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How to Overcome Food Anxiety

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You’re going on a trip, planning an outing with friends, having dinner with family, or just trying to find something to eat while you’re out running errands. For most people, these are positive, fun experiences. That’s not the case for you. Instead, these activities cause dread and anxiety. What should be a fun time ends up a disaster. Worse, you are often left feeling embarrassed and shamed. Sometimes, you even get ridiculed and criticized by people who are frustrated by your issues.

What’s your problem? You have food anxiety. While others view going out to eat, trying new foods, or sharing meals with others as a wonderful experience, you don’t. For you, the basic act of eating is a struggle. This is a tough thing to go through, but you aren’t alone. Hopefully, these tips will help.

What is Food Anxiety?

Food anxiety is a blanket term that describes stress, nervousness, panic, avoidance, and other maladaptive behaviors around food and eating. Sometimes, there is a known cause for food anxiety. For example:

  • Struggling with or recovering from an eating disorder
  • History of food insecurity
  • Food allergies and sensitivities
  • Issues with textures or strong flavors
  • Trauma associated with meals and eating

There are more ways a person can develop some form of food anxiety, however, the ones that are listed should give a good idea of some of the root causes of anxiety around food. There is one specific type of eating disorder that has been practically named the poster child of food anxiety, and that is ARFID. 

What is ARFID?

ARFID is an acronym that stands for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. Although this is usually reserved for children, many adults can also suffer from ARFID in some way shape, or form. People with ARFID tend to be extremely selective or picky about the foods they ingest. Some may even show a complete avoidance or an absolute fear of eating altogether. 

Can Anyone Have ARFID?

Yes, just about anyone and everyone can have or develop this eating disorder. However, it is mostly common amongst those who are on the autistic spectrum, as well as those who experience sensory-based sensitivities, and food allergies. 

What is the best way to deal with ARFID?

Unfortunately, there is no best way to deal with it. What works best for one person may work terribly for another. Work at your own pace to help you get over the food issues you may have developed and you will eventually get to the point in which your food issues will be miniscule. 

Ways to Deal with Food Anxiety Based on Trauma and Lifestyle

Although there is no best way to deal with anxiety concerning food, there are still many ways a person can learn how to handle as well as lessen their anxiety around food. Here are a few ways that you can deal with your anxiety if your anxiety is based on trauma or media.

Pinpoint the Exact Cause of Your Anxiety

Ask yourself exactly why you always feel nervous or anxious about eating. Did you have a specific event happen that causes you to spiral with anxiety every time you try to eat? Were you a target for bullying based on your weight growing up? Were the ideas of healthy and unhealthy foods constantly shoved down your throat to the point that any more than a half cup of cereal might send you into tears? Although the process of dealing with food anxiety is different for everyone this is the first step that everyone must go through. 

Stop Labeling Food as Good or Bad

As part of reassessing your relationship with food, it’s important to take away the labels of food being good or bad. All food is good as all food performs a specific function to help the body. Carbs, fats, and oils keep the body energized and running efficiently. Protein builds muscles and keeps you feeling full. Fruits and vegetables provide fiber, as well as vital nutrients and minerals that keep the body functioning properly. All foods serve these functions in one way or another. 

Make an Effort to Listen to Your Body

When you are hungry, stop and eat something. Many people with food anxiety learn to actively ignore the feeling of being hungry. Therefore it is important to relearn that it is important to listen to the signals that the body is sending. After all, even if a person has fat stores in the body that does not take into account the proteins, and vitamins that a person may only receive from eating the foods that they need to eat. 

Keep a Food Journal

A food journal is a great way to help you work through your anxiety. It has been proven many times that a lot of people actively benefit from writing down and reflecting on their experiences when it comes to dealing with anxiety. Write down the date, the food that you ate, what time you ate it, as well as the level of anxiety you felt. You can even take notes on how you feel about the food as well as make connections on how you will deal with this anxiety based on those feelings. 

Eat What You Crave, Add What You Need.

