Today I wanted to look at the necessity of eating your fear foods in recovery, and why we will never be able to truly get better by continuing to exclusively eat the foods our ED deems safe. This is something we are told a lot, but something that personally I struggled to ever believe, as I convinced myself that surely by eating larger volumes of my existing diet I would be able to gain weight and recover? Yes, we can technically gain weight off eating anything, and the fact a food has a 'diet' label on it does not change this, it does however effect the latter, as we cannot actually recover on such items.
The reasoning for this is two fold, but firstly I feel it necessary to clarify "safe foods". When I use this term I'm talking about 'diet' alternatives, like 'light mayo', 'coke zero', 'low-fat'/ 'fat-free' X, Y, and Z. Essentially all the artificial stuff that has been created to feed into diet culture, which is reason one why recovery on such items is not attainable...
We need to rewire our brains
It is simply not possible to recover within a dieting mentality, as you are reinforcing your ED's beliefs that normal foods are 'bad' or 'unhealthy'. Consequently, you are strengthening the neural pathways created by your ED, that say you can only eat these items. You are also subscribing to ideals around shape and size, and confirming negative body image views. This is unlikely your conscious intention (because your ED has tricked you into thinking "you just prefer the taste of them" - you don't.)... but it is ultimately what they promote!
Due to this, you are never going to achieve real recovery if you attempt to do so by avoiding all the foods you fear. A recovered life is one where you can eat anything freely, because all food is safe and food is just food. Therefore, you need to rewire your brain to hold this belief, and the only way to do this is by eating the foods your ED tells you you're not allowed to, and prove to yourself that despite the fact it may be anxiety provoking and uncomfortable, nothing bad happens. In fact, after repeated exposure to them, the fear will begin to lessen and you will actually start to enjoy them and realise how much better they taste than all that diet rubbish. It will also open your life up to so much more... You'll be able to let other people prepare food for you without worrying what ingredients they used, you'll be able to go out to eat and enjoy socialising, and you'll have so much more space in your brain to give to the things you really care about, and to honour the values you truly hold.
Our brain needs us to eat nutrient rich foods
If you have suffered with a restrictive ED then your body is malnourished and starving, so it needs food to end the famine. From an evolutionary perspective we have two options: We can hibernate and essentially wait it out, or we can migrate in search of food.
Tabitha Farrar wrote a wonderful piece exploring this simile, which she articulates far better than I ever could, so I suggest giving that a read (https://tabithafarrar.com/2019/04/cant-recover-anorexia-diet-food/). Essentially though, the only way we can signal to our bodies that they can stop looking for food, and thus stop obsessing over it and being trapped in an ED mindset, is by providing them with the calorie and nutrient rich foods that they need for survival. By doing this we will be able to normalise the value we place on food, and rank it more appropriately, enabling us to focus on our real morals. This demonstrates why recovery on "safe foods" is not something we can achieve, as until we allow ourselves to eat the things our body needs, then the end of migration will never be triggered. Therefore, despite the fact we may for now, continue to survive on a limited pallet of 'safe foods', we will never not be living a disordered life. We will forever be trapped in quasi recovery, suffering the mental and physical consequences of restriction, but presenting ourselves outwardly as getting better. This means lying to those we love, and growing increasingly isolated whilst simultaneously having to use energy to keep up this facade.
When considering the end of migration, it is notable that this marks the relief of our famine, and so we must eat in response to this. That means consuming a lot! Not only this, but as it is calories and fat that your body needs and craves the most, we are programmed to look for these in their most convenient and accessible form. Therefore we will seek out cakes, biscuits, cheese, chocolate... all the things we've been depriving ourselves of - the foods we fear. This knowledge serves to normalise this response in recovery, as well as proving why we have to allow it if we ever want to be rid of our ED's.
I hope this post may have shed some light for those of you still in denial, as to why it is pointless trying to recover on your safe foods. I am by no means saying it will be easy to face your fear foods and incorporate them into your diet, but it is a must. I think it's important to remember that fear is an abnormal response to have to any food, and so we need to rewire our brains to undo this belief. I think the big takeaway here is that whilst we can gain weight from eating more of our safe foods, we can not gain our life and our freedom back. Due to this real recovery will only occur through us defying our ED's rules so we can trigger the end of migration and begin to create non-disordered neural pathways.
More from me soon,
Mais// The Recovery Bean <3