Food Fear and Navigating Healthy Eating

I’d like to share a little of my food journey with you today. I want to go ahead and state upfront that, while this is my experience, it might not be yours. None of what I’m writing below is meant to be advice, BUT if you relate to it, if it brings you peace, if it makes you feel more normal or makes a light bulb go off… beautiful.

I didn’t realize it until recently, but I’ve spent the last ten to fifteen years dancing around a pretty persistent fear of food. I don’t give myself a hard time for this – it seems pretty reasonable to develop a fear of food when it seems to cause you pain. Especially since the exact source of that pain is often unclear; sometimes pizza is ok, sometimes it has me writhing on the floor. Sometimes vegetables and fruits don’t sit well with my system, which is especially frustrating because they’re “healthy”.

As far as I know, I don’t have any serious food-related problem like Celiac (unfortunately my food problems have been hard to pin down, and to be honest I stopped with the diagnostics and just started listening to my body). It’s becoming more and more clear to me that obsessing over and fearing food only exacerbates food-related problems. Orthorexia is a real thing, and is especially hard to manage when what’s considered “healthy” changes so frequently. Guess what – science isn’t absolute. What we know evolves and gets disproved and reassessed and it can be hard to know what to listen to. And to add to the confusion, our bodies change too. We age, we go through stress, we have babies and get injured and pick up infections. And our food changes too! Pesticides, antibiotics, GMOs (another discussion entirely), organic or not, free-range or not, grass-fed or not…. there’s so much to consider, and endless things to obsess over and try to “get right”.

As someone who tries to coexist with anxiety, the idea of controlling every aspect of my diet was alluring. And the line between being a health-conscious person and someone who won’t eat at a restaurant or a friend’s house for fear of eating something “wrong” can seem pretty blurry sometimes. Especially when you have health problems and are trying to fix them. Especially when doctors prescribe elimination diets that reinforce these obsessive behaviors.

What makes that line between health and obsession super clear for me now? How I feel. When I’m meal planning, does my body feel restricted and tense and sweaty, or do I feel relief that I won’t have to think about food for the rest of the week? Does eating a yummy, homemade Curry Vegetable-and-Rice Soup nourish me inside and out, or am I worrying if the black pepper I used might cause a reaction because I might be slightly intolerant to it? Do I look forward to eating or wish I could just take a pill and never have to eat again?

Struggling for so long with finding a diet that doesn’t cause me pain (pro tip – it’s not just about the diet) has taught me to have some serious compassion for my body and for myself. Having compassion for my body has allowed me to slowly release my fear and obsession over food, and for once since I was ten (yes TEN!) years old let go of restriction. I ate something with whole wheat in it this week, and this is a weirdly big deal for me. I’ve spent a lot of time playing detective with my health problems – What if it’s the gluten? What if it’s the bran? What if it’s the carbs? What if what if what if????? It was really nice to put all that away and just eat a damn whole wheat fig bar!

And I survived. And I didn’t punish myself for eating it, and I didn’t worry about it. And I enjoyed it.

My food journey has been so packed with lessons that don’t just apply to food or healthy eating but to life in general, and I can’t wait to share everything I’ve learned (and continue to learn!) with my future People. But there is one thing I would directly advise you to do TODAY, and that is to begin cultivating compassion for your body. Especially if you have health problems or struggle with disordered eating. Your body is really and truly doing the best it can, and when you reinforce her with “You’re doing great! Thanks for taking care of me!” rather than “What the hell is wrong with you why won’t you let me eat cake you stupid broken idiot!”…. well, she’ll appreciate it. It’s a lot easier for her to do her job and thrive when she has your loving support! Be nice to yourself. And from me to you – you’re doing great ❤

Published by kelliroseyates

Kelli Yates is a health and nutrition writer, dietetics student, and co-host and creator of The Nutrition Nerds Podcast. In her spare time she teaches the free class Well-Fed Survival: Eating Well After Disaster.

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