Is this normal? “I don’t like to eat in front of others”
In this series, we dig into our weird phobias, fixations, and neuroses, and ask ourselves — Is this normal?
I find it incredibly stressful to eat large meals with people. French fries or most conventional appetizers are exceptions though – as long as the latter don’t contain bones and are easy to eat with just a fork or toothpick. In fact lately I’ve started avoiding putting myself under the stress of eating with people and sticking to bites, which leads to conflict with people who for some weird reason probably spawned by the social norms, refuse to respect the boundary I set, and insist that I include a hearty meal for myself in the dinner order. They don’t understand that I find it so stressful doing this, that before I go out to meet people, I prepare small meals that I can just heat up and have when I get back. I know now that I will never eat my fill in the presence of people and that I do not want to go to bed with an almost empty stomach.
I understand that this is certainly unconventional, but is it “normal”? Well, given that we’re all wired differently, shaped by various life experiences, and live with distinct health issues, one person’s “normal” may not agree with that of another. ‘another one.
To start (no pun intended), shameful food can make people embarrassed to eat around others. Statements like – “I can’t believe you’re going to eat all this on your own”; “How can you be hungry already? I just saw you eat; “I guess you don’t know how much these cookies will make you gain weight;” “Wow, you eat really little;” “I don’t care, you have to eat another one parantha, people your age should not eat less; “I can’t believe someone could eat so slowly” – can make people feel guilty about overeating, preventing them from enjoying their food or forcing them to overeat under pressure. The greater the negativity one associates with communal dining experiences, the more stressful the experience can become.
“[W]When she asked me if I wanted seconds, I agreed…until she called me “a little gannet” as she put some on my plate, and the whole table went crazy. makes fun of me,” Lisa Bowman wrote by Metro. “From that moment on, I barely touched my food at home, I was so embarrassed.”
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Of course, for those living with eating disorders or body image issues, such statements can be triggering. But given that we can’t really know who’s struggling with what behind closed doors, it’s perhaps always more considerate to avoid making unwarranted comments about people’s eating habits. “The fact that a person [currently has] or recovering from an eating disorder is completely irrelevant. It’s rude for someone to… comment on what someone else is eating,” a Quora user wrote, adding: “I specify that I am responsible for my food choices and the consequences of these choices. Their contribution is not welcome.
However, negative comments about eating habits are not limited to the amount of food one eats. Social conventions around dining can pose challenges for people like me. As an autistic person, I struggle with proprioception – defined as the “perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body”. As a result, not only do I have trouble using chopsticks, or even knives and forks together, but I often end up having my food ricochet off my plate, dropping my cutlery, or just having trouble eating things like chop suey Where khao suey without spilling it everywhere.
And if I manage to somehow avoid doing all of this – which, believe me, is almost impossible for myself with a disability – then I’ve spent so much time making sure I don’t not make a fool of myself in public that I’ve forgotten to enjoy my food.
Social anxiety, when combined with these, makes communal meals a recipe (no pun intended, again) for disaster – mostly implosive.
Additionally, my autism-induced hypersensitivity also causes me to avoid certain food textures and flavors to avoid being overwhelmed or triggering my gag reflex. My IBS also makes me avoid certain foods to avoid flare-ups, especially if I know I’ve recently dealt with stress (another trigger for the syndrome). People, unfortunately, believe they deserve an explanation every time I say “no” to a certain food rather than just respecting my decision.
My hypersensitivity also makes me hyper aware of the sound of someone else chewing, the smell emanating from their food, the sound of their cutlery hitting their ceramic plate – which makes the experience so overwhelming that I can barely savoring what’s on my plate.
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So naturally it seems easier not to eat around them than to explain why I refuse to eat something, only to receive invalidation and unsolicited advice on how to take advantage of these things anyway – often from people who don’t share my lived experiences or medical professionals who specialize in neurodivergence or any other health issues. health with which I live.
Additionally, some people are simply not comfortable eating with others as a result of formative childhood experiences; it’s just not their “normal”. In 2021, The Swaddle interviewed someone who said, “I have trouble eating with people. If I absolutely have to, I just take a few bites and I’m done. It’s relatively easier for me to eat when I’m alone. I think it may have something to do with the fact that we never sat and ate together as a family while I was growing up. We would just help each other whenever we were free. It’s a very small thing, but I realize how big of an impact it has had on my life. If I’m sitting with 10 people, I just don’t to know how to eat – I feel super uncomfortable; it doesn’t seem natural to me.
And after a long day at work, is it really fair to prevent someone from having their meal in peace simply because it might go against social conventions rooted in, well, what!
And so, I decided that for me, eating on my own is “normal” – regardless of what other people think about it. As the Quora user notes, “I would tell a person that in order for us to continue to enjoy each other’s company, they will need to refrain from evaluating and judging my personal choices.” I could also learn from their book and be firmer about my boundaries so that I don’t have to put myself through unnecessary stress just to please them.