By Sydney Navarro
Sydney Navarro is currently completing her Dietetic Internship at Cal Poly SLO (2021-2022), with the end goal of becoming a Registered Dietitian. She grew up in New Jersey, then moved to sunny San Diego where she earned her B.S. in Foods and Nutrition from San Diego State University (2021). Sydney is most passionate about fitness and exercise. She hopes to combine her expertise in nutrition as an RD with her love for all things fitness, to help individuals live in the healthiest version of themselves! In her free time, Sydney loves going on long runs, taking walks while listening to her favorite podcast, trying new restaurants, and watching sunsets with her friends.
Social gatherings are a part of the college experience! They are a time to meet people, make connections, have meaningful conversations, find out more about your real interests, and foster relationships. Hey, I even met one of my best friends from college at my first Student Nutrition Organization meeting! However… ED (your eating disorder) might have a different idea about these social gatherings.
Do you feel yourself getting anxious anticipating your sorority pancake fundraiser? The club meeting filled to the brim with pizza boxes and soda? The birthday dinners at restaurants you have never been to before? Or even the career fair where you find yourself surrounded by endless tables of free cookies, muffins, and doughnuts? How in the world will you navigate through!? Well, first of all, I want to assure you that this feeling is okay and it is normal. Maneuvering through the food aspect of social gatherings can be overwhelming, and even deter you from attending an event that you really want to go to. Sometimes the ED voice might tell you, “you are going to be too tempted by all that food, it’s probably best if you don’t go so you don’t risk eating anything you ‘shouldn’t’.”
The food that accompanies social events can be very triggering for someone with an eating disorder. The variety and amount of different foods can be a lot to handle. The food may even become the focus of the event and it can be hard to even pay attention to the person you are talking to! But, this does not have to be your fate. There are tools and ideas that you can lean on to ensure that you seamlessly glide through any social event while keeping those ED thoughts at bay.
Before I move into some strategies that you can utilize during your next social event, I want to plant some ideas in your brain… some food for thought 😉
The food is there for your enjoyment, it is not the star of the show.
The food is just an element, like the lights or centerpieces of flowers. It’s just a sweet addition (no pun intended) that adds some flare to a social event, not the main event. The food is there because it is meant to be enjoyed and shared with others. Food has great power to connect people and bring people together. Sharing a bite with someone you just met could spark some really meaningful conversation.
It’s okay to have something that you want!
You have permission to relax around the food and trust your body. Love yourself enough to enjoy what is there. Allow yourself to enjoy that food that you want so badly. Giving in to ED might feel good in the moment, but it won’t benefit you later. Letting yourself have that cookie that you have been eyeing the whole time, will actually keep you from entering a binge cycle later. One cookie now could save you from a sleeve of oreos later. Honor yourself by honoring your cravings.
You are safe around this food, and you have the power to quiet ED telling you otherwise.
Being around all this food, you may start to feel out of control, out of your comfort zone, or just plain panicked! It is important to remember that you are safe. You are safe because you are in the driver seat, not ED. You can choose to have something, you can choose to have two things, you can choose to save something for later! Your power of choice keeps you safe in your decisions and safe in this food-tuation (AKA food situation). Yes, I’m coining a new term.
Now, it’s time to fill your tool belt with strategies that you can use during your next social gathering. When the food that surrounds you starts to feel overwhelming or is triggering ED thoughts/behaviors, utilize these tools to calm and recenter yourself.
- Nourish your body and your mind PRIOR to the event.
This tool is vital. Throughout the day leading up to the event, it is important that you are nourishing your body and your mind, by getting all of your meals and snacks in. Just because you have a big event coming up later in the day that you know will have food, does not mean that you should not eat all day to “save up” for that food later.
Keeping your body and mind nourished with food before the event will ensure that you can be fully present in the moment and self-aware. If your body and mind have been starved of nourishment all day, how can your sole focus not be on all of the food?
Adequate nutrition before the social gathering will allow you to focus more on the people you talk to, the place you are in, your surroundings, and your true feelings. A hungry brain can’t expect to perform in any situation! Give your mind and body the fuel it needs to succeed.
- Take a step away from the crowd if you need to… that is okay.
When you start to feel the anxiety coming… (the mind is getting foggy, thoughts are getting overwhelming, feelings of ED behavior are looming) connect back to yourself by taking a step away from everyone. Go find a quiet spot in another room, go outside, even go to the bathroom for a minute! Wherever you can find a safe space, go there and take a pause. Check in with your feelings and emotions. Try to identify what you are feeling, and let it ride through you. Remember, you have control over your thoughts, not ED. Start to calm those triggering thoughts and feelings by…
- Read an excerpt from notes that you have in your phone
- Read your favorite quote that always recenters you
- Repeat positive affirmations to yourself
- I am safe around this food
- I give myself permission to enjoy myself
- I trust my soul to lead me in the right direction that will best serve me
Then when you are ready, return to the event with a re-centered, calm, and positive mindset. This tool can take you as much time as you need to get back to your sense of self. Remember to not ignore the feelings when they come up. Take a step away, notice the feelings, work through them, and return more grounded and confident.
- Lean into your inner social butterfly!
Social events in college are so valuable because they allow you to make connections with so many different people! Remember why you are there! To meet people, right?! Have some really cool conversations, meet some rad people and form lasting friendships. ED is not allowed to hijack this good time. If ED thoughts start to come up, try to further immerse yourself in the event. This may sound to be even more overwhelming, but trust me, it helps. What I mean by this is try to remember someone’s name that you met and really liked, go start a new conversation with someone you want to get to know, go compliment someone on their outfit! Engaging in these positive behaviors will slowly push away the temptation to engage in the not-so-positive behaviors. This one might take practice, and that is okay. That just means you get the chance to meet even more people! Now spread your wings and be that social butterfly you know you are (or aspire to be)!
I want to leave you all with one last thing. You deserve to have a good time. You deserve to enjoy yourself, enjoy a slice of pizza, enjoy the company of others, and be free. Be present in the moment and remember why you are there. You are more than capable, and I know it. So next time you are faced with a social gathering that you think might be a tough food-tuation to maneuver, remember these ideas and utilize these tools. Set yourself up for success. YOU can go and have fun, but ED is not allowed to come. ED didn’t make the invite list 😉