Does this bowl of oats scare you?
Does the thought of eating oats, chia seeds & almond milk make you cringe?
It did those things to me too. BUT, then I got over my fear foods.
How? Let me explain.
First things first, it did NOT happen overnight. Chances are it won’t for you either & that’s NORMAL & OKAY. Before you tackle the fears themselves, you need to be okay with the idea that it will require work, effort & most importantly, TIME.
As you guys know, most people who suffer from an eating disorder have a list of “safe foods” that they are comfortable with eating & that they repeatedly eat over & over again, everyday. Unfortunately, the list of “safe foods” is ALWAYS shorter than that of the fear foods. I can go on for days about all the foods I was afraid of, but I’m conscious of the fact that that can be a trigger for some & that’s not why I am here. I also don’t think it would be beneficial in any way shape or form to anyone to share my list of fear foods, because in the end, those fears were a product of the BS my eating disorder was feeding me.
For individuals in recovery, naturally, one important component of treatment is to face their fear foods. And it sounds simple, but for people in recovery, this task is daunting, difficult & SCARY AS HELL. It’s easy to say that you’ll face the foods when you’re feeling less afraid or when ED’s voice is quieter. But, you’ll only begin to feel less afraid by gradually exposing yourself to what you’re afraid of – it’s kind of like a paradox. You can’t just sit & wait for fear to go away before taking chances. Fear of particular situations will only dissolve when you confront them – doing it must come before the fear goes away.
Before I get into what helped me get over my fear foods, I want you guys to know that fear is a normal part of any process that leads to personal growth & improvement. But, the reality is that I genuinely believe that you cannot fully recover from a restrictive eating disorder & find your freedom without challenging yourself, your food rules, rituals & fears. You need to work to normalize your relationship with food by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, ergo, your “safe foods”.
So what did I do?
1) Make a list of your fear foods starting with the ones that are least challenging to the most challenging.
I know, lists can be annoying. But, the goal of challenging your fear foods/food rules & rituals is to gradually step out of your comfort zone in a way that is anxiety provoking, but does not feel completely unsafe. This is why I found it helpful to start by making a list of the foods that were the least challenging up to the ones that were the most challenging. This helped me face my food fears in a gradual way, by starting from the bottom of the list & slowly making my way up with baby steps.
Once you do start incorporating the fear foods, it’s important that you expose yourself to the same fear food multiple times before you move on to the next. Recovery is NOT a race. It will take time & that’s normal. You really have to be your own judge & gage your anxiety level & response to fear foods. Only move on to the harder ones when you feel ready, even if seems like it’s taking forever. You’ll know you’re ready when the feelings of anxiety & negativity grounding certain foods start to subside & eventually go away. It’s a process through which not only your body but also your mind needs to adapt to the idea that you will have to start eating certain foods you are not accustomed to if you want your recovery to progress.
2) Pair the challenging food with a less challenging one or a “safe” food.
For me, pairing the challenging food with a “safe” or “easier” food really helped facilitate the process. Most people suffering from an eating disorder fear all things oil, butter, nuts, seeds, avocado, poultry & meat. On the other hand, vegetables are almost always a go-to. This is why in the beginning, it might be a good idea to sauté your vegetables in some good quality oil, such as avocado oil. Or to pair your avocado or boiled egg with a piece of gluten-free sprouted bread (if you’re comfortable with it) topped with some veggies & spices. Or scramble your egg with some veggies. The alternative is having the perfectly halved avocado/egg in front of you knowing you have to scoop it out with a spoon & eat the entire thing in one sitting.
The goal with this tip is to not pin yourself up against the fear food alone. When you have to eat the food on its own, it can feel like it’s literally YOU VS. THE ACOADO. But, when the food is incorporated with other foods that you feel safe & comfortable with, you don’t feel as overwhelmed & your mind doesn’t have to fight with itself questioning how it will allow you to eat this. Knowing that your fear foods are an add-on to a dish & not THE dish makes you feel better about eating them & helps you ease into the idea that they are a crucial part of your recovery. Yes, it’s pretty much a mental thing, but half (if not more) of recovery is in your mind.
If you feel ready & able to do it, you can slowly start to incorporate two fear foods at once (for example: egg & avocado = smashed chopped egg & avo toast). There really is no right or wrong way to go about it; you must find what works for YOU & your RECOVERY!
