I Am #Fearless, Mental Illness
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Understanding Emetophobia: Going Out To Eat

Going out to eat as someone with emetophobia is a complicated venture. It’s not as simple as picking whether you want Chinese or Italian; going out to eat as an emet usually starts with just gathering up the courage to go out at all.

If an emet can gather up the courage to go out to eat, that’s the easy part. Then it’s finding a restaurant they trust, if they have one at all. If they do have one in mind, that makes going out easier, but then it’s selecting the right menu item. Chances are they will pick something they’ve had before and never struggled with, but it won’t stop them from worrying.

They’ll be hyper aware of others around them, probably closely examine their food for any abnormalities in scent, taste or appearance. For me, I had “pink goggles” which made me see pink in meat, especially chicken, when there was none.

Then, if they haven’t psyched themselves out of eating it yet, they will likely only eat half of it, at most, and take the rest home.

After they’ve brought it home the countdown begins – and they wait, anxiously, to see if they’ll get sick. If they don’t, and 99% of the time they won’t, they may consider going back to revisit the leftovers. Then the cycle continues the next time they go out to eat.

Many emets, myself included, struggle with going out to eat out of fear of foodborne illness. As the stomach bug begins to make it’s rounds, going out to eat becomes an even rarer occurrence for emets than it would during the summer.

Chances are if you know an emet, you’ve probably called them a picky eater, assumed they were anorexic or bulimic (which is hilarious to think about honestly – an emet, bulimic? don’t make us laugh!), or criticized their inability to eat a meal when out.

Growing up, that was a huge struggle for me. I’d barely eat food, and when I did I’d prefer it to be on my list of safe foods. Those foods were generally carby in nature, like anything potato based, noodle based or rice based. Bread was also always a good choice.

Of course, after a couple months in counseling I came to realize that no food is safe. The way I saw it, those safe foods were immune to foodborne bacteria, which is simply untrue. That shouldn’t scare you, though, and if it does remember this: it was always unsafe, it’s just now you know. Do I need to do a refresher on NIKS?

Just because you know doesn’t mean the risk has changed, the risk has always been there. If anything, that should give you confidence! You’ve eaten that same food for all your life and never had issues, why should this knowledge change how you feel about it?

But for many years before that I was constantly glared at over the dinner table for picking at my food, or just moving it around. I would barely touch what I had, and after only a few bites I’d excuse myself to the restroom, come back and not eat it again.

I had family, friends, teachers doctors and sport coaches call me anorexic, and instead of reaching out to help me I was usually scolded, looked down on or punished. Sometimes though it seemed it was easier for people to think I was actually anorexic than trying to explain something I didn’t fully understand myself – which was this fear of getting sick.

At the worst of my phobia, I didn’t know it had a name, and I thought I was crazy. So how was I supposed to tell people, “No, I’m not anorexic, I just have emetophobia!” when I didn’t even know that’s what it was?

I know I’m not alone in that sentiment, because I think many people spend most of their emetophobia years without a name for it. They just think they are crazy, over reacting and overall a nuisance to those around them. Of course, that’s completely not true.

And when it comes to food, it’s even harder to explain their hesitancy.

Thankfully, most food establishments (with the exception of Chipotle this past year) are fairly good at abiding by the strict health standards to keep their customers safe. More times than not, you will walk away from your meal unscathed and happy.

Going out to eat is tough as an emet, but with the right coping tools and consistency, it’s easy to start getting used to eating out. Find a restaurant you trust, and a meal there you love a lot. Eat that meal every time you go there and slowly get used to the idea that after eating 10, 20, 30 times you can eat out without issue.

And if you know an emet who struggles with going out to eat, be supportive. Understand they are struggling, and that will make warming up to going out easier. Don’t give them a hard time, and praise them if they eat a little more than usual.

Most importantly though – don’t get angry. They are doing their best, and the more you encourage them, the better they’ll get.

Until next time, Internet.

If you would like to email me, you can send any questions, concerns, comments or suggestions to contact@hashtagfearless.com. I will do my best to respond to you within 48 hours, but if for some reason I cannot get back to you in that time frame, I promise I will always respond as soon as possible. You can also find me on  FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram

Lastly, I run an Emetophobia Support Group on Facebook. Emetophobia is the intense and irrational fear of throwing up, and it is one struggle I am passionately engaged in. The group is a closed, by request only group to help facilitate sharing and support by all members. It is also private, meaning that the posts you and others make will not show up publicly in your newsfeed.

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