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Facing Food Fears


by Lisa Licavoli, RD, CCN

The fear of food is one area that must be conquered in order to experience full recovery from an eating disorder. Fattening foods, those with a high percentage of fat calories, are typically high on the avoidance list of those suffering from an eating disorder, but the fear of specific foods is an individual matter. One of my clients eats butter but would never consider ice cream, while another frantically counts fat grams but consumes thousands of sugar calories daily. Different foods physically and/or emotionally trigger people depending on their genetics, hormones, experiences and how they perceive the food. When food has been used almost exclusively as a coping mechanism it is terrifying to give up. Regaining power over foods boosts confidence and self-esteem. The goal for a person suffering from an eating disorder is to normalize their relationship with food by letting go of the power they give to it.
Part of the work that a dietitian does with a client is to help them eat foods they have been avoiding. We call this a challenge food. Eating a challenge food is a very emotional experience. As a dietitian, my job is to help dissipate the overwhelming emotions that are released by ‘indulging' in a challenge food. I constantly reassure clients that they will not gain ten pounds by eating one cookie. Their false beliefs about the lurking dangers of food must be challenged and their thinking restructured about food and calories to bring about healing. This is where education about metabolism is essential.
Once a person has eaten a challenge food and survived (they always do!) they go on to systematically add other challenge foods. I let my clients chose the food if they are able too. One objection that is typically raised is ‘why do I have to eat foods that are bad for me?" This is a trick question. First of all, there is no such thing as perfect eating. Is a piece of cake on your birthday bad for you? How about a big piece every night? Is chocolate bad for you? What if you are experiencing PMS? In other words, there are a lot of gray areas to healthy eating. Also, the social aspect of eating is significant. People who do not eat with their families or co-workers do not have the connection with others that people who ‘break bread' together do. All cultures celebrate with food. Healing from an eating disorder involves the flexibility to eat, more or less, what others do. This doesn't mean the client should become a junk food junkie but less rigidity and fear is essential to normalize eating.

There is hope. People do recover from eating disorders. They let go of their fear of food and the control it has over them and even go on to enjoy food and eating!

Lisa is a registered dietitian who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders in Newport Beach, CA. You can find more information about the nutritional aspects of eating disorders: call 949-646-4842. Article submitted by Lisa Licavoli, permission for use granted by Lisa Licavoli.The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author and are presented without editing. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of EDReferral.com, and no official endorsement by EDReferral.com of the opinions expressed herein should be inferred.

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