After you eat the challenging food, it is crucial for you to REFLET & BE MINDFUL about your post-meal behaviours: are you compensating for the fear foods by working out, moving around a lot, doing house chores, purging, taking laxatives, etc.? If you are, you’re worsening the problem & odds are, you are taking things to quickly. Ultimately, doing this won’t allow your anxiety surrounding the fear foods to diminish & will strengthen the ED voice. Be careful, reassess & always be honest with yourself.
3) Read & do research to understand why the foods are beneficial for you & drop the “good” food / “bad” food labels & mindset.
Reading about why my fear foods were beneficial for my health also helped me a lot. In doing research & reading, I realized that a lot of my fears were rooted in the fact that ED led me to believe that they would make me “fat” instantly. Society promotes the view that healthy fats are inherently bad & lead to weight gain. We’re convinced that nuts, seeds, avocados, poultry, meat, cheese & healthy oils are labelled as bad.
BUT, the issue lies in the fact that society doesn’t warn us about the dangers associated with eating packaged, processed, sugar laden, unhealthy foods packed with carageenans, chemicals & ingredients we can’t pronounce. These are the foods that can have a significant impact on our gut & on our overall health. But that’s not what society tells us because companies need to make money. It’s reality.
When I stopped letting myself fall for what society depicts & labels as good or bad foods & began informing myself about why those same foods labelled as “bad were actually so good for me, I found it easier to start eating them. I also read the book Fat For Fuel by Dr. Joseph Mercola, which really changed my perspective on the importance of incorporating fats into my diet as a source of energy to function on a daily basis & that avoiding doing that was actually slowing down my metabolism.
Learning about the foods on my own & educating myself made me understand that I wasn’t only scarfing them down to gain weight, but also because of the benefits & energy they would provide me with. And, I think that with ANYTHING in life, it’s important to understand WHY you are doing it, why you’re engaging in a certain heavier or making a certain change & to know the benefits underlying it; this makes it more motivating & easier to incorporate.
4) Your support system is key.
When your ED voice is very loud, it’s difficult to disobey it on your own. Your support system can be anyone from your family, friends, therapist or dietitian. Believe it or not, at the beginning of my recovery journey, my dad came over every night to have dinner with me.
Having him there was crucial because it distracted me. Yes, the full plate of food was in front of me & I had to eat it, whether he was there or not. But, having him there allowed me to divert my focus & preoccupation with food & to shift my focus to conversing with one of the most important people in my life. I didn’t feel choked, shocked or overwhelmed. And soon enough, the plate was empty & the anxiety never came to haunt me.
When it came to breakfast, lunch & snacking, part of the “deal” I made with my therapist regarding being given the advantage to recover on my own in the comfort of my own home (as opposed to in a treatment center) was that I’d send photos to my dad of my meals or of me eating them (Literally. Lord knows how many photos of me crushing in cookies & granola bars he got in the middle of his work day #sorrynotsorry!). This was a crucial part of my recovery process as it kept me accountable & reassured him that I was on track. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without his input because there were seriously nights where I’d make myself dinner & question how on earth I would EVER be able to eat that plate of food on my own.
Don’t underestimate the value in your support system. You need it. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how far you’ve come in life. You really need to find people who will be there for you on the days where you just don’t want to eat at all (& yes, those days will happen). You need people who will push you & remind you why you chose recovery, why it’s so worth it, the goodness that it will bring to your life & how much more of a lively person you will be when you reach complete recovery. When ED’s voices hit you, you NEED those reminders to lift you up. You need people who love & care about you to be by your side, both literally & figuratively. You need people who will LOVE you for who you are & who won’t judge you.
One of the most important things in finding & seeking out your support system is to make sure that the person you are looking for support from does not have his or her own issues surrounding food & weight because that could end up being counterproductive & a trigger for you.
5) Practice self-compassion.
Guys, take a second & realize that in choosing recovery, you are in a position to BRAG. You are in a position where you must remind yourself how BRAVE you are for accepting to recover & to let go of your eating disorder (especially wen times get tough). Nobody knows or understands the strength it takes to actually decide to recover. That decision in & of itself makes you a warrior.
