"The Usual"

I am once again on the road for my freelance job (meeting to go to this morning- I left my place last night, spent the night in a nice hotel with crap Internet access), which means facing the task of eating on the road. I knew that I would need to eat dinner at about the halfway point of my 4.5 hour drive, seeing as I left at 5pm. I had found a craft store to pick up some yarn at the halfway point (I feel ridiculously oblique writing this, but I'm really paranoid about privacy since I use my real name), seeing as the store by me was all out of the one color that I needed, so I figured I would eat after I got my yarn.

Which I did.

I was going to go to Panera, since it's a pretty "safe" choice AND one where I know I could meet my meal plan requirements without flipping out. But en route from the craft store to Panera, I saw the sign that Moe's Southwestern Grille had recently opened. We have a Moe's by me, and it's a favorite of mine and my parents.

I have my "usual" that I get when I go. It started as a way to use a coupon or some other deal, and I really liked it, so I kept ordering it.  It's pretty much my default when I go. I don't go to Panera that much, so I didn't have a default decision.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that one of the reasons I really wanted to go to Moe's was because there was a default. I didn't have to decide and calculate calories and things like that. I could just order and pretend I was sort of human instead of agonizing over the menu for half an hour and then spend the next little bit filled with gut-gnawing doubt that I had ordered the "right" thing.

It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't have an eating disorder, exactly how hard restaurants and ordering can be. I don't really have food fears anymore. I'm a little wary at the idea that I don't always know exactly what's in my food, but generally I'm over that. I can deal with it just fine, even if it isn't my favorite idea. For me, the anxiety is over having to decide what to eat from a vast array of options. I find it totally overwhelming.

So that's why I wanted to head to Moe's with my "usual."

Don't get me wrong- I loved my dinner and am glad I ate there over Panera, all other things being equal. But it made my life so much easier to just order without looking at the menu and second-guessing myself. I am that much of a creature of habit. I didn't even think to order anything else. And it was nice to be on my own and eat a complete restaurant meal by myself and not have a total breakdown.

Maybe that's part of the function of "safe foods." It's not just that they're generally lower calorie or whatever, it's also that they help limit our choices when things get overwhelming. Options are a good thing--really, they are--and I'm definitely glad that I've tackled my fear foods. But it also helps for me to have something to order when I can't make up my mind, too. That I can default to XYZ and meet my nutritional needs and also find a pressure release valve for my anxiety.

Does that make any sense? Do any of you do this, too? Please share in the comments, but also try to be mindful not to be too specific about foods and calories lest things get competitive or triggering. I want my blog to be a safe place!


Jessie said...

I do this ALL the time. Whenever we got to restraunts, I always get the same thing. Wait, that's a lie. I have two options that I choose between when my family goes to McDonalds (Oh, the horror... and I'm not sure if I'm being sarcastic or not.) But other than that, it's always the same thing. Fortunately, it's things I like.
GOing to restraunts is hard, especially because before I started recovery, I looked up the nutrition facts for EVERY SINGLE RESTRAUNT in Winnipeg, so I could choose the "safest" option, if, Heaven forbid, I had to eat there. I still stick with my "safe" options, but thankfully, thy're things I like.
Good to know I'm not the only one who does this. Keep working towards recovery Carrie, I know you can do it!

Cammy said...

Yes I totally do this. You're right, having a go-to "usual" is good in that it saves a ton of anxiety and time when it comes to ordering.

One key, I think, is finding a "usual" that you're both comfortable with and that is substantial enough. I ran into this recently, when I had had a really active day and needed a significant refuel. I could have "afforded" (ED thinking!) any number of things on the menu, but in the moment I automatically just ordered the usual even though it wasn't enough. Granted, I supplemented later at Starbucks, but in the moment I was very frustrated with myself for feeling so programmed. So that's one downside, but I do think that anxiety-saving function of having a usual is a significant plus.

I love Moe's too. ;) Glad that you had a positive experience with eating on the go, being on the road is tough when it comes to food sometimes.

drstrangelove said...

