Many people have bad relationships with food, whether you have an eating disorder or just negative associtaions with eating certain things… food fears affect many of us. Even post recovery, we are still occaisonally faced with a food which we don’t feel comfortable eating. Why is this? At the end of the day, food is there to nourish and fuel our bodies, not to harm us or make us feel bad about ourselves. When your diet is a combination of both nutritionally dense foods which look after your body, as well as yummy meals which satisfy your belly, you’re on the right tracks to a better relationship with food. A lot of the information which we are fed by the media- be it fad diets in magazines or clean eating instagrams- creates these negative connotations of certain foods. “Bread is bad”, “fats make you fat” or “too much protein makes you bulky” are examples of the common misconceptions our society has due to the influences of ill-educated media.
At the same time, you are also responsible for how you interpret what you see on these media platforms, which for the most part are trying to sell or advertise products. Use your brain! Don’t believe everything you see or read, research around the topic using reliable resources before you decide on how to interpret such information. There’s no reason to be scared by foods, because there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ food. Some foods are more nutrionally worse than others, but when you have a balanced diet, these foods can be incorporated without having physically or mentally damaging effects.
Having had to overcome such fears during our recoveries, we’ve identified some classic food fears which can be big mental hurdles, and have suggested ways in how to tackle them….
Many people fear eating in front of others- either because it makes them feel greedy or fat, or because being seen eating would go against your anorexic persona. To overcome this, start by eating around close family or people you feel comfortable with, they are not judging you! They just want to see you get better. Eventually as you become more comfortable with food itself, you could try eating with friends and even out in restaurants.
Portion sizes are another fear factor- some people fear having actual meals because it feels like more food, others may fear snacking in between organised food times because it similarily feels like you’re eating more. Either way- people with disordered eating generally massively undereat in quantity as well as calorific content. Try gradually increasing one meal of the day- it could just be by a handful. The next week, add another handful to another meal. Planning meals in advance is a good idea as you can mentally prepare when and what you’re next going to eat, which removes a bit of the stress. To start snacking, try just having a piece of fruit first and then gradually increase it to something more calorific, such as mixed nuts (still super healthy!). Despite what fad diets may say, snacking is actually important for a healthy body because it keeps your metabolism going and reduces slumps in energy levels.
Of course, certain foods themselves can send alarm bells ringing, and every individual will have different fears. There are however many obvious types of food which most people avoid: anything with visible fat, meats, white carbs… any carbs! Or anything that doesn’t resemble a vegetable… Whatever your fear may be, in order to confront it and gradually include these important and healthy foods/ food groups back into your diet, start by adding one small element at a time. Don’t completely scare yourself by trying too much too soon. Facing these fears and rebuilding a healthy relationship with food is not a quick fix job- this is your mental and physical wellbeing and you must do it in your own time.
Eating the same foods more than once in a day- a common fear is bread for example. Toast for breakfast AND then a sandwich for lunch? That’s enough to make your brain explode. Start by trying different varieties of the same food, such as a slice of wholegrain toast for breakfast and a wholegrain wrap for lunch. A good idea if you struggle with sandwiches is starting with open sandwiches- just one slice topped with some tasty proteins and fats, such as tuna and avocado with salad. Rye bread makes an interesting change from the standard and mentally may be easier because the slices are thinner. Ella’s ultimate favourite during recovery was rye bread with a spread of humous, some left over roast chicken and salad.
If you’re someone in recovery from an eating disorder, it may seem like a mountain too high to climb, but we can assure you that it’s possible. However, you must 100% commit to recovery, want to recover, and most importantly have the self-belief that you will succeed. Every time you punch one of your fears in the face, you’ll find that actually, it felt pretty awesome! The more you get out of your comfort zone, the more you will get that buzz of success, and the knowledge that you know you can do it. The more often you do this, the easier it will get!
Enjoy food and confront those fears, because life’s too short to be scared of something which is both good for the body and freaking delicious!!