Everything You Need to Know About Fear Foods

Fear foods are foods or food groups that people are uncomfortable eating and are often accompanied by feelings of fear, panic, anxiety, and/or guilt. Often when you begin treatment one of the first things they’ll ask you is “What are your fear foods?” Fear foods are important to work through for your recovery and mental health, but aren’t always easy to understand. Whether you’re new to recovery, a part of someone’s support system, or struggling with food/body image in general, here’s the ultimate guide to fear foods:

What counts as a fear food?

A fear food can be anything that makes someone feel anxious, guilty, afraid, and/or uncomfortable. It can be one thing or it can be twenty- it really just depends on the person and their disorder. Fear foods aren’t always a singular food like sour cream, but can also be a broader category such as fats. 

Are fear foods the same as food rules?

Technically no, but they can coincide. When someone has an eating disorder it begins to make them rigid in their thinking towards food and this can include specific rules about fear foods as well as unrelated ones. Food rules can be to not eat something or to eat more of something as well as a wide range of behaviors from plating things a certain way to chewing a certain number of times. 

How does someone know if they have fear foods?

It definitely varies per person, but I’d say most people have a good idea of how certain foods make them feel. It may not be top of mind but if while reading this article you’ve thought of something, that’s likely a fear food of yours. Another thing to look out for is if you find yourself having negative thoughts or engaging in behaviors before, during, or after eating something. Behaviors are a huge indicator that something is a fear food and needs to be addressed. It’s important to remember that while fear foods need to be conquered for your own health and wellbeing, they’re nothing to be ashamed of! Especially in a society where seemingly every menu has calorie counts, social media is full of #fitspo, and new diets are popping up daily, it can be hard to know what information to trust and we often forget that our bodies are perfectly designed to know what they need.

Can you choose not to eat something or not eat it often and have it NOT be a fear food?

This depends on what and why! For people with eating disorders, my general answer is not really. Restricting one thing or one group can be used by ED to restrict even further. Flexibility is key in recovery, but it definitely isn’t easy. Fear foods make you uncomfortable and getting over them is equally if not more so, but adding more things to the “no” list will only draw out the process. If you never really liked it to begin with or have an allergy that’s obviously way different than avoiding carbs because the Keto Diet said so- and that goes for everyone. I’ll admit that for those without eating disorders there’s a big, kinda confusing grey area. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help figure out if you’re avoiding a specific food because it’s a fear food or not:

Ask yourself…

  • Am I not eating [food/food group] because I feel anxious/scared/guilty because of something I think it will do to my body?
  • Do I feel guilt/shame when I eat [food/food group]?
  • Do I feel like I am superior or have more willpower than others who eat [food/food group]?
  • Do I feel I don’t deserve [food/food group] because I did not engage in exercise/behaviors?
  • How do I feel mentally and in my body when I eat [food/food group]?

This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list, but hopefully answering those can help give you some clarity about your relationship with food.

How can fear foods be conquered?

Fear foods are conquered by eating them and often this is done through a series of “exposures” to each fear food. Exposures can take one or many times with the idea that through eating the fear food it will help normalize it and you’ll see it isn’t so bad. Obviously, this is easier said than done and there are multiple ways and strategies for overcoming fear foods. I’ll go over these strategies in a future article!

Fear foods can take a toll on your mental health and relationship with food, exercise, and your body. It isn’t always easy to know what fear foods are, if you have any, or what to do about them. For support systems, it can be even more confusing because the fear food isn’t affecting your personal mind and body. No matter if fear foods affect you or a loved one, remember to be compassionate, understanding, and to seek professional help if needed. 

Featured Photo by Dee @ Copper and Wild from Unsplash

All content on RecovRoad is based on personal experiences, research, and ideas. Please do not repost/share without credit and be aware that nothing on this blog takes the place of professional help. This is also a formal trigger warning: content about and relating to eating disorders may be triggering to survivors. Please see the “RESOURCES” tab, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237, and remember to take care of yourself.


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