Fear Foods and Eating Disorders


I’m afraid of cake.. I’m afraid that if I allow myself to eat one bite, before I know it the whole thing will be gone! Lots of us have this feeling towards one specific food or another. That feeling is called a food fear. Many individuals suffering from eating disorders have intense food fears. I have talked to many young men and women who have stated that they are “absolutely terrified” of certain foods, and will only eat what is safe for them. “Safe” is a very popular word for those suffering from eating disorders. The idea of “safe foods” vs “fear foods” is often a topic of discussion. Safe foods have a couple different meanings. Either they are safe because they won’t cause weight gain, or they are safe because they do not pose the risk of overeating. Fear foods are avoided because of the threat of weight gain or because the food is too hard to resist and overeating is likely to occur. Common fear foods include: cake, cookies, doughnuts, candy, ice cream, pasta, pizza, chips.

Fear foods are taken to a whole new level when eating out. People struggling with eating disorders often want a sense of control that food can somehow provide for them. Going out to a restaurant or fast food establishment does not feel very “safe” since they are not in control of how the food is made and how much they will be served. When talking about fast food restaurants, I will often hear people say “that’s not healthy.” My response is generally that the majority of foods are ok in moderation and have a time and a place. There is no reason to fear food of any kind. For many people, food fears can easily become irrational. The thought for many is that if they eat a hamburger, a cookie, or even a bite of a cookie, they will (no doubt) gain 5+ pounds. In reality, it takes 3,500 calories ABOVE what your body needs to gain one pound. Chances are, that bite of a cookie or even a whole hamburger won’t even come close to weight gain.

This fear is simply not based on reality, but for people with eating disorders it “feels like it” and feelings can go a long way. If you believed that you could gain 5 pounds in one meal, you may fear food as well. Our food system certainly doesn’t help eradicate the fear as chain restaurants are legally required to provide caloric information for all meals. Just today, I heard someone say that soon there will be another label describing how many sit ups it will take to burn off that meal! As funny as that may sound, it’s not that farfetched in our health crazed society. I was walking in a parking lot with my 10 year old niece a few months ago when a Prius started reversing just as we had passed it. She was a little scared so I tried to lighten the mood and said “Oh, the Prius..the silent killer”..instead of a laugh, her response was “No, that’s salt”. Why is a ten year old girl worried about salt?! Our culture is leading us to take health messages to the extreme.

Don’t get me wrong, being healthy is not a bad thing by any means but why does it have to be all or nothing? Why can’t we enjoy a cookie or a piece of cake without feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt or shame or doing 300 sit ups?!

Hopefully this will help….Next time you feel the Shame Sheriff approaching, tell him that our body is constantly burning/using calories for energy. We don’t need to be active in order to burn calories. Calories are our energy source just as sunlight and water is to a plant. All of our organs including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys etc require energy to function! Our digestive system uses 10% of the calories we eat to heat itself up for digestion.. Our lungs require calories to breath. Our liver requires calories to carry out over 500 different functions daily! If you were to lay in a bed for 24 hours without moving a muscle, not even your pinky, you would require at least 1200 calories for your organs to function properly. If you are out and about, add in an additional 10% for the Thermic Effect of Food (heating of our digestive system to break down and absorb nutrients) and an additional 20-30% for physical activity (walking, housework, mowing the lawn, exercise etc). That’s some serious calorie burning right there!! If you learn about what healthy eating really means and understand how our body functions, there’s no reason to fear food of any kind and there’s definitely no need for those 300 sit ups after a meal!