Written by Ashna Khanna
*TW: Eating Disorders, fear foods
As a person living with an eating disorder, October can be a scary month, and I’m not talking about the horror movies and haunted houses. Halloween, National Pizza and National Cookie Month (very important celebrations btw), are enough to send my ED voice screaming because of what they all have in common… “fear foods”. Over the years, my irrational fear of certain foods has led me to dread social gatherings like one dreads a jack-in-the-box before it springs.
To provide you with context, individuals with eating disorders often experience intense fear towards certain foods as they believe these foods will lead to instant and discernable weight gain. An important part of treatment and recovery for many individuals is re-integrating these foods and learning that food is neutral, not good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.
This can be incredibly difficult in a society obsessed with weight loss and dieting. You can see it in our everyday language. Terms like “guilty pleasures”, “junk food”, and “cheat days” reinforce the ideology that certain foods are inherently bad and that they need to be earned. When in fact, it’s normal for our body to crave sugars and fats, and it’s okay to satisfy these cravings just because you feel like it. That’s healthy. Health doesn’t taste a certain way or have a specific body size, it’s a state of being that differs for each individual.
Unfortunately, in the name of health, we have developed the toxic belief that certain foods are intrinsically bad. Is it really that bad to spend quality time baking cookies with your family? Is it bad to share the evening with your partner making pizzas in your underwear? Will that cupcake you’ve been craving all day really mean the end of the world? I will admit, these questions are easier for me to ask than to actually act on, but I am a work in progress and I’ve used a few “tricks” to overcome my fear of “treats”:
Health is defined by how you feel, not by the letter on your clothing, the number on your scale, or the contents in your belly. Some days healthy means eating an awesome salad and other days it’s eating an awesome pizza. What makes them awesome is that you listened to your body and gave it the fuel it needed.
A recovery win can feel like shit and still be a win. I still experience anxiety when I eat certain fear foods and that’s okay. A recovery win won’t always be rainbows and butterflies. It can end in realizing you are not ready, or asking for help, or crying your eyes out. That’s okay.
Weight is a poor indicator of health. The day to day fluctuations in weight are more a reflection of how much water you’ve had as opposed to the calories you’ve consumed or how “healthy” you are. That’s why doctors only check your weight annually - the daily changes are normal and insignificant.
Often, the worst-case scenario is illogical. What’s the worst thing that could happen if you ate X food? What if you gained X number of pounds? Having this inner dialogue helps me realize that the guilt, shame, and fear I’ve come to associate with certain foods doesn’t make sense.
You can’t live a full life on an empty stomach. This one is easy to forget when you are in it. Sometimes it takes the people in your life to remind you that when you are old and wrinkly, it won’t matter what or how much you ate but who you shared it with, the stories you told, the kisses you exchanged, and the memories you made.
Finally, you don’t need a reason to treat yo’self. Food is not a reward or a punishment. It’s the fuel your body needs to keep doing all the incredible things it does for you every single day.
So, if you really need a reason to have that slice of pie – celebrate that.