How to Face a Food Fear: The First Step in Breaking Down your Food Restrictions
I think the hardest part about releasing your food rules and food restrictions is the unwavering fear that you’ll just go CRAZY the moment you do! When you struggle with having a poor relationship with food, you lose your natural intuition and trust around it. In other words, I remember when I first began to ‘diet.’ I was in the seventh grade and for many people that seems insanely young to be dealing with diets and food restrictions, but unfortunately…. it’s not that uncommon whatsoever!
It always starts out harmless. It’s a simple, “I’m going to eat healthier.” So, you tend to cut out chips, candy, the usual stuff! It’s not a big deal and you truly want to just try to have a healthier, more sustainable diet. I want to emphasize something: that’s not bad! Wanting to eat healthier and have an overall more balanced and wholesome diet isn’t bad at all! What’s bad is when it becomes a rule. You create a law around certain foods, some are allowed to be enjoyed and some are meant to be limited at all costs and even some are meant to be completely cut out of your diet forever!
You begin to create categories of food: good, bad, etc. And what happens from there is the categories get even more unbalanced and tighter. It starts out with not drinking soda or eating sweets, however, it then turns into a complete refusal of any carbs or fats. Your rules get more intense and you begin to have more of them as you continue to deem foods as “allowed and not allowed.”
This is where restrictions begins. It can happen quickly or over time. For me, it happened within a relatively short number of months. Before I even realized the path I was going down, I was never allowed to eat sugar, carbs, soda, candy, certain fats, certain proteins, only some fruit and vegetables, but with no salt.
My rules got real... real fast.
And that’s the case for most people who struggle with diet-culture and food restrictions. The problem with rules is once they’re in place, they cannot be broken. If you break a rule around food, you ‘failed.’ In other words, you messed up and have to start all over with even more rules and more restrictions. And so the cycle continues.
The key here is where is the rule coming from and what are you making it mean?
For example, I told myself that I could never eat cookies ever again. Cookies were unhealthy and bad for me. They would make me fat and being fat was being a failure. Being fat meant I was ugly and no one would ever like me and I would no longer be viewed as ‘perfect.’ I would no longer have people proud of me or love me and I would have lost my control and ability to be ‘enough.’
See, it’s never really about the food.
What it is about is the narrative you’re telling yourself around the food.
Maybe you believe that the more ‘clean’ your diet is, the more boys will like you because boys like girls who are ‘super skinny and in shape.’ And the more boys like you, the better you will feel about yourself and the more self-confidence you’ll gain.
The misconception in these food narratives is that by ignoring our own insecurities and finding distractions that our insecurities will go away.
So, for me, I struggled to feel worthy and to feel like I was enough. So, instead of dealing with those feelings and reworking my own confidence and belief system I carried about myself, I instead found a distraction and a projection for my negative emotions. I believed that if I controlled my food, I would control my worth. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted.
But, what I didn’t know was that your happiness doesn’t lie in perfecting your diet, body, weight or whatever. In fact, the opposite is true.
The longer I ignored how terrible I felt about myself. The longer I hated my own appearance or personality. The longer I fought against my own mind and body, the worse I felt regardless of ‘perfecting’ my diet.
The smaller I got, the less I weighed, the less I ate, the worse I felt.
Because self-hatred will never bring about self-love or acceptance.
So, this brings me to my current topic of today, “How do you then release your food rules? How do you begin to rewrite what food means about you and reintroduce the foods you have feared for so long?”
Allow me to explain:)
The way to fully heal your relationship with food, and more importantly, your relationship with yourself is by letting go of what you are making the food mean.
If you’re making food mean:
-ability to control
-way to chase perfection
-form of self-hatred
You have to rewrite what food truly is.
It’s simply food. It only means what you make it mean.
The first step is: Awareness & Acceptance
This is the hardest and most crucial step in the process. It begins with you being aware that you’ve made food mean something that it isn’t. You’ve given it more power than it deserves. And, what you believe your food restrictions will bring you…. they won’t.
What I mean by that is, my food restrictions, my ‘chasing perfection through my diet’ was supposed to bring me confidence and accomplishment. And it didn’t. I was supposed to feel my absolute best the smaller I was and the less I ate and I wasn’t. It was the complete opposite.
