So many eating disorders now develop because of an individual starting some kind of diet, and the main issue with diets is that they are extremely restrictive. Whether or not you’ve gone on to develop an eating disorder, chances are that you’ve been on some sort of diet that involves cutting things out. Paleo, keto, 5:2, Atkins, vegan (so many now choose to become plant-based BECAUSE of it being restrictive, rather than the ethical reasons), WeightWatchers – only to name a few. What do all of these have in common? That foods, sometimes even food groups, are cut out; they’re labelled as bad foods; they shame you for eating those foods.
Consequently, you develop a fear of these foods. It could be a crippling, anxiety-inducing fear that some with EDs develop, or it could simply be a fear of feeling that awful guilt, the thought of having to compensate for eating said food and knowing that others in that diet community will scrutinise and shame you.
Fear foods are a real thing, and they are scary. I remember being stood in the middle of a supermarket and bursting into tears (and a tantrum) over the fact I couldn’t get the diet yoghurts I wanted – the ones that my ED allowed me to eat. All over some yoghurts. Thanks ED. *hugeeeee eye roll*
Has the family member that’s not on a diet brought in a packet of cookies that you’re ‘not allowed’ on your diet, leaving you feeling fearful for the consequences of eating just one of those cookies? I’m going to hitch my bets on that you’ve been in a situation quite similar to that one.
On top of that, you feel extremely deprived – at least your body does if you’re suffering from an ED – wrecking absolute havoc with your body’s signals. EDs and diets in general completely hijack your ability to listen to your body and your body’s ability to trust you. I’ll talk about re-learning to develop this body-mind connection with food soon.
In this article, I’m going to break down my Top 3 Tips for ridding yourself of food fear – these tips will be ED recovery focused, but they 100% apply to banishing this food fear once you ditch the diet (please, for the love of God, ditch the bloody diet!):
Tip 1: Eat the fear foods!
I know it sounds terrifying and completely impossible, but you need to eat them in order to work through the fears. I’m not suggesting you suddenly a eat a whole chocolate fudge cake to yourself. However, you do need to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to tackle this.
I would highly recommend that you try with something small, and make sure you’re around someone you trust – a good friend or close family member. For instance, try having a biscuit with your cuppa with your mum. Tea and biscuits is a completely normal thing, and it’s an achievable first step.
The only way to beat a fear food, is to eat a fear food.
Tip 2: Keep pushing yourself
Eat the same fear foods and sitting with the guilt is hard, but you need to remind yourself that you don’t need to feel guilty about eating – ever. Food isn’t just fuel; it’s enjoyment, it’s family gatherings, it’s special occasions, it’s comforting, it’s catching up with friends. You never have to feel guilty for eating. You deserve to eat.
It’s a hard concept to get your head around, and I fully expect you to be reading this and thinking I’m bonkers for even suggesting that eating these foods is possible, let alone sitting through the guilt. I thought the same though – and I can hand on heart say that it is possible and incredibly necessary.
Once those first baby steps towards challenging fear foods gets easier and you no longer feel guilty about it eating (all the time or to the same extent), it’s easy to just stay there. I know you want to, but this is when you need to dig deep and tackle the next fear food. Maybe now it’s eating a slice of cake with unknown calories with a friend in a coffee shop, or maybe it’s eating a piece of toast with butter. Whatever it is, tackle that one next. And when you’ve conquered that one? Move onto the next. Soon enough, you’ll be managing to tackle every fear food whilst managing guilt – they may still be challenging foods, but they won’t be fear-inducing foods anymore.
Tip 3: Be gentle with yourself
This is a really important point for you all to remember, because fears can return. It’s crucial to remember that this is a process, which is definitely not linear. I’m going to use my experience as an example to show what I mean: I conquered my fear of eating these delicious toffee muffins from a coffee shop that I visit with my best friend, but recently I started feeling guilty after eating it, and now I need to revert back to Tip 1because it’s once again become a fear food. But I’ve conquered it once, so I can do it again!
Along the same lines, as much as I encourage you to keep pushing yourself, you also need to accept that this procss may take time, and it may take a while until you feel ready to conquer some fear foods. I have very few fear foods left to conquer, but one that I do still have to work on? Whole bananas. It’s an odd one because I can eat them slices, but I can’t eat them whole. It’s not a crucial fear food I need to tackle as it doesn’t interfere with my life, but I am also very aware that I do need to face this fear head-on because bananas can be such a good source of nutrition and energy on adventures like hikes. So, be gentle with yourself if a food becomes fear-inducing again. Be gentle with yourself if it’s taking you longer than you expected to tackle a certain food. The right time will come when you’re strong enough to do so, and as disheartening as it may be when a fear food makes a comeback, remember that you’ve done it once – you’ll conquer it again.
You deserve to eat because quite frankly, food is yummy! Guilt is a coping mechanism that doesn’t serve you anymore, so work towards eating these yummy foods and banishing the guilt (and diets!!!).
Sending love to you ladybugs x