Fear of Food: why these avocados(and other foods) aren’t so scary after all.

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Fear? Would I actually consider the anxiety I have felt so often in my life around food to be fear? Well, I think I would go ahead and say yes, in a way. Why? Because, I really believed on some level it could hurt me. Let me explain a bit more.  As I see it, as humans, one of our basic instincts is to survive. This does not just mean to physically survive( living flesh and bones) in the world, but also to be seen and recognized in society as having value. This is normal. We want to feel love and be included. This is because we are social beings, and many times our actual physical survival does involve being socially integrated. Therefore, if I view x food as being a barrier to my goals(weight loss) and if my goals(weight loss) are seen to be so closely tied to how I believe I am seen in the world, my relationship to food is thus crippled by the belief that my sole ability to survive and be expressed in the world depends on it. Wow! That was probably a run on sentence and a lot of words! Now, it is true that we have to eat to survive and some foods support us in different ways. However, when one food or a group of foods is isolated to be the sole barrier or answer to all of the questions ever asked about food and dieting, this creates an extremely intense situation. In summary, I believed this avocado and other foods would make me gain weight, which was my biggest fear. Then because of the weight gain I would assume I would feel alone and sad or other intense emotions.  Thus, if I avoid the avocado(etc.), I avoid intense distressful emotions associated with feeling alienated and alone right? I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had developed a stress response surrounding food. Which also causes distress. Wow! What a cycle I was in huh? But why did this even develop in the first place? Well, the reasons are innumerable however,  I will tell you that when I first began dieting in my early teens, I was measuring every calorie, even the calorie in gum. Not kidding. I was proud of my ability to do this and actually received praise in numerous different forms. Thus, reinforcing the behavior. I was basically internalizing, “great job obsessing about food!” I was receiving the message you have such discipline or would even receive compliments about how great I looked now. Alas, if only people knew the internal battle going on inside of me to remain, “disciplined.”

Back to the avocado:  I remember seeing someone about weight loss at some weight loss center and was told the TRUTH about avocados. ahhhhhhh sooo scary. I was told they contained a high percentage of fat and to either avoid them or eat very small portions. I loved avocados as a teen and I liked guacamole too. But, I had just found out these green fruits were a barrier to my goal: to get thin. My brain then slapped a judgement on them, and I tried to avoid them. Even if I did eat them, I was probably all too aware of the fat and caloric content within them. My brain thought, avocados contain fat, I’m afraid of fat, I’m going to avoid them. Things changed, as they always do and during my college years, as I began to get more into eating whole foods, I reintroduced avocados into my life with a gracious welcome. I am not sure exactly what changed, but I began to read about all of the amazing benefits they contained. I am sure there was tremendous internal dialogue and various degrees of judgement. But never the less, I ate them with joy. Wow! you might be thinking this sounds like a lot of effort to reintroduce an avocado. Yes, obsessing about food is exhausting. But, back then judgements about food were a daily occurrence and I think I did it almost unconsciously. Now, my process towards avoiding food judgement is much more deliberate and purposeful.  In the end, it turns out avocados weren’t so scary after all and are delicious! They are also super nutrient dense and delicious in smoothies, salads and in soups( I know soup? I was surprised too).

What is the point of this story? Is is about Avocados?  No, the point of this story is to highlight many things. One of which is that I have become very aware of society’s crippling obsession with food judgement. It is literally everywhere. For me I found that it robbed me of whole-heartedly enjoying one of life’s most essential activities(eating). It also sent me into a tumble of confusion and mind games . It most certainly did not bring me closer to embracing my true authentic self nor make me feel more love. I am also pointing out that I was praised for being obsessed with food because I was losing weight or because people saw me as disciplined. I am certainly not saying goals are bad. Goals are awesome!!! However, my goal was wrapped so tightly around my self-worth that the perspective of not achieving it felt like failure on about 100 different levels. The goal meant everything to me. After further digging deeper into my judgement of food at this “older” age, I am very aware of how this tendency to judge food has seeped into my life and my disordered eating. As I got older, I would still place judgement on many foods, but then I would crave them and most likely eat what felt like uncontrollably larger portions of them then I necessarily needed too. It is hard for me to write this down even now. It is hard for me to acknowledge that at some points in my life, I have felt ,and sometimes(although significantly less frequently),  still feel urges to eat uncontrolled amounts of food.  This is because, for so many years of my life, I controlled every bite of food I took and took great effort to do so. These thoughts telling me that I need to be a perfect eater and receive praise for doing so can still be heard from time to time, but they are quieter now. The twinge of self-judgement I feel as I am writing about feeling a loss of control is still there as well.(Almost like a shadow of a memory) However, now swiftly in its place comes self-compassion, self-love and the reminder to be gentle with myself and that this is all a process. My goals, as I have said many times before are now different. My goals now are about enriching my relationship with food and my body. My goals now are about exploration and opening up to wonderment. I need social support and companionship because I am human and this is a basic human need(and I like being loved and giving love a lot), but I do not need the external approval in the same way I once did. I do not need to be scared of food anymore. Does that avocado really look that scary? To me, it looks beautiful and delicious. You might read this and think wow, a whole post about avoiding avocados. However, I know I am not the only one. I have heard from other people who have avoided avocados for the exact same reason. More, importantly, I know of many other people who have been anxious about eating certain foods. This story only stands as one example of the relationship between ourselves and our food. This avocado could have just as easily been replaced by thousands of other foods or ways of eating. The question to me now, is how do we normalize eating in a culture so obsessed by weight loss and food messages? I can really only speak for myself.  For me, this is happening one grateful mindful meal at a time.

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