So, the first step is understanding that what you believe the food will bring you it won’t.
Once you are aware of your beliefs around food and the relationship you have to it, then, you can begin to change it.
You cannot change anything you are unaware of or have not accepted about yourself. That’s why this is the scariest step also. Because you have to release this identity you have around food and rewrite that relationship.
The second step is: Slowly Questioning
Begin to slowly question your thoughts around food.
Why do I believe that one cookie will kill me?
How do I view this food or that?
When you begin to question your own thoughts, it can help you start to challenge them.
Why do I feel guilty for eating that?
What have I told myself about this?
Who do I believe I have to be around food?
For this step, food journaling can SERIOUSLY come in handy! Write down when you feel anxious around food, why and when did this begin. You’ll start to break down your beliefs around the food when you realize that it’s not food at all, it’s the rules, restrictions and deeper meanings you’ve given it.
The third step is: Challenges
You have to begin to challenge your restrictions.
This is always the step that people feel they will just COMPLETELY lose it if they let go of their food rules, but actually, the opposite is true.
When you have no rules around food, you won’t feel the desire to binge or emotionally eat because you aren’t telling yourself ‘no’ constantly to certain foods or food groups! When everything is available to you, at any time of day, in any amount, your relationship with food begins to change. You won’t think about it as much. You won’t stress about it as much. And all of this takes time!
But, you will truly begin to eat what makes you feel good and that could be candy every once in awhile and then a sandwich the next day! But, you won’t feel like it’s an ‘all-or-nothing’ with your diet anymore.
If you eat one cookie, you won’t have to eat ten. Because you’re no longer telling yourself that that was bad in the first place, that you failed, that you’ll never eat a cookie again, that tomorrow you will begin a cleanse, etc.
Eat one cookie, then…. don’t change a thing! Nothing! Shut that voice in your mind down! Go on with your day! Eat dinner normally, etc. And do not make plans to completely alter your diet and restrict even heavier the next day.
You have to begin to challenge your rules to release them.
If you believe that eating one cookie will make you gain 10 lbs., eat that one cookie, prove yourself wrong, because I promise that it won’t! Then, live your life. Don’t stress on it, overanalyze it, or begin to restrict again.
Over time, you will release all your rules because you now see food for what it is-just food. With no limits, restrictions, or rules about it.
The fourth step is an overarching theme: Love yourself, baby!
If you truly want to leave your bad relationship with food behind, then YOU HAVE TO SUPPORT YOURSELF LOVINGLY THROUGH THE PROCESS.
I say it all the time, “Self-hatred will not bring about self-love.”
Trying to hate yourself through this process or feel guilty, shameful, angry, upset with yourself, your body, boyfriend, whatever won’t serve anyone especially you! I always say, “See this as an exciting opportunity to change your life for the better.”
Truly! Call it what it is, love! This is an opportunity for you to challenge your food restrictions and begin to live a life of food freedom! Where you eat out of love and self-respect for your body, you spend little to no energy stressing, weighing, planning, or preparing your food for days and weeks on end. You no longer go to bed feeling guilty for eating supper a little later or having a third pancake the next morning.
But, you have to be doing this out of love.
Similar to when I was in my eating disorder, I tried to change things about myself to BRING me self-love.
Self-love cannot be brought to you, it’s found within.
Nothing on the outside will bring you inner peace.
I stand and swear by that statement.
It’s a state of mind.
And acceptance of oneself.
A true test.
An opportunity to heal and nourish your amazing body and brain.
You have to love yourself when you have an off day or give into an old food rule. When you feel guilty about going out with friends, or cry after eating a food restriction, love yourself, love.
This process takes time. But, hating yourself through it won’t make it faster, easier, or in fact, happen at all.
You’re embarking on a journey to change your life through your relationship with food.
Be proud of yourself.
And always remember, “You have the power, not the food, which means you can take it back and you are strong enough to do so. I know it.”
And check out my Instagram @sincerely.xo.emily to download a free worksheet on the binge-restrict cycle! Helping you rewrite your food rules and restrictions to live a life of food freedom! Also, check out my YouTube Channel for a video on The Binge-Restrict Cycle and how to properly combat it!