How To Recover From Food Fear? (Part 2/2)
Continued from How To Recover From Food Fear? (Part 1/2)
Mindfulness. Mindful eating has a role to play in combatting food fears. Mindfulness is a practice that can help bring focus and safety into our eating habits. In addition to a daily meditation practice, experiment with eating your meals mindfully in a setting of calm. Turn off the TV, close the computer, don’t grab for the book or magazine. Experience your food, enjoy it (no matter what it is) and take the time to breathe and rest in between bites. This can help to decrease panicky feelings while eating.
Control issues. Many people adhere to strict eating regimens because of the sense of structure and control it provides in a life that may otherwise feel unmanageable or out of control. The individual may not be able to control, for example, difficult relationships, the memories of past trauma or an unhappy job situation, but a certain amount of comfort and “sanity” is found in perfect adherence to a food ideology or regimen. If life is out of control or you are unable to cope with the past, this needs direct attention. You can’t control a life problem by simply keeping your food squeaky clean.
Practice gratitude. One woman with a very sane perspective around food and a very svelte, healthy body told the story of growing up with a mother who taught her to accept whatever was put before her with gratitude. As she grew up, she dined frequently in the homes of international friends, who often served food that may not have been her preference or even in line with her typical diet, but she remembered the encouragement to always dine with gratitude. Her health didn’t suffer and she was a cherished guest among her friends. Gratitude for the meal and the people who prepare it helps conquer personal food hang-ups or issues of preference.
Separate morality. If you eat a cookie for breakfast, you are not “bad.” Following or breaking food ideologies can easily become a moral issue. Eating clean and pure foods is seen as redemptive, while eating outside of a plan or ideology is perceived as sinful or wrong. Food is food. Yes, we can abuse it and damage our bodies as a result, but there is no inherent morality in the substance. You are not bad or good based on what you do or do not eat.
Shift focus. Food anxiety and rigid adherence to food plans turns us inward to think openly about ourselves and our own issues. As we fear what the host will be serving, we lose the opportunity to engage with the other guests or to even offer a hand. When we go to a meal thinking about how we can be of service to others and how we can bring the best of ourselves, the food issues diminish a little. We have a bigger purpose than being perfect vegans or 100 percent organic or enviably low carb.
Follow others. If you’ve been struggling with rigid eating for many years, breaking out of the fear-based patterns won’t be an overnight operation. It takes time to learn how to loosen up. If you’ve been a vegan for the past five years, you don’t need to run out to a meat buffet in order to fight your fear of animal products. You might, however, start observing others and following their lead.
People who are obsessed with health often have similarly health-conscious friends. But think of some of your acquaintances who seem to be “regular” eaters—healthy but not obsessive. The next time you are in a restaurant or at a dinner party, watch how others eat and follow their lead. You’ll start to realize that normal people don’t obsess about the contents of every item that goes into their mouths. Maybe they take bigger portions of the veggies and lighter on the meat and carbs. All around they seem to enjoy the meal without a panic attack or waves of guilt and remorse. Start to emulate them.
The results? It’s OK to experiment a little. For example, you can go to a dinner party and try eating what the others eat without preaching your food ideology or eschewing the majority of what is being served. Take moderate portions, savor the flavors, eat mindfully and practice gratitude. Be aware of the results. Nothing happens, right? Neither the world nor your body will come to an end when you eat the occasional meal outside of your usual structure.
Therapy. If these practices are not effective in diminishing your sense of food fear and health obsession, it may be wise to meet with a professional to start working through the fears and why you have them. It is possible to learn to let go and enjoy food. And you don’t have to throw away your health in order to do it. Finding a balance is the key.