You might not consider yourself to have suffered from an eating disorder, but if you've ever experienced any period of disordered eating (yes, that includes yo-yo dieting and patterns of restriction) it's likely you can identify with food fear.
"Fear foods," as they are referred to in the ED community, are foods that a person struggles to incorporate into normal eating patterns, cause anxiety or negative thoughts, and are often perceived as "bad" or "wrong." Most fear foods take on that role when an individual who is suffering from disordered eating becomes fixated on or grounded in a specific food's nutritional or moral value based on (usually ambiguous or unproven) claims. Over time, as that food is routinely avoided, these claims become law. Food fear is indoctrinated within us.
I've been exploring and cultivating intuitive eating as a way of maintaining my recovery. As a part of that exploration, I recently made a list of my most notable food fears. I made the list after listening to a podcast on intuitive eating that suggested (if you're at the process of your recovery that you can handle this) actively looking at your fear foods and picking challenges to work through with a loved one. i.e. if you know that pasta is a food fear, make an effort to ask a friend that is aware of and respects your recovery to cook and eat a pasta dinner with you. I made the challenge my own by using the list as an active reminder of foods to be mindful about, rather than adding stress to my life by making my recovery another "to-do" on an already very long list. When I catch myself avoiding the foods on my list, I make an extra effort to ask "why?." When I consequently make the choice to eat a fear food, I take a moment to look at how it made me feel, what made it feel possible for me to eat that particular food, and (perhaps most importantly for intuitive eating) how that food served me. Did I enjoy it? Did it give me energy? Did it make me happy? I don't write all of that down. I try not to dwell too long on it. I just think about it for a moment. When I have a good experience (no panic, no sadness, no binge, no purge) with a fear food, I draw a little pink dot next to it. The pink dot doesn't look like much, but it's saying "hey, you did it!" which is saying a lot.
You'll notice my list is mostly carbohydrates. This makes perfect sense based on my environment yet is fascinating because you don't see carbohydrates like pretzels (ugh. my favorite) orbeer (part of my job and a hobby) — but all of that is a discussion for a different blog post.
This Fear Foods list is prominently hung on my Tallulahish board, right next to blog reminders, old birthday cards, and a brewery tour certificate. It sits right above my desk in plain sight of anyone who might walk through my home office (also known as our attic and guest room). It sits there, on my Tallulahish board, because Tallulahish is about owning your story and that means being unashamed of it.
Despite the amount of people who feel trapped by dieting and their unhealthy relationship with food, there's still a painfully suffocating air around the subject. We've all felt the anxiety around the dessert table at a party, as people shift nervously back and forth pretending not to notice the mounds double-chocolate chip cookies and pumpkin bars that no one's gotten tipsy enough to touch. We've all seen the hungry eyes darting from plate to plate and then back to their own dissappointing-but-safely-empty hands. We all know food fear but no one names it.
No one names it because when we name fear, we also name shame. By admitting that we fear a food, we simultaneously admit that "I am ashamed to want or be seen eating that food because that food is bad, I am inherently bad for eating it, and other people will think I am bad too."
In The Gifts of Imperfection, author Brené Brownsaid that "when we don't claim shame, it claims us." Meaning that if we never tackle the uncomfortable and un-pretty task of naming, talking about, and owning shame, it will control us. Brené's books delve into all the ways shame can control and hinder us but let's focus on what happens when Idon't claim my food fear: I hide behind it. I rationalize it. I live inside it. I reject the idea that I'm allowed to feel shame or be flawed, thus further spiraling into attempts at feigning perfection and control. If I can't name my food fear, I can't look at ways to abolish it. If I can't look at my shame, I can't recover from it. So what happens? Disordered eating happens. When you don't "claim the shame" of food fear, the food fear continues to grow and control you.
Of the many surprises this blog has brought, one of the most instrumental and life-changing has been watching people's reactions to me unceremoniously mentioning my eating disorder on any level. The more and more I discuss it, the more it becomes just that: unceremonious. I say this to mean that I no longer fear it will derail a conversation or make a person think less of me. Sharing our story should always be "ceremonious" in some respect, because it's ours and it's important, but it doesn't have to feel like a battle. As I continue to own my story, or be Tallulahish, the more the meaning of this site rings true. The more I talk about my shame, the less I am ashamed of it. The more I name the uncomfortable, the less uncomfortable I become. As I own my story, I am continually amazed that the messy parts evoke less sympathy and more empathy than I ever imaged.
Because here's the thing: most of us do feel that uncomfortable tension around the dessert table. Most of us do notice that no-one touches the cookies until we're a few drinks in (alcohol is helpful that way... also another blog post). Most of us do recognize and feel shame. You're not alone.
So I made my Fear Food list and I hung it on my Tallulahish board. If someone walks into my office and asks about it, I will proudly tell them that it's a part of my intuitive eating journey. Because I am tired of being claimed by shame. I refuse to be consumed by food fear but rather to consume food without fear.
Have a story about facing a food fear recently? Looking for some tools or support in your journey to intuitive eating? Reach out!