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Episode 207: Overcoming Food Fear - Part 1

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Summary  

Let me tell you the story of how I had my dream car for 5 days. 

My jetta was totaled and on my hunt for a new car I came across a beautiful mini cooper at Carmax. It was a convertible with a silver exterior, gorgeous plaid interior, and shockingly in my budget. 

I drove it off the lot, windows down, my favorite music playing, and I felt like I had made it. 

But as the week went on something interesting happened. 

I constantly worried about it. 

I worried about it getting scratched in the parking lot or someone breaking into it. I worried about the cost of premium gas. I became anxious about what the repair bills would be if something went wrong since they're notoriously expensive to fix. 

Luckily Carmax has a 5 day return policy, and so I brought it back to the lot. Relieved. 

What does this have to do with food fear you ask?

A goal isn't worth achieving if it brings with it an unhealthy, or unpleasant lifestyle. 

And unfortunately that's what diet culture has done to a lot of us. 

It teaches us how to be skinny at the expense of our peace, our enjoyment, and our sanity. 

And that is what has led countless clients to my door, terrified to eat things like bananas, or carrots, or watermelon.

It's what makes us follow any treat with a wave of regret and angst, believing we've ruined our progress. 

No more. Today we're going to uncover the steps it takes to reverse this food fear so we can reach our goals and enjoy our lives.

1. Gradual exposure. 

Fear often diminishes when we ease into a new experience. You don't go right for the high dive. First you learn to swim, then you jump off the ledge of the pool, then the regular diving board, and eventually you make your way up to the high dive, building your confidence and mitigating fear along the way. 

Do the same with food. You'll never get over your fear by avoiding it completely (the same way you'd never get over a fear of the high dive if you never went to the pool), so introduce it in small ways. 

Scared of the sugar in bananas? Cut up a quarter of one and put it in your morning shake. 

Afraid of not fasting? Move your fasting window up by 30 minutes.

Nervous about not tracking every morsel of food you eat? Try to pick one meal a day not to track. 

Eventually you'll gather enough evidence that you're not, in fact, going to wake up 10 pounds heavier and will be able to progress to the next step (eating half a banana for example) without overwhelm or anxiety. Or at least with tolerable trepidation.  

2. Mindful eating.

Get into this practice with foods you're already comfortable with. Sit down to your meal without distractions, take a few deep breaths, and engage all 5 senses as you eat. Chew your food fully and notice how your body feels as you eat. 

A lot of food fear happens from what I refer to as the spazzoid brain, or the reptilian brain. It's the part of your brain that's run by emotions and fear, it is the survival brain. 

If we want to release the fear around food we need to tap into our higher brain, or what I like to call the buddha brain. And in order to do that we need to practice slowing down at our meals, controlling our breathing, staying in the present moment, and activating our parasympathetic nervous system.

3. Identify, challenge, and reframe negative thoughts.

Identify: When faced with the feared food, pay attention to the negative thoughts that come up for you. Are there specific fears, worries, or beliefs associated with eating this food? Write down these thoughts (without judgment).

Challenge: Look at the negative thoughts you've written down and ask yourself...

  • Is there any evidence to support these thoughts? Are they based on real experiences or just assumptions?
  • Are there any alternative explanations for why I developed this fear?
  • What is the worst-case scenario if I eat this food? How likely is that scenario to happen?

Reframe: Once you've challenged your negative thoughts, work on reframing them into more balanced and realistic statements. For example go from "Bananas will make me gain weight rapidly due to their sugar content" to "Bananas are a nutritious fruit with various health benefits, and moderate consumption as part of a balanced diet is unlikely to cause rapid weight gain."

 4. Education is Key.

One of the primary steps in tackling food fear is education. As a functional nutrition practitioner, one of my main tasks with clients is to provide accurate information about the feared food item.

For example just last week I shared a social media post explaining that the glycemic index (the cause of a lot of fruit fear in particular) is actually extremely out-dated and inaccurate. 

And this is what you can expect to see in next week's episode where we're going to go over the many health benefits of commonly feared foods and debunk a lot of the myths that perpetuate said fears. 

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