I Followed These Steps to Face My Fear Foods and You Can Too

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It’s common for people with (restrictive) eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder to restrict certain foods. Fear foods are specific foods that induce debilitating, high, and intense anxiety in a sufferer, such as people with anorexia nervosa. Often times this leads to food avoidance. A more common term for those suffering from bulimia or binge-eating disorder is trigger food. This is a food that gives a sufferer high anxiety and causes them to have an intense urge to binge or binge and purge.

Recovery from eating disorders usually involves exposure to fear foods to normalize the relationship with those foods.

For someone in recovery from an eating disorder conquering fear foods can be terrifying.

How Can You Deal With Fear Foods?

1. Make a list of your fear foods and rank them from least anxiety-provoking to most anxiety-provoking. 

This will allow you to have a physical list of the foods that scare you the most. Ranking them is helpful because I recommend that you start by reintroducing the least anxiety-provoking foods first and work your way down the list. Include foods that you think you ‘just don’t like because oftentimes we might find out in recovery that we didn’t actually dislike the food but that it ended up being a fear food instead.

It can be a sort of fear food “to-do list” that will feel oh-so-satisfying to check off!

2. Underneath each food write why it produces so much anxiety. Then, write something positive to combat your fear.

Let’s say you don’t like X food because it is high-calorie. In order to combat this, you can write all of the health benefits of that food: It has a lot of nutrients. It will allow you to do the activities you love. You will feel re-energized after eating it, etc. I then encourage you to write the positive reason or reasons on a note card or small piece of paper to have with you when you face this food.

3. When eating a fear food, pair it with a safe food.

safe food is a food that produces either low or no anxiety for a sufferer. If you have a huge fear of chips and also hamburgers, instead of eating them together, try to pair each with something less anxiety-provoking. If a turkey sandwich is safe for you, eat the chips with a turkey sandwich.

The goal is to learn to enjoy food for all the reasons one cannot in the midst of an eating disorder.

Disclaimer: These are just examples and have nothing to do with the nutritional content of the food. All foods are good for you, remember. It’s all about balance.

4. Make a list of positive affirmations to pair with your food challenge.

Choose positive affirmations that you believe will help YOU the most when facing a fear food. You can also use colorful markers to make it more cheerful and positive when you look at it. Along with your combative phrase have this with you as well. Examples: “You deserve to be free.” or “This meal will not change me for the worse, but help make me better.”

5. Eat your fear foods with someone supportive. 

Having someone there who can help you through the fear and anxiety is comforting whether it is a parent, friend, significant other, mentor, therapist or nutritionist. Solidarity can help keep you focused on the challenge at hand while also distracting you from the fear.

6. After facing your fear food, engage in some self-care activities or do something fun. 

I know the last thing you want to do after eating a fear food is reward yourself, but YOU DESERVE IT. You were brave today so do something nice for yourself. It will also be a distraction for wanting to act on other urges such as purging or exercising. Some ideas can include: going to see a movie, hanging out with a friend, taking a bubble bath, meditating, or playing with your pet. Choose something that will specifically help you.

I know facing a fear food can be hard, but you are strong and powerful! YOU CAN DO IT!


(Last Updated: September 9, 2022)

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