Eating fear foods by yourself.
A few days ago, I got home from work feeling blah. Hungry and blah. Not really upset, not really sad, just somewhere in the middle of it all. I rooted around in the kitchen for much needed food, going through the usual suspects. Peanut butter? No. Yogurt? No. A smoothie? You’ll never believe it, but no. To my surprise, all I wanted was cereal. I have nothing against cereal now, but in my orthorexia days it was strictly off limits. And I don’t eat cereal terribly often even now, mostly because I don’t crave it a lot, but also because I think I’m still afraid that if I do eat it, I’ll go crazy with it, like I used to when I put it on my very long Do Not Eat list. So, what to do?
A few nights ago, I’d brushed my teeth and was getting ready to head to bed. I’d already eaten dinner and wasn’t feeling particularly hungry, but I suddenly wanted nothing except mint chocolate chip ice cream. I didn’t want to down a pint, or even a big bowl-full. But I still really wanted some. At first, I told myself no. No one else around is eating ice cream! Isn’t eating ice cream more fun as a social event? I should wait until I’m in a situation where everyone’s eating ice cream. But I still really want some! What to do?
Well, as you can probably tell from the picture, in the first scenario, I poured myself a bowl of brown sugar oatmeal squares or something and ate it on the floor in my bedroom. In the second scenario, I helped myself to a little mint chocolate chip ice cream (thank goodness we had some in the freezer), sat on the couch in our living room and ate it all by myself.
I’m grateful to be at a place where I can do this. Eat ice cream/cereal/fill-in-the-blank-with-your-fear-food by myself without a) flying out of control, b) feeling guilt/shame, or c) both of the above. I think it’s important to eventually get to a place where you can eat foods that used to be off limits by yourself. Without a special occasion to constitute it.
It’s hard though. Without other people around, without accountability, alone with your thoughts and past disordered eating experience, eating fear foods alone can be terrifying. What if I binge? What if this sends me in a downward spiral? What if I never care about my health again? Do I even really want this?
I don’t think eating a food you haven’t allowed yourself to eat in ages by yourself in the dark kitchen standing up is necessarily the best way to dive into facing your fear foods. Like all things, it’s a process. Here are a few things I did to help me ease into being able to eat previously “off-limits” food normally.
In my experience, a good way to go is to start by eating fear foods with other people around. It takes some of the pressure off of you and the food. It allows you to focus not just on trying to enjoy the food without panicking, but enjoying the whole experience, atmosphere, and people around you.
A good next step for when you’re not in a social setting is to inform someone that you’re about to eat fill-in-the-blank. This isn’t for “accountability.” Or asking him or her to make sure you only eat a certain amount and then stop. This is because saying it out loud reflects the fact that it’s is a decision. Your decision. This isn’t you bingeing on raw cookie dough even though you don’t want to because you’ve restricted yourself for so long. This is you making a decision to eat raw cookie dough because it’s one of life’s simple joys, amen.
Once you feel even safer eating foods that were previously “off limits”, you can inform yourself that you’re about to eat fill-in-the-blank. Out loud or in your head, whatever works best for you. Again, it’s all about reminding yourself that this is your decision.
Another thing I think is super helpful to remember over all is this: not every encounter with food has to be a picture-perfect, instagrammable experience. If you truly allow yourself to eat without restriction, whether it be amounts or types of food, you don’t have to have the perfect doughnut experience the one time a year you allow yourself to have a doughnut. Doughnuts will always be there. If you eat one that’s just okay, you don’t have to stress that you’ve ruined your once-in-a-year experience. You can go out and get the doughnut of your dreams tomorrow after work.
And if you’re ever in a situation where facing a fear food feels like too much to handle or you’re in the middle of a binge, please, please, please reach out. Call your therapist, your mom, your understanding best friend. Sometimes just explaining the situation can help so much. Journaling has also been extremely valuable to me in these kinds of situations.
I hope these things are helpful to you if you’re working towards eating fear foods by yourself. It’s a process. I feel like I close every post with this, but remember to give yourself grace.
Love you all and thanks for reading! I appreciate you so very much!