The world is a scary place...we fear criminals , we fear disease, we fear spiders, and we fear clowns! Maybe some of these are more extreme than others but at a time like now with the COVID-19 virus going around fear has an even higher stake in our lives. Fear is something that can take hold over us, consume us and cause us to make poor decisions.
When we are fearful we are less likely to take action, (aside from maybe putting our tail between our legs and walking away) and adapt in a healthy way.
This is also true for the fear of food.
When you get that anxious feeling when you see a cupcake, fear might be playing a larger role in your life than you think. Often the fear of food is actually the fear of weight gain, the fear of going over your calories, the fear of going “backwards” in your weight loss journey.
Now these feelings are totally legitimate and should not be thrown to the side. I know for many of you out there the fear of putting on weight is something that holds you tight to your strict eating guidelines.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Now this is more than just an overused sentiment - there is true value to be found in it.
Think about it for a second...when you take a look at that big plate of pasta, what are the initial feelings that come up?
Is it: “Wow I wish I could eat all of that, I’m so worried that I’m going to gain weight though so I shouldn’t have any”.
Does this usually work for you?
Does it then become something like “I really despise the fact that I can’t eat that right now...I’m so looking forward to enjoying that food when I drop more weight!”.
There are times when you decide to “indulge” in this meal and immediately feel regret and guilt. Your own wants got the best of you and crushed your will power into the small bits of grated cheese you covered your pasta with!
You may feel like you’ve failed and you’ve fallen into the trap. These feelings of guilt can manifest in a fear response towards food. You try to avoid the uncomfortable (feels of guilt) and instead put those negative feelings unto the food itself.
The little ol’ pasta is now dangerous to you!
It’s good to feel uncomfortable
We as humans feel most comfortable when we are controlling our environment. Think about how we have HVAC systems to keep temperatures at a spot where we aren’t too hot or too cold. Just right is where we feel best.
The same idea can be used to talk about our fear of food. We are comfortable when we can control the meals and choices everyday.
Here’s something that is a fact though...you can’t always control your environment and you can’t always feel comfortable.
Being uncomfortable with something is simply a sign that you are onto something important. For example, think of doing anything for the first time...were you comfortable doing it right away? If you were - then you probably got bored with that task pretty quickly because the challenge is not strong.
How does this relate to being fearful of food?
Well, having fear about something is an uncomfortable feeling! You don’t want to feel that fear because it promotes negative thinking, depresses you, and makes you feel that you need to avoid the very thing that is fearful to you.
Learn from your fear
Fear is an indicator that something is important. If there’s a lion in front of you - you start to feel fear and you best believe that the fear is important and telling you “Let’s get the hell out of here before we are attacked” (Unless you're Joe Exotic from Netflix's 'Tiger King'!)
So then fear must be important when you consider how it relates to your food. It’s important because you know that you want to change your health and your body. The fear is triggered by foods that you deem unworthy and uncomfortable for you to eat to maintain your weight loss journey.
How can we learn from this when it comes to food?
Remember that the fear itself is more important than the object you are fearful of. So it isn’t the pasta, the chips, or cookies that causes you fear but instead the feeling that you would have if you in fact ate that.
Okay so enough of all this thought experiment stuff - how can you literally overcome that feeling of fear when you are met with a decision to eat something outside of “healthy eating”.
Ask yourself - What am I really fearful of?
It’s probably not the innocent little cupcake sitting on the counter but in fact the feeling of guilt and the fear of putting weight on. This thought can help you to take the power away from the food and put it back into your own hands.
Remind yourself that you are feeling this way because it’s important.
Having fear about something is simply an indicator of how important something is to your life. You are on this weight loss journey and are motivated to get to a place that you are happy with. This fear of food presents itself because you believe that the food is a deterrent to your success.
We are big fans of using mindfulness to help aid any mental hang ups when it comes to self doubt and confusion and fear. Sitting quietly with yourself for just a few minutes can help you to relieve some of that stress you put on yourself when dealing with food decisions.
Just eat the cupcake, but eat it slowly
Look - there are far worse things to be fearful of in our day to day life. Food is a source of comfort and vitality. If we can’t rely on food to bring us some sense of happiness and positivity, then we’ve lost a major biological need. When you decide on those days that your fear of that food will not overcome you and you will allow yourself that treat...remember to eat it slowly and enjoy it! Not only does eating it slowly allow for the full taste, but it helps to fill you up quicker so you don’t need to jump into your second helping of it.
Shoot for 80% on your game
If you give yourself some leeway when it comes to eating healthy and only eating foods that you deem healthy, even 20% of the time you can stray off the path and eat something that you’ve been resisting. Perfection isn’t something that leads you to success - it’s consistent behavior over the long term that will reap you the rewards!
Once you are able to practice these skills you will find that your fear of food starts to diminish and your inner power will flourish!