Eating what you want or crave will ultimately make eating a much more enjoyable situation. If you eat what you want you will be happy. If you eat protein, you will be full. If you eat fiber you will be full longer. If you eat stuff that is full of vitamins and minerals you will be a well-functioning person. If you eat what you want, add protein, fiber, and food that is nutritious. You will be happy, feel full for a long time, and have the nutrients you need to function. 

Ways to Deal With Sensory-Based Food Anxiety

Are your food anxieties caused by sensory issues? Try these tips.

Pinpoint the Exact Cause of the Anxiety

Just like if you have food anxiety due to the life you had, food anxiety based on sensory factors is something you have to pinpoint the cause of. For example, are you afraid of eating yogurt because one cup may be sweet and the other may be sour? Or do you dislike bananas because of the way they feel in your mouth? Pointing out the exact cause of your food-based fears is an important first step to dealing with food anxiety. 

Ease Yourself Into It

Remember that sensory-based sensitivities are very difficult to deal with, in fact, you may have to treat yourself as if you are a child to deal with it. For example, you may actively enjoy the taste of ketchup but despise the taste and texture of tomato sauce for pasta. 

One method to ease yourself into it would be to mix a small amount of pasta sauce into the ketchup you enjoy and add more as you get yourself used to it. 

Another way to ease yourself into eating certain foods is to shift through a few different foods. For example, you may start with the ketchup, but at some point, you may add some Italian seasonings to it. Then you may attempt making pasta with ketchup as the sauce, and continue the pattern of changing the original food you enjoyed until you have fully accepted the tomato sauce. 

Both of these methods are some form of acclimation. In which you allow yourself to slowly get used to the new food. Although these may not work for every single type of food in the world this tends to be a great way for people to jump the hurdles of sensory-based anxieties.

Make Food More Appetizing To Yourself

If you need to add some cheese to be able to eat something nutritious there is nothing wrong with that. If you need cutlery to be a specific color to make food appealing, make that change for yourself. Food is meant to be enjoyed and if you don’t enjoy it then you may not be able to move past your anxiety.

Don’t Force Yourself to Eat

Remember that it is ok to refuse food. Don’t feel as if you have to eat when you are not hungry just because someone offers or makes you food. Remember that a good relationship with food cannot be achieved if eating is seen as something that is forced upon you or is seen as an inconvenience. 

Make an Effort to Expose Yourself to New Foods regularly

Many people develop food anxiety due to a lack of exposure. Therefore those with food anxiety need to expose themselves to new foods regularly. Exposure can help you get used to smells, looks, textures, as well as the taste and even sound that the food makes. Even if you can only handle a certain aspect or two at a time, understanding that exposure to foods can be beneficial is important. 

Food Anxiety During Travel

Now that we have shown you a few methods for dealing with food anxiety in general let’s look at ways to handle food anxiety while you travel. 

Do You Need to Do Anything Specific?

Aside from the methods listed above the only things that are recommended are to potentially change your food exposure to match with where you are traveling. For example, if you plan to travel to Japan, research the food of Japan and expose yourself to foods that are common in Japan. 

Don’t Travel Alone

Traveling with a companion will most likely lessen your anxiety. For many people, traveling can make them much more anxious than they have been. Because of this, it is helpful to have a travel companion to ensure that they feel safe and grounded. 

Think Outside of Food

So much of the content and information out there about travel focuses on food. But, that doesn’t mean your vacation needs to be all about that. Instead, focus on seeing the sites, adventures, and activities, and meeting people. Make your plans ahead of time. Use websites to set up your itinerary and choose the events that interest you. Don’t forget to look into meeting new people. For example, if you are interested in websites for romantic connections, try this one.

Make a Plan

Anxiety can be dealt with but that doesn’t mean that it will entirely go away. Make a plan on ways to avoid anxiety-causing situations, as well as how you will handle them if and when they arise. 

Although it can be difficult to travel with food-based anxieties, this does not mean that you have to miss out. Understanding that you are in control of the situation, as well as the many ways that you can handle or mitigate the anxiety, will leave you confident and in control of your ability to travel in the future.

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