Updated on 4/14/2023

May is National Barbecue Month, a time where social gatherings can provoke stress for those with an eating disorder. When you have an eating disorder, any situation involving food can be difficult, particularly when the food has been prepared by others and you aren’t in control of the recipes. This blog offers suggestions to manage get-togethers including drawing on coping skills.

3 Tips for Facing Barbecue Season with an Eating Disorder

Eating in front of other people can also cause stress. And even if a social event doesn’t include food, interpersonal dynamics can trigger the urge to binge, purge or restrict later in the day. In light of all this, feeling ambivalent, or even nervous, about the social season ahead is understandable.

1. Anticipate Diet Talk When Facing Barbecue Season with an Eating Disorder

It seems that Americans are obsessed with diets and weight loss, even if they substitute euphemisms like “lifestyle” or “clean eating.” Diet culture, a belief system that values specific body types and ways of eating, is so common that people often have a difficult time recognizing it. When people make jokes or talk about weight, recognizing this as an expression of the larger diet culture that affects everyone can help you deflect such comments instead of taking them personally.

2. Draw on Coping Skills During Barbecues with an Eating Disorder

When an eating disorder is added to an already-anxious baseline, the urge to restrict, binge and/or purge can feel overwhelming. Remembering which coping skills have helped you in the past that can prepare you for social outings. Review what’s in your toolbox: deep breathing, texting a trusted friend, taking a quick timeout, changing the topic of conversation and doing the opposite of what the eating disorder voice says are a few examples.

3. Use Social Gatherings as an Opportunity to Heal in Eating Disorder Recovery

Worrying about the menu is common for those with an eating disorder. Too often, this apprehension prevents them from attending parties and other social events. Eating disorders are about food, but ultimately they are not about food. The same is true for social gatherings. While food may be a featured player, it does not have to be the main focus. Before leaving for the party, ask what you want to gain by attending. Is it a chance to reconnect with a dear friend? The prospect of catching up on coworkers’ lives?

Backyard barbecues and other summer gatherings are great opportunities to emerge from the compulsory solitude of the pandemic. Unfortunately, the eating disorder voice is likely to chime in and order, “Stay home!” Social isolation is an eating disorder’s best friend. So venturing out safely is an opportunity to support and advance recovery.

Barbara Spanjers, MS MFT, is a therapist and wellness coach who helps people feel more attuned with food and their body. Learn more.

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