Look, I don’t know who needs to hear this today, but you do not deserve to be uncomfortable around food or to feel anxious when certain foods are around. If you ever feel this way, you may have what we call “fear foods.”
But wait, how do I know if something is a fear food?
Typically a fear food is something that you:
- Don’t feel comfortable eating
- Feel anxious at the thought of eating it
- Will only have for special occasions
- Want to plate yourself, and don’t feel comfortable with someone else preparing it
- Feel the need to limit
- Don’t want to buy at the store
- Feel guilty after consuming it at all
Why can fear foods be an issue?
This exact question is something we talk about extensively in the Eating Disorder PATH. Essentially holding onto fear or anxiety around a meal or snack can definitely impact your relationship with food in general as well as your overall health. If being around certain food impacts your mental or physical health, it can lead to withdrawing from social situations, a surge in food preoccupation and disconnect you from your ability to truly listen to your body cues about what type and how much food it is needing in the moment. The truth is, consistently worrying about food can impact your health a lot more than the food itself.
We know that being fearful of eating can hold you back from fully enjoying your day-to-day eating. So, let’s conquer them together with these 5 steps.
1) Make a list of fear foods
If there are any foods that fit the bill for one or more of the bullet points listed above, you have yourself a fear food. That’s okay! That’s why we’re here! There may be some that are scarier than others, and that’s normal. List them all, from “I’m only a little uncomfortable around it,” to “I would never in a million years eat that!” (Though, never say never).
It’s okay if you can’t think of them all at once - you can constantly add to this list if you think of more foods you are fearful of. Let’s say that you’re out at a restaurant and someone orders something for the table, which brings you some anxiety - add it to the list!
2) Choose 1-2 foods at a time to focus on
It’s not feasible to challenge every fear food at once. In fact, it would likely be quite overwhelming and frustrating to do so. So, one step at a time. Take a look at your list, and choose one or two foods that you want to challenge. Then, once you’ve become a bit more comfortable with those, you can move on to another food to conquer.
Keep in mind that some foods may take longer to challenge than others based on how scary you perceive them to be. Remember - this is a process! You’ll be surprised at how taking small steps can add up to something bigger over time.
3) Reflect on the root of fear
If you can, think about what it is about this food that landed it on the list of fear foods. For example - when did you stop consuming the food? Did someone make a comment about this food being “bad”? Did you see this food condemned on the front of a magazine cover? Does it fall within a food group that you’ve been avoiding?
I’m willing to bet that diet culture may be playing a role here. Fact checking diet culture and getting to the root of these fear foods is no easy task. If you need help with reframing these fear foods, or want to learn more about how diet culture plays a role in our eating habits, reach out to one of our registered dietitians, or join the Eating Disorder PATH for more support. Once you’ve identified the root of the fear food, it becomes easier to demystify it!
4) Use all 5 senses to re-introduce the food
Now, we’re not saying that you have to go all in and eat the food right away. You know when you go to the beach and the water is freezing so you have to walk in slowly, letting the water inch up your body? Same thing here - it can be helpful to re-introduce food slowly, starting with a baby step.
First, use your sense of sight just to observe the food. Look at all the different kinds of it in the store. Have it on your plate without the intention of eating it yet.
Then, you can begin to touch the food with your fingers or your utensil. Bring the food to your lips, but don’t put it in your mouth yet. What does it feel like to you?
Next, smell it! Fun fact - smell is the sense that is most connected to our memory! Are there any fond memories that this food brings back for you?
Finally, experiment with the taste. Even if you take one or two bites, take note of what the food tastes like, and what you might like to pair it with next time.
If you’re having trouble getting past any of these steps, contact a meal coach. They can actually sit with you during a meal and walk you through the process of incorporating these foods.
5) Add the fear food to your daily routine
To help you eat a fear food more frequently, try adding it to a food that you’re comfortable with so it doesn’t seem as daunting. For example, if one of your fear foods is rice, but you eat cauliflower rice all the time, try mixing them together! Or if peanut butter is on your list of fear foods, but yogurt feels “safe,” mix some PB into your yogurt to make a dip for apples or graham crackers.
Then, each time you incorporate a fear food, try adding it in bigger quantities until you’re comfortable with having it on your own.
If you’re reading this thinking, “no way - incorporating fear foods is way too scary,” give us a shout! We’re here to help, with 1 on 1 planning and accountability with an RD, or goal setting with our recovery coaches. Learn more about the services that NourishRX offers right here and dive into the Eating Disorder PATH here!