Fear foods, as the name suggests, describe certain foods that someone feels anxious, afraid, or uncomfortable eating. It’s not uncommon among people with eating disorders to develop these often irrational fears of food and even group food in boxes and assign labels such as “good” or “bad,” “safe,” or “unsafe,” and “healthy” or “unhealthy” to them.
When my own eating disorder was at its worst, I had a very long list of foods I was downright terrified of for one reason or another (mostly due to the caloric value or fat content). In fact, the two recipes posted to Nourish this week—macaroni and cheese and cheesecake—were at the top of that list for quite some time, along with cake, brownies, pizza, pasta, and many more that I’m now able to eat—and enjoy!
Overcoming my fears largely boiled down to time and repeated exposure. The more I challenged myself by eating foods I was afraid of, the less intense that fear would be the next time. If having cake on my birthday was difficult, then having that same cake for my mother’s birthday a couple of months later would be marginally easier. Learning how to handle spontaneous situations without defaulting to disordered thinking was even harder given my desire to always be in control. Changing a trait that was hardwired into me was immensely difficult and at times seemed virtually impossible. But it wasn’t, and once I’d realized that, I was able to gradually overcome that hurdle as well.
Thanks to this time and exposure—as well as the Exchange System, which challenged my assumption that food was all about calories—my thoughts and attitudes towards food shifted. I began to recognize the irrationality of my fears and realized that there really aren’t “bad” foods but only bad behaviors. I became aware that my anxiety was dictating my mentality and lying to me by telling me all these awful things would happen if I ate that brownie or pizza. Instead of listening to and believing those thoughts, I forced myself to challenge them. Even if I didn’t fully believe it myself in the beginning, by faking it til making it, I was eventually able to separate the disordered thoughts from my own thoughts and debunk my baseless fears.
If this sounds easy to do, it isn’t. Getting to a place in my recovery where I’m able to eat a wide variety of foods without fear or guilt has been a long and tiresome process and has taken literally years. Nevertheless, it’s been worth it. I used to dread occasions where I’d have to face my fear foods—birthdays, holidays, parties, you name it—and actively tried to avoid them. I’d spend hours sitting at the table unable to eat because I was completely paralyzed by my anxiety. And who could forget all the screaming matches I had with my parents or treatment team due to my refusal to push myself out of my comfort zone?
These memories continually help me put things into perspective and serve as reminders of how far I’ve come over the past few years. Today, my relationship with food isn’t perfect but it’s so much kinder, healthier, and better than it was during the years when a simple slice of cheesecake would send my mind into a full-blown frenzy.