Tackling Risk Foods

Confronting food fears is important whether you are breaking out of the dieting cycle or recovering from an eating disorder.  Actually doing it, however, can be far from easy. But, if you have a limited list of what you think is okay to eat, expanding that list is imperative in breaking free from obsessions and thriving.

Most of the time food fears are perpetuated by false beliefs. For instance, the idea that eating sugar or fat in any form will cause immediate weight gain is just not true! Also false is the belief that eating only fruits and vegetables constitutes a healthy vegetarian diet. Nope! Think again! The only thing this does is give you a false sense of security and a distraction.

So…what helps and where do you start?

  1. Some people say that they feel more able to eat a “forbidden food” if they exchange it for one of their “safe” foods. If that feels like it will work to get you started, give it a try!
  2. Others find that buying and eating single serving meals or snacks, with caloric content clearly marked, allows them to eat with less fear. If you are someone who finds any kind of caloric information to be triggering and distracting-Don’t try this! But if the contained amount helps you to feel more secure- Go for it!!
  3. A number of people report that they have been able to begin eating ‘risk foods’ because their friends or family want them to loved ones wanted them to. Some people start this way and eventually find that they are choosing those foods because  they want to.
  4. Many people find choosing the same time of day to incorporate variety is more manageable. This was something that worked well for me. Every day at 3pm I’d have a ‘risk’ snack. It was challenging at first, but it didn’t take long before I was looking forward to the afternoon!

Now, what do you do once you actually sit down with the food?

One effective method for desensitizing yourself from your ‘fear’ foods is to pick your food and then, “just do it.” No, I’m not crazy…seriously…  Just eat the food! Your task is to be mindful  and concentrate on the texture and flavor. Is it soft, crunchy, salty, sweet? How does it feel to your tongue? How does it sound to your ears? Do you like the color and shape?

Handling the Loud-Mouth Critic in Your Head

Believe me, the critic in your head is going to have a LOT  to say- so be persistent in pushing that voice away. Talk back to it and tell it to f-off if you need to! Tell it you’ve been listening to it forever and all it has gotten you is sick, sad and lonely. Remind it that it hasn’t followed through on any promises of peace, freedom and success for you.  Work on staying mindful and consciously refocus your attention back to enjoying the flavor.

What To Do When It’s In Your Stomach

  1. Once you are finished eating, set a timer for five minutes. Let yourself freak out. Seriously. Just go ahead and freak out for five minutes. You can even think about all the usual “remedies” you have for eating ‘forbidden foods’ (like starving, exercising, etc.), but do not engage in any of them! When the timer goes off, firmly say out loud, “It’s only food! Who cares? I will eat without fear! It doesn’t rule me anymore!” Then force yourself to do something else that really engages your brain. Writing in a journal  probably won’t do it for you. You need something that really captivates all your attention-something that makes you really think. Talk with a friend, go outside for a walk with someone, play a game with someone that involves solving problems so that you are engaging your prefrontal cortex of your brain. That will take you out of ‘fight or flight’ mode.
  2. When the worries about that particular food creep back in, and they will, redirect your thoughts to the new task at hand and affirm to yourself, calmly and simply that you are okay. Remind yourself that every food is fine in moderation and a normal serving of any food will not cause you to gain weight or hurt you.
  3. If that isn’t working well, break the food down into it’s components. Take pizza, for example. Many people feel nervous about it. But if you think about it, to your body there is no difference between a slice of pizza and a slice or two of bread, sliced tomatoes and a glass of 2% milk. Most people have no trouble with bread, tomato slices and milk. Pizza is the same thing- it’s just warm and in a fun shape!

Tips For Moving Forward

Ask yourself, “Is my concern over this particular food filling space to avoid some other thought or feeling?” You might be able to pinpoint a circumstance or set of feelings that trouble you. It may be true or not, but asking yourself this question and exploring it as a possibility short circuits your negative thinking about the food you just ate—and that is one of your goals!

The reality is, you are likely to feel pretty freaked out the first time or two. I tend to tell people that it takes about three times to really be comfortable with incorporating a new or ‘forbidden’ food. You can almost predict how you will feel and what you will think: Part of you expects the food to have an immediate effect. You almost expect the candy bar to pop right out of your thigh in a rectangular shape, even though another part of you knows that is ridiculous. Another part of you will probably feel panicky when you go to sleep, worrying that it has altered your body in some unacceptable way. When you wake up the next morning you will be happy and relieved to discover that you haven’t grown a third breast or leg because of the food you ate! Phew!

But…another part of you will be inside thinking, ‘yeah, but maybe that was just a fluke.” That is exactly why it’s important to eat it again. You will go through the exact same process again. Similar thoughts and feelings, but dampened down a bit because part of you will think, “It was okay the last time so it very well might be again.” When you wake up the next day, still sporting only two legs and two breasts, you will feel reassured and relieved.

But there will still be lingering doubt- so do it again!! Repeat the whole process a third time. You will find your anxiety is down significantly and when you wake up the next day and your body is still the same, that food will no longer feel scary going forward. The law of probability tells you that it is fine from here on in and you will feel confident.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to change long-term behaviors and reactions. Keep going! You’ve totally got this!