Monday, July 15, 2013

Fear foods

Disclaimer: ED's are vast and complex, and cannot be summed up in cookie cutter fashion. Everyones story and experiences are different. While most who struggle with anorexia struggle greatly with the concept of fear foods, the information and ideas presented below are based on my story and my experience. 


Eating disorder patients often have a conviction and morbid fear that types or amounts of food will lead to instant and discernable weight gain. These may include any high-calorie items or groups of food such as fats, "junk food", or meat. Treatment aims to reintegrate these foods into the diet of the sufferer either gradually or, in the case of Maudsley/FBT, almost immediately. An integral part of the recovery process is developing a healthy relationship with food, eating and one's body; and this includes viewing food as neutral and fuel, not good or bad, safe or unsafe. (source)

When I was in the depths of my ED I had a fear food list that strung a mile long. 

Make that two miles long. 

To name a few: pizza, chips, ice cream, cookies/cakes/brownies/candy or basically any and all desserts, bread (unless it was the 40 cal/slice variety. . . gag me), cream based sauces and rich pastas, any drink that contained calories, french fries, high calorie salad dressing, donuts/cinnamon rolls etc, pancakes, hotdogs, bacon, mayo, certain Mexican food dishes such as Enchiladas, Lasagna, nachos, milk that was not skim, and basically any restaurant entree of which I was not able to scour the menu/calorie count prior to ordering... I think you get the idea. 

To someone who has never had an ED this concept might seem totally bizarre, but let me assure you foods such as these really do/can induce well. . . FEAR. Fear foods are REAL. 

When I first began recovery the thought of eating some of these foods made me want to cry and hide. And I did cry and hide. And I got mad. Many times. (Brandon had to leave me alone in front of the milk section at the store once. Because I could not bring myself to grab the 2% milk that my nutritionist was asking me to start drinking. . . true story. . . took me about 20 minutes to actually put the silly milk in my basket). But I knew I had to do it or else I would never have a healthy relationship with food ever again. 

I had to come to terms with the truth that there is no such thing as a GOOD or BAD food. I truly believe & embrace this concept now, but back then, not so much.

Yes, I understand and agree that there are healthy and unhealthy options, and none of us can/should eat anything and everything we want with abandon and keep our bodies strong and disease free, but for someone with an ED, eating well and having a normal relationship with food is about taking away negative food labels, and understanding that eating some french fries at lunch does not equal an automatic 25 lb weight gain. Eating well is about moderation, which for me means eating nachos one day is ok, and eating veggies and steamed chicken the next day is ok too. Moderation is the name of the game.

So for those of you who are working towards eating your fear foods again, here are a few things that worked for me. . . 

One fear food at a time - Incorporate one fear food at a time, not several at once. If you take on too much from the start, I guarantee you will get overwhelmed and give up. It's ok if it takes you a month to learn how to eat Bluebell again without having a panic attack. Once you get the Bluebell down, then pick another food from your list and start again.

And eat that fear food, in a small portion, at least twice a week - This is what my nutritionist and therapist suggested and it worked well for me. Don't go for 3 slices of pizza, just make it a goal to eat one slice, at least two times in one week. It's easier to desensitize yourself when what you're working with seems a bit more managable (vs. eating three slices of pizza every day for a week).

Accountability - Choose an accountability person that will ONLY encourage you. This is not the time for lectures or intensive questioning or guilt trips. You need someone who will sit there with you, as patient as can be, even if it takes two hours to finish a scary meal. 

Reward yourself - Come up with some type of reward system and celebrate your success. Every time I conquered one of my fear foods I treated myself to a manicure. :)

Two steps forward, one step back - Understand that set backs are part of the process. This is just the nature of recovery. There are still days (although praise God they are few and far between now) when I eat something that triggers some feelings of guilt and fear. It happens. It is normal. Don't expect perfection now or even years into your recovery. 

Your turn. . . What about you? Have you ever struggled with fear foods? If so, what helped you conquor your list? I'd love to hear from you! 

Have a great Monday! 


  1. While I have never "officially" struggled with an eating disorder, I have definitely gone through phases of struggling with eating issues, so these posts are always interesting to me! (Also, being pregnant at the moment, the list of fear foods is sadly making me very hungry... but I realize that's not the point of the post :)

  2. AnonymousJuly 15, 2013

    Absolutely! I am recovering compulsive eater who has a list of fear foods that double as my comfort foods. Holy cow, you hit on the head with 2 steps forward, then 1 step back!
    For me, a key was not to say I couldn't have anything but to change the environment that I enjoyed them. This means, I choose not to keep anything in my house, BUT, I can go out and order a scoop of ice cream outside. This helps me to enjoy my treat as a dessert, not secretly in my room or car as an escape or cure to my loneliness, anxiety etc. It's worked really well for me to limit my unconscious behaviors and help my mind listen to my body's fullness cues that I had been powering past before.

  3. Ditto to Allison's comments about this post making me hungry :) A friend that used to have an ED mentioned that once about foods not being "good" or "bad" and it has stuck with me. Good to remember, especially when it's tempting to best myself up for eating yet another blizzard!!

  4. I have read and re-read this. So good! Pizza was both my favorite slip up food and a HUGE fear food. As was bread of any sort. Bread sometimes still trips me up a little but I've been able to eat hawaiian bread a few times which is definitely showing some progress, hadn't had it in years. I still have some ingredients I refuse, but my variety has grown by leaps and bounds.

    Also I had to learn that 2 steps forward 1 step back is still ONE STEP CLOSER than where I started.


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