If you are a compulsive overeater you may have mixed feelings about eating out in restaurants. Although you enjoy eating, perhaps you feel fearful about being tempted to consume certain foods you love that you believe are "bad" because they lead to binge eating. Your inner dialogue sounds like this: I love this food so much that I don't think I can eat just one portion. If I eat it I will continue to eat too much. If I do, I am bad so I might as well keep eating since I have already "blown it." Afterwards I will hate myself, and vow to never do it again.

One way to get past your anxiety about eating with others in a public place is to try Restaurant Therapy. Invite a friend to participate with you. Make sure it is someone you trust, someone you can be honest with. Take these instructions with you and follow each step without rushing.

Pick a restaurant that has a large and varied menu. After you are seated, look around and take stock of the setting. Ask yourself how anxious or fearful you are on a scale of 1 to 10. Talk about the anxiety or fear. What are you telling yourself? If you are very anxious, explore alternative ideas to calm yourself.

1. Take the menu and look through it quickly. Rate your level of anxiety again, 1 to 10. What are your thoughts?

2. With your friend, discuss the menu in great detail. Which foods or areas of food (desserts, sandwiches, drinks) are you telling yourself are strictly out of bounds? Why? What are your rules about these foods? What are the labels you put on them? Many of my clients will not eat bread because they have labeled it fattening.

3. How hungry are you now? Are you eating because you should? How much food do you really want? How much food can you allow yourself to eat? Are the answers the same for both these questions or do you keep yourself hungry? What are you telling yourself about portions and amounts of food on this menu?

4. Which foods on the menu make you feel safe? Why? What are your beliefs about these foods?

5. Pretend that you are dining with someone else who may not be as sympathetic to your problem as your present companion. What do you imagine that person would expect of you? How much and what kind of foods would you feel you had to order and/or eat to please that person or others? Be specific. Name at least three important people in your life with whom eating is uncomfortable for you. What do you think they might be thinking when you are together? What do they actually say to you at the table? How do you feel about each one? How would you like it to be?

6. Check your level of anxiety or fear again. Where is it now? Are you feeling any more comfortable?

7. Close the menu. Think about the taste or texture sensation that you would like to have right now. Do you want hot or cold food, a large or small amount, chewy, crunchy, or smooth; salty, sweet, sour, or spicy? Imagine what food or foods would fit the bill. Name the food. Is this a food you allow yourself to eat? How do you feel about eating it? How much do you want? Is it on the menu? If it is not, are you willing to ask the waitress if you can get it, such as one scrambled egg or half a chefs salad? (Don't forget that you and your friend can agree to share portions.)

8. What do you want to order? Do it now.

9. When the food comes, what do you tell yourself? Have you specified that you wanted tomato instead of potato? Have you requested dressing on the side or no bread? Is the food the way you want it to be? Rate your state of anxiety.

10. Please eat your meal or snack. Converse with your partner. Occasionally relate any thoughts or feelings that are either positive or negative. You may find yourself wanting to leave food and afraid of what the other will think. Continue to talk about how the food tastes and how you feel about eating it in front of someone else.

11. If your friend and companion is a person who never worries about food or weight, encourage him/her to share his/her thoughts and feelings with you. Compare your ideas. What have you learned?

12. At the end of the meal, review the experience. How do you feel right now? Are there any social situations coming up in the near future that you can discuss and rethink right now with your friend? How is your anxiety level now?

I hope that this experience empowers you to be more at ease with yourself and food when eating in restaurants.

Author's Bio: 

Gloria Arenson, MFT, DCEP, specializes in helping people overcome compulsive behaviors, especially overeating, bulimia, spending, and procrastination. She has successfully treated hundreds of people for stress, anxiety, trauma, and fears. Gloria is the author of Desserts Is Stressed Spelled Backwards, How to Stop Playing the Weighting Game, Born To Spend, Five Simple Steps to Emotional Healing, Freedom At Your Fingertips and EFT For Procrastination. Visit her website at www.GloriaArenson.com or contact her at glotao@cox.net.