tackling fear foods can feel incredibly overwhelming. understanding the root cause and that it’s a multi-layer process is key to working through this.
Today I wanted to take a minute to talk fear foods. There was once a time where doing something like baking oatmeal chocolate chip cookies would have filled me with anxiety. I would have been so worried about how I was going to compensate with future meals and workouts that I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the process.
When I was restricting/controlling my intake, fear foods controlled my life. They decided what social gatherings I would attend, who I would eat with, the activities I was willing to participate in, family traditions I would take part in and the restaurants I would go to. It was all-consuming and only got worse the more I delved into diet culture’s notions of what was ‘healthy.’
Here’s what I’ll tell you about overcoming food fears: it’s as important to understand and tackle the root cause of the fear as it is to face the food itself.
Food fears are often not actually about the food, but how we perceive that food is going to impact our weight and/or health. The fears themselves manifest through food because we’re told over and over that the food we eat is directly responsible for our weight and our health.
But here’s the thing: we’ve all likely eaten a fear food at one point and found that that instance of including the food we’ve voluntarily opted out of has not deteriorated our health or caused a drastic change in our weight. We also know by now that there are so many other factors that impact our weight, health & well-being outside just how we eat (or move our bodies).
So yes, facing and incorporating the foods we fear is important but we also have to work to unlearn the thinking that one food, one meal or one week of eating is going to have detrimental impacts on our health & weight. In addition, tackling fear foods becomes a much easier process when we are truly able to hand over trust to our bodies to regulate our health & weight.
This can be particularly difficult when we don’t feel our natural body shape fits into the unrealistic thin ideal diet culture promotes. However, the solution to that is not to change your body to meet that ridiculous ideal. Instead, working to understand that all bodies are good bodies, health can be achieved at any size and working to expose yourself to and embrace body diversity ultimately frees you from the idea that you have to change your body to fit this impossible standard of beauty.
When you feel ready to tackle a fear food, here are 3 things I recommend (in addition to the above work):
- Incorporate a fear food with or immediately after a satisfying meal. Eating a fear food on an empty stomach may lead to overeating it (as your body is simply looking for any energy when it’s hungry) which will only further endorse the idea that it’s something to be feared.
- Choose a time when you can eat the food slowly and mindfully. This will allow you to pay attention to the different sensations your body has when you eat it (does it bring you pleasure? do you like the taste? is it satisfying?). Note: you may find it most helpful to work through this with a professional who can guide the experience for you.
- Take notice of how you feel before, during & after you eat it. What is the overriding feeling / sensation you have? Is it guilt or a true deterioration of health / change in body size? Feel free to simply make mental notes, journal about it or have an in-person discussion about it with a professional.
Doing the above will not only help you tackle the food fear, but will also help you understand the underlying reasoning for the fear. You can go through the above activity as many or as little times as you want with as many or as few foods as you feel comfortable. Often the more you repeat it, you see that not only nothing terrible happens when you incorporate that food, but you also may begin to see just how much pleasure that food can bring you. In addition, you’ll gain valuable insight and learning about your body, tastes & preferences each time.
Most of all, remember that letting go of food fears takes time. It’s a journey to get to a point where you can truly enjoy foods you’ve been conditioned to believe will harm your health or impact your weight; but ultimately doing so leads to a much more fulfilling life.
Do you struggle with food fears? What foods scare you the most or what do you have the hardest time with when it comes to reversing diet culture messaging around certain foods?1