I have always loved food. As a child I ate everything under the sun and my parents have countless pictures of me with food all over my face to prove it. What is wild is that I can go from craving all my favorite foods to being completely terrified to put any food into my body. This switch can happen in seconds and I call it food fear. This food fear I am trying to describe can turn my appetite upside down and inside out. I can go from super hungry to nauseated and from super excited to paralyzing anxious.
I experience food fear in a few different ways:
Association: If I get sick following the consumption of a certain food or meal I tend to associate sickness with that food. This breeds a sense of fear and anxiety that can be very powerful. When severe enough it can get to the point that I will not eat a certain food ever again or at least for a very long time. I am still struggling to find the courage to eat at one of my favorite Thai restaurants for I am still traumatized from becoming violently ill following my last meal there. I am not sure I will recover from that one. As crazy as it sounds sometimes just the thought of eating a food that has made me feel ill can make me feel anxious. When so many foods have caused you a problem it can make your "safe" list a bit too short and it takes a lot of work to heal from the associated trauma.
Public vs Private Food Consumption: Sometimes I am not necessarily afraid to eat a certain food entirely but I am afraid to eat it in public. I get really nervous trying new foods or foods I haven't had in while if I am in public. Sometimes the fear can ruin all the fun. Nobody ever wants to be sick. But let's be honest, being sick in public is significantly worse and can leave you with invisible scars. I have to tell myself I will be just fine in order to enjoy a meal out of the house, especially something new. Sometimes I am not willing to take any chances at ruining a good time so I don't eat or eat less or mostly at home. This can be really challenging when traveling. It takes a lot of mental dialogue and positive talk to help me through eating in public and trying new things while out and about. If I am in the comfort of my own home I am significantly less anxious and pretty brave when it comes to trying new foods and this can even lead to overeating.
"Good vs Bad Food": If you are like me and have been researching everything under the sun in an effort to have a better belly. When researching anything gut related it is so common to come across information about diet and what is "good" or "bad" for the gut.
First of all I would like to work on breaking myself of using these words to describe food because they can create disordered thoughts and eating. As someone that has struggled with my relationship with food and my body image for more than half of my life I am trying to be cognizant of how I address food in general.
Aside from my history with food, as an IBD and IBS warrior I find that there is a serious mental component. What I think will happen really impacts what I actually experience. If I get myself all worked up about eating what everyone is saying is a "bad" food or worse something I have convinced myself is a "bad" food, I am going to naturally feel remorse for eating it and possibly even experience some GI discomfort. The symptoms are not necessarily from the food itself but from the anxiety and fear. This might sound crazy but I promise you this is real and I know I can't be the only one that deals with this. Anyone relate?
Generalized Food Fear: Food fear comes in all shapes and sizes. Just like we all experience IBD and IBS differently, food fear isn't any different. My food fear comes and goes. Sometimes I am not scared to eat at all and other times I get really nervous.
Overcoming food fear:
I wish I had a magical answer that took all food fear away, but I don't. I still struggle with it myself. What has helped me the most has been trying foods at home in a relaxed environment and working on positive self talk. I feel like I miss out on a lot of experiences especially dining out over my food fear that really became bad last year. I remind myself that there is a restroom just in case I need it. I tell myself I will be fine and that it is just food. I give myself a pep talk literally. I try to breathe deeply to reduce stress and anxiety. I try to focus my attention on something else. What am I going to wear, what is something I am excited about and use those positive thoughts as a distraction from the food fear. I also try to acknowledge that the food could be an innocent bystander to stress or other causes for feeling ill. Trying not to blame the food unless it is obvious, a repeat offender or simply horrific. I can do all of these things and still be too scared to eat but I am working on it. This is a journey so be kind to yourself along the way. Celebrate the victories not matter how small. Love yourself and your body for what it can do for you. Take care of your mind as it plays a huge part in our relationship with food and our mental health. Send me a DM if you have questions!