Mealtimes can be anxiety-provoking for practically anyone. There are many social eating situations over which people sometimes experience anxiety. Many people anxiously anticipate meals with coworkers, clients, a wedding rehearsal dinner or an attractive coworker’s birthday bash.

But for people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) and related eating disorders, dinners with others can be both frightening and totally overwhelming. For such people, merely thinking about having to interact with others socially while eating can elicit a variety of negative responses, including by not limited to: nervousness, fearfulness, frustration, fatigue, headaches, sadness, and nausea. The fear of dining and dinner conversations is called deipnophobia, and its effects have been described by sufferers as a prolonged panic attack. 

For SAD and disordered eating sufferers, eating socially is directly correlated with feeling physically and mentally sick. Such experiences can cause sufferers to gradually avoid social eating until it becomes a rare event. The result is ever-increasing isolation. Isolation might provide some symptomatic relief, but it also feeds the disease by rewarding self-destructive behavior. Eventually, it is only the sufferer and the disease left to keep each other company.

The way forward for people wanting to recover from such self-destructive impulses begins with acknowledging that they are sick and need help. SAD and related eating disorders have been successfully treated through a variety of related approaches. The psychotherapeutic approach seeks to improve SAD patients’ symptoms by helping them to learn how to recognize and change negative thoughts about themselves while learning how to function more easily in social situations. 

One of the most effective types of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy. In this approach,  patients gradually work up to facing the situations they most fear, helping them improve their coping skills and strengthen their self-confidence when confronted with anxiety-inducing situations like eating meals with other people. 

Sometimes these therapeutic regimens are combined with the use of medications. These medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like paroxetine (Paxil) or sertraline (Zoloft). Other medication options include combination serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). The addition of medication to any treatment program must be approved by a doctor and is likely only to be recommended in conjunction with psychotherapy. 

If you suffer from SAD or related disordered eating, please seek immediate help. A therapist who understands these disorders can you identify negative thoughts connected with social situations like eating with others and replace these thoughts with more reasonable ones. Attending meetings with others who are likewise recovering can lead to the development of a support network that stretches beyond members of one’s immediate family. Remember that recovery from SAD and disordered eating IS possible. Start your recovery journey today by calling Alta Loma Recovery at 866-457-3843.

“I don’t fear pain or failure anymore because I’m too grateful for the pains and failures of my past—they have made me who I am, and most of the good things in my life are a direct result of them in some way.”