Yep. I have a few places where I have a norm. I don't think people understand the overwhelming panic at the very simple things. Just an unexpected choice could be terribly anxiety producing for me (better with that now). Have a great weekend and have fun camping!



Tia said...

have a great weekend. i totally hear you ...

hm said...

Absolutely. Trying to read all the different foods and make a decision is like trying to read an instruction manual written in Chinese. I already know what I want before I go there, or else I don't want to go.

Further, I've taken to packing my own food up to take with me on vacations. I used to plummet when away from my house, b/c everyone else has such different foods and I didn't know what exactly to expect. Now, in order to maintain my recovery and meet my meal requirements, I just take a bunch of my own stuff. No surprises = calm me = still in recovery.

Gina said...

I do this all the time. (Actually, I'm currently not quite in a place where I'm able to eat out and fulfill my meal plan, so I don't, but I DID do this all the time). You probably have seen it, but Kara Fitzpatrick has a lecture on youtube that addresses how given a choice between 2 things, people with anorexia often choose nothing rather than having to make a decision. Neurologically, a lot of people who have anorexia struggle with making a decision when nothing is familiar. (I'm probably getting parts of this wrong, but have the right idea.) When I'm meal planning with my RD, she knows to give me variety without leaving loopholes (a favorite quote of her's is something like, "if you're not sure whether to have 'A' or 'B' to fulfill this exchange you're more likely to chose nothing than either of them, so let's be very clear...")

The point is no: you're not alone! This is your life, not an eating out challenge: you might as well have what you know works for you mentally and will fit your meal plan. It's not like you're eating the same meal at the same restaurant daily (which would be an issue, I think)

Sorry for blabbering on and on. Enjoy your weekend!

Myszka said...

Yes I do. It usually goes like this.
Oh, A sounds nice... but I'm too fat to order A. Oh B, be sounds quite safe and tasty but everyone will tell me that it's not enough so I'll probably have to add C to the order and it will be too much... oh and there is B with extra D but, well, it doesn't look that safe anymore.

Oh and when I'm invited for dinner there is some extra "I don't deserve to make them pay for such expensive meal" factor involved.

I love your blog, btw. I have it in my feed :)

Anonymous said...

I am the only person of all my friends/family who only eats one or two items off the menu anywhere I go. Definately my safe items but my husband thinks I'm just picky. I like knowing exactly how many calories I'm taking in without using a calculator. It also doesn't draw attention to the fact that I keep track. As long as I eat something acceptable to them they don't make the is that all you're eating comment.

Anna said...

I have Fructose Malabsorption (i can't digest wheat, most fruit, onion, leek, garlic etc.) so i have a very specific order (Lrg Sliced chicken Pho with no onion or spring onion) that i get whenever i go out for a meal. It always has to be from a Vietnamese restaurant. I have this one restaurant that i walk in, sit down and they bring me my "usual", i don't even need to say anything, which is nice! I know its something that i can tolerate, and i've made the decision never to look up the specific nutritional details. All i know is that it's more than nutritionally adequate for lunch or dinner.

However, if i go to any restaurant that isn't Vietnamese, its a nightmare. I not only worry about the ingredients in each meal (whether it will make me ill or not) as well as the nutrition content, and whether it'll make me fat or not. The anxiety is so bad i never enjoy my meal, and the next time we go out it'll be for Vietnamese.

HungryMac said...

I used to have a "usual" at every single restaurant we'd go to. And we simply wouldn't go to a new restaurant most of the time. If I HAD to, I would need to find the menu online before I'd commit to going. Food fear, sure. Texture/OCD issues, sure. But, like you, the act of deciding was just too much. It's one of the things I'm working the hardest on in treatment these days. Being able to face a food decision with multiple options. Oy. But it's getting better. Actually, one of the ways I'm challenging myself is that we're trying to keep picking new and interesting restaurants if we're going to go out. I allow myself advance glimpses at the online menus to just see what is available, so as to not totally panic, but then we go. For me, it's an OK combo.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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