Social gatherings and meals go hand-in-hand. But for people with Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), these situations can trigger a whole other kind of anxiety. You battle with not just the anxieties of being around people but the internal struggles of eating normally.

The fear of judgment can turn a fun dinner party into a stressful nightmare. However, there are strategies to manage both social anxiety and ARFID when eating in public with the details on ARFID treatment.

Understand Why Your Anxiety Triggers

Understanding the reason behind your anxiety is important. ARFID usually comes from sensory overloads, fear of choking, or negative past experiences associated with food. These anxieties can be easily triggered in social situations. You might feel the stress of understanding the unfamiliar menu, being surrounded by people, and struggling internally by judging your every food choice. Social anxiety makes it more difficult.

Here are some common reasons why social eating can be stressful for you:

  • You worry that people will think you’re picky and rude or that you have a negative self-image.
  • You feel obliged to eat what everyone else is having, even if it triggers your ARFID anxieties.
  • Restaurants are filled with overwhelming sights, smells, and textures, which intensifies anxieties.
  • You may struggle with unfamiliar food options and prefer the comfort of your safe foods. This can cause panic in unfamiliar situations.

How to Take Control of Your Social Eating Anxiety?

Once you know your triggers, you’ll be able to take control of your social eating anxiety. There are ways to manage them and enjoy social gatherings. For example, let your friends or hosts know about your ARFID. Briefly explain your limitations and preferred foods. A little understanding can help you reduce stress.

Research restaurant menus beforehand and pick safe options. If you are unsure about the food options, pack a safe snack or meal so you have something you can comfortably eat. The primary purpose of social gatherings should be connection, not food. Shift your focus to enjoying the company and conversation.

Don’t pressure yourself to eat a full meal. Take a bite or two of something you’re comfortable with. If your anxiety starts to creep in, practice mindfulness techniques like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.

Challenge negative thoughts with self-compassion. Remind yourself that you’re not picky; you have a genuine medical condition. Acknowledge your progress, no matter how small. Each comfortable social meal is a win.

Additional Tips for Specific Scenarios

If you are attending buffets or potlucks, these settings are usually ARFID-friendly. You can choose small portions of familiar foods and minimize the risk of overwhelming textures or surprise ingredients. At potlucks, bring a dish you can enjoy.

If a full meal is too much for you, choose drinks and appetizers. Many restaurants offer healthy snack options. For holidays and family gatherings, talk to your family and discuss ways to adapt the menu to include some safe foods you can enjoy.

Get Professional Help

If your social anxiety and ARFID are impacting your life, get professional help as soon as possible. A therapist can help you with tools like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to manage thought patterns and anxiety triggers. They can also help develop exposure therapy strategies to increase your comfort level in social eating situations gradually.

Connect with others who understand your struggles. Many online forums and support groups provide a safe space to share your experiences and learn from others. When you explain your ARFID to others, speak clearly and confidently. The more your friends and family understand it, the better they will support you.

Closing Thoughts

Living with ARFID and social anxiety can be a challenge, but it shouldn’t define you. With these tips and strategies, you can learn to cope with social situations more confidently. Focus on the quality of your interaction, not the quantity of food you consume. This will help you enjoy social gatherings, stay true to your dietary needs, and manage your anxiety at the same time. Enjoy the company of others without the fear of food stealing the show.