Fear Foods in Eating Disorder Recovery

Today we’re going to talk about FEAR FOODS.

Fear foods. I can almost guarantee that anyone with a history of disordered eating has experience with fear foods. Fear foods are the foods that, during restriction, you may avoid avoid with every fiber of your being. If you’re a binge eater or in a binge/purge cycle, these may be foods that have caused you to binge in the past.  You may think these foods are going to derail your health. You may think these foods are instantly going to add 10 pounds to your body. You may think these foods are going to cause an unavoidable, never-ending binge. You may think these foods are going to totally unravel your life and ruin your chance for happiness

Guess what?

They’re not.

Food fears differ for everyone- for some people, it can be pizza. For some people, it can be ice cream or bananas or potatoes or candy bars or milkshakes or pasta or pretty much any food out there. For the years I restricted my eating, my fear food list was long and extensive. I avoided a lot- almost all desserts, pasta, packaged foods, pastries, juice, pizza. I could go on and on.

When I started recovery, I made a list of all these foods and went about crossing them off one by one. My first big fear food win was ordering banana stuffed french toast when I went out to breakfast with my partner. I was anxious, of course, but having someone who loved me there as a source of support was immensely helpful. A few weeks after that, him and I went out for a mid-afternoon snack of McDonald’s fries and vanilla milkshake. Up until that point, I simply could not have imagined a time in my life where I could snack on fries and a milkshake. A “snack” like that would have caused me to restrict for days. It would have immediately caused a surge of guilt and shame that would have swirled around and consumed me like flames in a fire. In the beginning of recovery, these wins took a lot of effort, a lot of strength and took up a lot of mental space.

A few weeks ago, my boss (conveniently my sister) brought in donuts for a staff meeting at work. Guess what? I ate one and thought so little of it, that it didn’t occur to me that I had eaten a fear food until later in the day. I was on a walk on my favorite trail when it occurred to me and I nearly laughed with joy when I realized that if that happened a year before, I would have been running on that same trail to “work off” the donut I had eaten earlier in the day. In fact, it was such a non-event that I didn’t even stop to take a picture like I normally do when I have an ED win. It was simply not a big deal.

Last week, my sister and I made a plan to go shopping. She asked me if I wanted to grab lunch before. A year ago, I would have made up every excuse so I wouldn’t have to eat out. I used to dread eating out. I used to despise lunch and think that only certain foods could be eaten at certain times of the day. But that is also immensely false. There is no reason to fear eating at certain times. There is no right or wrong time to eat.

My point here is this: fear foods exist for most people with disordered eating or lifelong dieters or binge eaters  or anyone who has ever been on a diet. There’s usually some foods that are labeled “bad” or “off-limits”. But the truth is that no foods are bad. No foods are good. All foods have nutrients in them- the amounts and the types vary but every food you eat offers your body something. And your body needs different nutrients all the time- and sometimes it needs food for the soul, not just for the physiological need of keeping your body alive.

No foods should be feared. No foods should be labeled “good” or “bad”. All foods are food and that’s that. All foods can be eaten at all times. All foods can be eaten without compensating with restriction or exercise. All foods can be eaten without compromising your health or your idea of health. I eat (full-fat, full-sugar) ice cream nearly every night and I am arguably the healthiest I have ever been in my life. I ordered pizza at dinner the other night just because I felt like it- it was delicious, satisfying and in that moment, the healthy decision for me.

 

The bottom line is that all foods fit. There will be times in your life you crave the foods that are considered “healthy”- fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc etc. There will be times in your life that you crave the foods that are considered “unhealthy”- ice cream, chips, sugary cereals. And that’s okay. That’s life. And guess what? Your body knows what you need even if your mind disagrees.

In fact, just this morning, I was perusing Whole Foods before work. I was still a little hungry after my breakfast and discovered chocolate chip hazelnut biscotti in the bakery section. Immediately, I thought that I couldn’t have that so early in the day. I walked around trying to find something else that would fill me up but be “healthier”, my ED voice momentarily taking over before I realized that there was nothing else I really wanted. I marched myself back over to the bakery, grabbed a biscotti and ate in my car with my coffee before work. And guess what? It was great- there was no guilt, there was no compensation, there was no nothing except for delicious biscotti goodness. I tell this story for two reasons: 1) your body knows what you need (really it does) and 2) you may still struggle with fear foods long after you start recovery. I’ve been in recovery for almost 6 months and my ED voice still pops her head in every now and then to tell me to restrict or to choose something “healthier” And that will happen at some point to most people in recovery. No one chooses to recover and is immediately better. That’s just not the way it works. But conquering fear foods is an essential part of recovery and it is something that is worth fighting for.  I challenge each and every one of you to eat something that scares you, something that makes you uncomfortable, something that you may not “allow” yourself to eat. If you feel so inclined, write about it in the comments below- I want to hear!

Wishing you all a happy week ahead!

Questions:
Do you have any fear foods?
What helps you to conquer fear foods?
Any plans (good or bad) for the week?