Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The challenge of restaurants

I worked for several years in an eating disorder treatment center. It was there that I first worked, at least clinically, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I have a small publication on the topic that I wrote in the days after 9/11. While I was updating it this week, I ran across some information I'd written for this booklet on restaurant eating that may be helpful for people in recovery.

Sometimes, addictions can develop as a way to dull your awareness to the after-effects of trauma. Restaurants can be especially challenging to people with PTSD, because they can be noisy, and chaotic, with lots of sensory input from the sights, sounds, and smells of food, not to mention the people preparing it and eating it. It can be an easy place to start to crave, especially since the visual trigger of a bar and other people drinking is often part of the restaurant experience.

If you're noticing that restaurants are stressful, just aren't as fun, or are triggering cravings, consider trying the following:

--go during an off hour, when there are fewer people and noises
--pick a restaurant with just a few choices on the menu
--be a "regular" at a favorite place so that people are familiar
--if the weather is nice and it is an option, ask to be seated outdoors so that you can focus on other things that aren't quite so triggering
--get a copy of the menu beforehand and at least narrow your choice down to a few possibilities

If you are aware that it's potentially the chaos, and you have several tricks up your sleeve to minimize the chance that this chaos will cause problems, eating out in restaurants can hopefully be enjoyable instead of something to dread.

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