Restaurants and Recovery from Binge Eating Disorder

Two People in a Restaurant Cafe

Going to a restaurant while in recovery from Binge Eating Disorder (BED) can be a daunting experience. The challenges presented in an atmosphere where temptation feels high, and control feels low can be so overwhelming that many treatment facilities include restaurant outings as part of their treatment process.

Are we making this already large hill into a mountain? Don’t get me wrong, I am not minimizing the challenge of eating out while in BED recovery at all. I know that challenge because I have lived it.

Even so, when we place such a frightening emphasis on this experience, we set ourselves up to approach it with trepidation, anxiety, and fear. Instead, there are ways to approach this as a challenge that is unquestionably difficult but not one that we need to fear.

This is not “The Hunger Games,” you don’t need the “odds to be ever in your favor.” You have the strength, resilience, and skills to overcome this new challenge. If you don’t believe this, let me review a few things to remind you that you can do this.

Fear vs. Fight

To begin, practice adjusting your outlook on this experience. As much as our disordered and anxious minds want us to be fearful of that which is uncertain, we have other options.

Yes, it can be a new challenge to go to a restaurant when you are in recovery from BED. Yes, your anxious and fearful emotions are valid. No, you do not have to be bound by them.

The practice of “reframing” in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves taking something you may view one way and attempting to see it in another way. For example, instead of looking at eating in a restaurant as an experience to be feared, look at it as an exciting opportunity to strengthen your recovery skills.

Instead of bracing yourself to feel uncomfortable and out of control, prepare yourself to put on your recovery toolbelt and face the opportunity for growth.

This does not mean we pretend this experience isn’t difficult, new, or overwhelming. It means that we acknowledge the event but remind ourselves that we are capable of handling this challenge instead of it handling us.

Make it an Event

The support system is crucial in binge eating disorder recovery, and when we choose to use our support system, it can make a big difference in progress. Eating at a restaurant in your recovery, whether it is the first or 50th time, is a time where including your support system can help tremendously.

You don’t need to ask every single member of your family or friends or treatment team to join you, especially if this is one of your first times back in a restaurant. However, you may feel quite anxious or challenged and someone from your support team joining you can be comforting.

Friends are Factors in Binge Eating Disorder TreatmentHaving someone by your side to make this event a joyful and fun outing is as important as being able to talk through your thoughts and concerns. This team member can help in discussing coping skills and is like having your lifeline right there in the thick of the battle.

Set Yourself up for Success

For those recovering with BED, restaurants present a unique challenge because they were previously a tool of their disorder. This is especially true for fast-food restaurants, which studies show can be triggering to those who struggle with binge eating behaviors and contribute to the maintenance of the disorder [1].

In fact, women recovering from binge eating disorder have reported that going home from work or school was triggering for them, particularly if there were food cues in their home environment [1].

As such, setting yourself up for success means creating a plan. For example, you do not need to avoid a restaurant that you once went to and engaged in disordered eating behaviors. However, knowing that this may be a triggering experience means preparing for how you will cope.

There are ways to help you cope and ensure that support is available.

  • Bring a list of your coping skills and affirmations
  • Have a supportive individual join you
  • Schedule a session with a treatment team member, therapist, or mentor afterward

The truth is, there is no telling what the experience of eating at a restaurant in recovery will be like for you, and it will likely be different each time. Even so, what is certain is that you have the skills and strength to overcome this challenge and use it as an opportunity for growth and continued recovery.


[1] Ledoux, T., et al. (2012). The association of binge eating and neighborhood fast-food restaurant availability on diet and weight status. Public Health Nutrition, 18:2.

About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published July 17, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on July 17, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

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