Facing Fears & Anxieties with an Eating Disorder

The fear of eating out, going away for a break/holiday/somewhere new or the unknown. These can fill you with dread, worry, anxiety. The thought of stepping out of your comfort zone and facing the unknown can be a daunting experience. I have been through this many times and faced this yet again last weekend, going away with a friend on a spa break for an overnight stay.

I was already apprehensive booking an overnight stay but without too much thought at the time, I agreed and it was booked. A week before going away it suddenly dawned on me…the thoughts in my head started to get me anxious, and a feeling of regret came into mind. What if I couldn’t find anything to eat? What if I felt obliged to eat when I didn’t want to? So much speculation in my mind, thinking of scenarios that may well surface in reality and thinking of the embarrassment I would face when challenged at meal times. All week leading up to my overnight spa break got me feeling uneasy and unwell.

On the other hand, the rational side of me was trying to convince the irrational side of me that I am being so negative, to think positive and just focus on having a good time and enjoy a well earned rest which I never get. I kept trying to bring this rational side of my thinking to a forefront and try and let myself relax and just enjoy my time away. So overall, mixed feelings, the dread and anxiety and yet the excitement that I convinced myself to feel.

I ensured I packed food and snacks with me just in case I couldn’t eat whilst away. But still determined to try my best with what was offered to me. Maybe to truly face my fear and set myself the ultimate challenge would have been not to take any food/snacks with me, but I thought I did quite well to actually go away, which in itself I felt somewhat proud that I did face a fear to go away!

Arriving at the spa venue, my friend and I were having a great time so far, enjoying the pool, sauna and steam rooms. Then came the first meal time of our stay – a buffet lunch. Already nerves creeping up as I walk in to the lunch room. Faced with a spread of food I could see from a distance, I wondered what it could be. Walking around the trays of food, I could see that the spread that was on offer was wonderful, a variety of choice and looked delicious, however it wasn’t something I would choose to eat if I had the choice. What was the food cooked in? What has been added/mixed to the food? All of these thoughts were running through my head, challenging me, with the eating disorder quickly erecting a barrier between me and the delicious looking food. I tried to shake these thoughts out of my head, and in my mind said to myself that I need to do this, I need to eat, I cannot rely on snacks to fuel me for the next few hours, so I then proceeded to take a plate and walked around the buffet again. Managing to pick up a mixture of a few things, I ate most of what was on my plate – though eating what was on my plate, I must note my portion size is not enough for what I should be consuming. Though feeling a little bit uncomfortable, I took the plunge by choosing a selection to eat. I felt somewhat guilty after eating the little bit of food I did eat, but I convinced myself that I need this – my body needs this fuel, then I thought about the rest of the day ahead and tried to focus on having a good time.
The rest of the day after lunch continued to be terrific! I hadn’t given more thought to the food I had just consumed, distracted by the pleasure and happiness I was enduring as we took advantage of all of the facilities in the spa, had our treatment, and later then proceeded to get ready for our evening dinner.
Again nerves arose at dinner time, thinking of the conversation that I would have with the staff, and the awkwardness of the situation I could be in, the looks that I could be given, having to justify myself, the feeling of being awkward and difficult – would they get annoyed with me? Am I being a nuisance? Panicking in my mind, trying to keep calm and push myself to be as flexible as I possibly could. I explained to the staff what my dietary requirements were without going into too much detail, and they were accommodating, asking me what I would like and they would make me something with what they had available. I gave them a list of ingredients I would like and they literally made a whole new dish for me with most of the ingredients I asked for which was not on the menu – and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it! There were some adjustments they could not make but they did what they could to accomodate me. Though not able to finish the whole plate, I did eat a good amount. Feeling full and satisfied for that moment and relieved the experience was not as bad as I thought it would be.
The next morning we thought we would take advantage of the spa facilities one last time by waking up early to have a swim in the pool and using the sauna and steam rooms all before breakfast. We went to breakfast and again a buffet spread – I must say we were impressed with what was on offer. There was a variety of food, from your cooked traditional English breakfast, to croissants and cereals. I opted for a fried egg, mushrooms and a grilled tomato. Very minimal, but again, I would not usually opt for any of it, again thinking about what it has been cooked in, but I did not let that stop me from eating something. I also got some watermelon from the fruit section – love watermelon – my favourite fruit!

Overall I had a wonderful time, and I am glad I did go, I do not want my fear stopping me from doing so many wonderful things, and it has, I have neglected many social events, many opportunities. It has been a constant conflict with my own mind – one side creating that barrier and another trying to fight it’s way back and take over any irrational thoughts which overwhelm my overall thinking. I wanted to share my experience of going away and my thought process when it came to meal times and how it can make you feel when you have a disordered way of thinking about food, how the illness can affect someone without others realising the extent that one’s mind can go through.

Sometimes we have to face our fear, it may be a long slow process before overcoming any fear, or we may not overcome our fear, but with this particular experience, I tried to manage that fear, finding ways around it, taking that step. Taking that step for me transpired to be a positive experience. My experience may not have gone as well as it did, but I guess we will never know until we try. I would have missed out on the enjoyable break with my friend if I didn’t go, but it has now left me excited for my next adventure, hoping I can go on holiday soon. I know I will have the same thoughts again if I do go away, every experience will be different, some may not go so well, but if I did not take the risk, I would have missed out on the lovely weekend that I had.

As well as trying to overcome the fear, we have to work on our mindset and why we have that fear. I am slowly trying to change my mindset, it is not easy but I am hoping one day I can go away, not think about any fear and just enjoy without the anxiety creeping in. Food is meant to be an enjoyable, socially pleasurable experience and to fuel our bodies. I am looking forward to getting to a place where I am care free and to enjoy myself without the tribulations…I am working towards this, and I know I will get there one day.

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