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The idea of ‘getting comfortable with the uncomfortable’ is a theme that comes up again and again in eating disorder recovery. One major thing to get comfortable with is fear foods. These are foods that can feel really difficult to eat and even cause intense anxiety just by thinking about them.
Everyone has different fear foods, and while some common ones show up across many clients, they can be very individual and unique.
Becoming more comfortable eating these foods is a huge step in recovery because it can open up your options and remove the shackles they may have on you right now.
While this process can result in overall food freedom, at first, it can actually increase anxiety.
Like so many issues, this one may get worse before it gets better. Before you get discouraged, remember that the edge of your comfort zone is where all the growth happens.
What does Challenging Fear Foods look like?
There are a few steps I take when challenging fear foods with clients. If you’re feeling up to the task, here’s how it’s done:
1. Make a Fear Food List
Think about all the foods that give you anxiety when you think about eating them or even when you simply think about them.
Try not to put any judgements on yourself here. This is an essential and exploratory first step.
2. Create a Ladder: Rate each fear food based on just how fearful it makes you.
Is this a food you might be able to tackle with just a bit of hand-holding? Rate that a 1 or a 2.
Is there a food that is frightening just to think about? Something that you can’t even imagine doing without an immediate reaction? Rate that a 9 or 10.
3. Re-write the list in order from least to most fearful.
The idea is that as you ‘go up the ladder,’ the foods get a bit more intense.
This part can get scary to think about but remember you would never jump to the top of the ladder, and conquering those first steps will give you the confidence you need to make it to the top.
Remember: no one said we were going to run up this ladder. We’re taking it at your pace.
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4. Gather the Troops: What resources will you need to support you throughout this process?
Is there a supportive friend or family member you can plan to have these foods with? Will you need to ensure you have more consistent support from a counsellor or therapist?
Are there other forms of support that have been helpful to you in challenging moments in the past?
5. Consider Your Social Use Media Carefully
I’m extremely cautious about social media because of all the unhealthy and downright dangerous content available here.
Particularly as it relates to food and body, social media can be a pretty scary place. However, there are a number of supportive accounts that provide eating disorder support in general (check out our Instagram account: @liberomagazine) and mealtime support.
Related read: Coping with Triggers on Social Media
6. Make a Plan
How and when will you eat this food? Where will you buy it? Who will be there? Can you plan for an activity afterwards to help you deal with any anxiety or take your mind off it?
Having a specific plan can help you put it into action, especially when it’s scary.
7. Enjoy and Ride the Wave
Now it’s time to put all this to action and actually eat the food! It can feel really scary and terrible, but it can also feel incredibly powerful and liberating!
While the anxiety will likely come up, it will also fall back down, just like a wave. Find comfort in the knowledge that the feeling will pass. It can be exceptionally difficult, be kind to yourself as you undertake this task.
Have you tried to challenge your fear foods? Is this something you have been thinking about trying? Let us know in the comments below!
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Olivia Cupido is a registered dietitian and founder of OG Nutrition in Toronto. She is passionate about helping others foster healthy relationships with food and their bodies. Olivia helps her clients return to the importance of connection, culture, enjoyment and self-care in food and eating.
SITE DISCLAIMER: The opinions and information shared in this article or any other Content on our site may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Libero does not provide emergency support. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433 or another helpline or 911.