There will definitely be days in recovery where you don’t respect your meal plan, where you find it hard to reincorporate fear foods, where you make “mistakes”, but you can’t beat yourself up over those days. Yes, there will be bad days. Horrible & terrible ones. But there will also be amazing ones where respect your meal plan to a T. Cherish the good days. Let go of the bad ones. Don’t let them beat you up, bring you down or make you think your progress is void or useless.
Guys, be gentle with yourselves. Please, take a minute everyday to remind yourself how strong you are for going against a more powerful being who has been controlling your mind for months, years. Trust me: You have to reach a point where you love yourself & your body enough to treat yourself to these thoughts and recognize what an amazing thing you are doing. Everyday in recovery is an accomplishment. Everyday in recovery is a day NOT with ED & a day NOT IN RELAPSE. Know it.
6) Acknowledge that it’s okay to feel scared. It’s human.
Being scared doesn’t make you weak or vulnerable. It means you are going through a process & a journey, where there will be ups & downs. You have to come to a point where you acknowledge that fear is normal & human. It’s like when you start a new job, relationship or school – you’ll probably be afraid & that’s normal. You are stepping out of comfort zones & as human beings, naturally, when we step out of comfort zones, we are afraid.
Recovery is not supposed to be comfortable. If it were, it wouldn’t be called recovery. It would be called easy. It’s really in overcoming fears that real change actually happens. Fear is part of the process. And the only way you’ll be able to take part in that process is if you acknowledge your fear & face it.
Feeling out of control is normal too. The fact that you are trying to challenge yourself shows COURAGE 7 STRENGTH. This is the time to be kind to yourself because you are battling an illness, WHICH YOU DID NOT CHOOSE TO HAVE.
7) Focus on the final goal & the beauty of life that awaits you post-recovery.
Your final goal is to get to relive the beauty of life & to regain your LOVE & DESIRE FOR LIFE! You want to be able to go to social events & be a part of the event as opposed to retreating into your corner & playing with the food on your plate (bringing your own meal with you or not eating at all). You want to be able to feel normal again. You don’t want to feel like all eyes are on you. You want to be able to wear clothing that actually fits you. You want to be able to work out, to run errand,s to move & use your body the way it was meant to be used. You want to laugh. You want to enjoy life. You want to meet someone who will be an integral part of your life. You want to LIVE. And you can only do all of of those things if you take baby steps towards the final goal.
One of those baby steps is FACING YOUR FEAR FOODS, one at a time. Overtime, they will shift from fear foods to normal foods. You will slowly become more eager to attend events because you will no longer worry about standing out, feeling out of place or different. You will finally have the opportunity to become a part of everything you missed so much when you were ill.
8) Don’t push yourself too much. Take it slow. Ease into it.
Don’t try to tackle five fear foods at once. I’m not here telling you to eat a boiled egg, 1/2 an avocado, a piece of chicken breast & 2 tbsp. of olive oil in one sitting. I’ll be honest, if you do that, you’ll most probably freak out. Take baby steps & add more of each food as you get more comfortable with them & less anxious around them.
The goal with challenging yourself to overcome your fears regarding food is to take it slow & ease into it, in order to avoid the risk of relapse &/or of giving up. This is the mentality that I adopted with my therapist & dietitian in determining my meal plan (To read more about my meal plan, click here: My Recovery Meal Plan & A Few Tips/Tricks On How To Get It Done, Implement It, Get Healthy & Not Despair When Times Get Hard!
9) Engage & converse with yourself. Get to know yourself & yes, some days, you will just have to tell your ED to F off.
I can’t stress enough how much recovery is about mind work & talking to yourself. I know it sounds crazy to people who have never dealt with an ED; but sometimes, you just have to sit in front of a mirror & speak to your reflection. Connect with your body, mind.
Contrary to popular belief, recovery is not only about gaining weight; it’s about figuring out who you are, connecting with yourself & understanding your body & mind. And you can’t do that if you don’t engage with & get to know yourself. Sometimes, that means telling the stronger voice to F off. Other times, it means literally sitting in front of a mirror & preaching to yourself all the positivity in the world (a.k.a. THE OPPOSITE OF ALL THE BS YOUR EATING DISORDER VOICES ARE FEEDING YOU).
To read more about food fears & how I healed my relationship with food & my body, click here:
I hope this was helpful to you guys in some way!
Please leave me your feedback in the comments & don’t be shy to message me directly with any other personal questions! You know where to find me, xx <3