Food Fear is Complicated
Maybe you know what it’s like to have an unhealthy relationship…with food. Living in fear of food and distrusting your own body can seem normal when you’re used to it, but it becomes an abusive relationship when every bite is fraught with judgement, shame, and confusion. There is no single root cause for these toxic dynamics, but unrealistic ideas about beauty and weight may be compounded by common health issues.
Common Health Issues that Lead to Food Fear:
- digestive disorders and gut problems,
- food intolerances and addictions,
- hormonal imbalances,
- chronic stress and inflammation,
- underlying auto-immune disorders,
- complicated medical diets, and
- conflicting “expert” advice
A common characteristic of these types of challenges is that eating becomes difficult and stressful to navigate. The solution does not mean accepting that as normal, nor trying yet another crazy-restrictive “miracle” diet. It definitely does not mean thinking there’s something wrong with us for having gotten caught up in a damaging cycle! Embodying health is an ongoing, personal journey that calls for commitment…and patience. Yet there are simple steps to help transform food fear into freedom, right now.
9 Ways to Begin Finding Freedom from Food Fear:
This is not the time for extreme restriction diets or a pharmacy’s worth of supplements. Balanced eating based on the unglamorous principles of basic healthy eating is the place to start. Abundant vegetables and fruits, complimented by plant-based proteins and fats, all garnished with whole grains, provides a simple foods foundation from which to dial in to your own needs more closely as your healing progresses.
Time it right
Eating approximately every 4-5 hours helps balance blood sugars and mood, reducing cravings. There are studies in the pipeline about intriguing protocols like intermittent fasting, and you may eventually decide to see if one of these approaches works for you. However, current evidence is shaky regarding the benefits of fasting in human subjects, and it’s overwhelming regarding the beneficial impact of eating regularly spaced meals.
Taking a few moments every time you eat to cultivate a sense of gratitude for the food you are about to consume is a powerful way to transform the experience. Engaging in some kind of gratitude practice before meals is also a way to weave mindful awareness into our day at different times. Win-win!
You do not have to do “exercise” you do not enjoy, but you do need to find ways to move your body. Vibrant energy is a “use it or lose it” deal, so find ways to move at an intensity that feels good for about 30 minutes daily ~ walking works, and so does Tai chi, dancing, or kayaking. Make it a game to try new things, letting yourself relish the powerful feeling of lifting weights, the child-like fun of a circus class, or the benefits of an assisted swim program if mobility is challenging. There is a joyful type of movement out there for everybody, so keep looking until you find yours.
Pay attention with appreciation
Practicing mindfulness is staying aware of the present moment without getting swept away by thinking, fantasy, or self-judgement. Start with just a few minutes of sitting quietly, noticing the sensations of breathing wherever they feel strongest in your body, like the tip of your nose or your chest. Expect your mind to wander, and when you realize it has, gently, kindly bring your attention back to the breath. That’s all there is to it. Practicing this regularly calms the cortisol-stress-inflammation cycle that tips health off-balance, and can help you develop more self-compassion.
Go on a media-fast
Setting limits on how long you’ll watch shows or engage with social media, or what kinds of magazines or podcasts you’ll subscribe to, can be hugely impactful in reducing negative noise coming at you. The media messages repeated most frequently are not there to support your health or well-being – they’re meant to sell you something. Often, it’s done with fear-based messaging that communicates there is something wrong with you. You do not need these kinds of undermining ideas slipping into your consciousness. If you’re going to go on a diet, make it an advertising diet!
Give it time
Changing entrenched habits is slow going, whether it’s reaching for sugar to artificially boost energy, or letting the same old self-denigrating thoughts replay in your head again and again. Research suggests it takes anywhere from 21 to 245 days to change behaviors– and most of us know from personal experience that the short end of that timeline may not be very realistic!
See the system
It can help to see how interdependent systems impact health. Imbalanced eating patterns, negative body image, hormonal disruption, soaring stress, environmental toxins…these did not throw your well-being into chaos overnight. It took years to get here and you’ve shown remarkable resilience to be here and focused on healing. There are many ways to begin shifting toward a brighter balance – this is good news!
If you are struggling to make peace with food, help is available. Some people find self-help groups like Overeaters Anonymous do the trick. Others prefer professional support from a nutritionist who understands complex health issues, and will spend the time to truly understand your situation. They will develop a protocol with you that is customized and flexible, to support your well-being at every stage. When you invest in your health, be sure the practitioner’s approach is non-judgmental, compassionate, and respectful of the unique wisdom and insight you already have.
When our health is so impacted that food itself becomes a source of distress, it takes gentle persistence to shift toward freedom. Transformation is not always easy, yet the benefits are worth the effort. We can have a healthier relationship with food and be happy with our bodies. Joyous health and radiant energy are possible with every bite, and we can begin by choosing just one item on this list to focus on today