Food anxiety is a fairly common issue and can occur for a variety of reasons.
Many times it may begin as general anxiety that gradually develops into a fixation on food and eating. Research shows that roughly two-thirds of people with food anxiety suffer from general anxiety at some point in their lives with 40% becoming diagnosed as children.
Living with food anxiety makes everyday activities a struggle; from deciding what to have for breakfast to going out to dinner with friends. Often, people suffering from food anxiety will simply avoid social situations altogether.
And it’s not just your social life that can be affected, but severe food anxiety can put your health at risk too.
The bottom line is that food anxiety is a serious issue that, depending on the severity, can lessen the quality of your life. If you or a loved one experiences food anxiety, here are some basic methods and advice to help you work towards a food anxiety-free life.
1. Practice mindful eating for food anxiety
A good first step is to practice what experts refer to as “mindful eating.”
Mindfulness, in general, is about living in the present moment. The intention is to focus not only on the food you’re eating but how you’re experiencing it as well.
Some simple ways to practice mindful eating:
- Pay attention to the source of your food and its nutritional value.
- Make eating a social activity you can enjoy with others.
- Don’t do other things while eating like watching TV or driving.
- Eat only when you’re hungry and stop eating when you feel full.
Mindful eating can reduce food anxiety by helping you cultivate a healthier relationship with food.
A lot of people who experience food anxiety don’t recognize the body’s natural signals that tell you whether you’re hungry or full. Instead, their choice to eat or not eat becomes controlled by emotional cues. Over time, this forms a disconnect which can be difficult to unlearn.
Practicing mindful eating helps promote self-awareness which, in turn, can help you to understand the source of your food anxiety better. When you allow yourself to recognize the feelings you’re experiencing while eating, you can begin to separate them from the food.
When practicing mindful living, a soothing technique that can help improve your overall mindset can be meditation or yoga. Even adding a variety of natural alternatives to your daily routine may be useful for easing anxiety and promoting relaxation. With a clear mind, you can begin to focus on the underlying issues that are causing your food anxiety.
2. Avoid categorizing foods as either “good” or “bad”
One of the biggest side effects of food anxiety is that you begin to categorize foods as either “good” or “bad.” While it’s true that some foods do have more nutritional value than others, the reality is that almost everything is fine – in moderation.
A healthy response to eating is to allow yourself the food you want, when you want it, paying close attention to portions. According to a Cornell study, researchers found that giving in to your cravings may even keep you from overeating.
Additionally, just because foods are diet, sugar-free, or “lite” does not mean they are any healthier than their regular counterparts. For example, many low-fat foods have much higher levels of sugar to make them taste edible.
Since refined carbs like sugar become digested so quickly, it causes blood sugar levels to drop and can lead to cravings, resulting in eating even more. At this point, you would have been better off if you had just eaten the full-fat food.
If anything, take a page from the French and Italians who eat full-fat cheeses, red meat, pasta, and bread, then wash it all down with plenty of wine. Yet somehow, in Italy and France, roughly only 10-15% of the population is considered obese while the United States clocks in at a whopping 38.2%.
So next time you feel anxious when deciding what to eat, just remember it’s moderation that matters.
3. It’s okay, nobody’s perfect
A common theme among those suffering from food anxiety is a tendency to be perfectionists.
Unfortunately, since no one is perfect, perfectionists are constantly setting themselves up for failure.
As is often the case, the psychological reason behind why people are perfectionists stems from a need for control. With food anxiety, the sufferer may be experiencing loss of control in some area of their life. So in response, they view their weight and food intake as something they can control.
Perfectionists with food anxiety hold unrealistic expectations about their body to the point where they are never “good enough” in their own eyes.
As a result, they may restrict food or follow a very strict diet in order to achieve their “ideal” weight. All of these self-imposed limitations and rules turn normal, social activities involving food into anxiety-inducing situations.
Expecting a perfectionist to stop caring about being perfect is unrealistic, but with time, it’s possible to learn to accept failures and imperfections. With practice, unrealistic expectations can become lessened which can help reduce anxiety about food.
Some ways to work on reducing perfectionist tendencies could be:
- Identifying unrealistic standards.
- Learning to accept failure as not always a bad thing but as a learning experience.
- Focusing less on yourself and, instead, putting your energy into caring for others.
- Focusing on the positive rather than negative aspects of situations.
- Refusing to take everything so seriously – it’s ok to laugh at your own shortcomings!
With time and mindfulness, positive thinking and learning to accept occasional failures can eventually become second nature.
Once you learn it’s okay not to be perfect all the time, it can have a freeing effect. Not being afraid to fail or make mistakes means that you’re giving yourself more opportunities to succeed.
4. Consider talking to a professional to address food anxiety
While some people may feel their food anxiety is manageable, others may find it has begun taking over their lives.
If you believe your anxiety about food has become so frequent that you barely have time to think about anything else, it may be a good idea to seek professional help.
Unfortunately, many people remain in denial about their food anxiety.
This feeling is because they fear they’ll lose whatever level of control they’ve gained. Though in reality, someone suffering from severe food anxiety is losing rather than increasing control of their life.
The first step to getting help in any situation is admitting there is a problem.
This is often the most difficult part because food anxiety has most likely become an integral part of your life. If you haven’t yet, a good first step can be opening up to a friend or family member you feel would be understanding.
While family and friends may provide emotional support, it’s also important to find a medical professional like a doctor or therapist who can help you get back to having a healthy relationship with food.
A strong support system can be crucial to maintaining your progress through your food anxiety.
Disclaimer: The cbdMD blog contains general information about health, diet, lifestyle, and nutrition. Any information provided should not be considered or treated as medical advice and always consult a medical professional before making any lifestyle changes. Products and information mentioned on the cbdMD blog are not intended to be used as a substitute for medical diagnosis, advice or treatment. Any links to third-party websites are provided as a convenience only and cbdMD is not responsible for their content.