remember that, then you'll be on your way to making progress.