Renegotiating Fear Foods in Bulimia Recovery

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

foots-73310_640For the individual who struggles with bulimia, there is often a chaotic and fearful relationship with food, body and mind. Many foods become associated with binging while other foods may only be eaten if purging will follow. Fear foods can be any type of food, which causes a person to feel stressed, anxious, or the need to act out in a compensating behavior after eating.

For some people, fear foods can be any type of dessert or sweet food, such as cakes, cookies, ice cream, etc. Other individuals may be terrified of eating snack type foods, such as chips, crackers, appetizers, and more.

Normalizing Eating

Through the healing journey from bulimia, it is essential to renegotiate fear foods and find a way to normalize eating. Because bulimia is such a complex disorder, normalizing eating is a process that comes with the recovery from this mental health illness.

When a person habitually engages in purging behaviors after eating certain foods or learns to binge on other foods, these patterns become more difficult to break and renegotiate.

Finding Freedom from “Fear Foods”

women on coffee breakThe good news is that is possible to find freedom from “fear foods” and to learn to eat normally, including foods from a variety of groups. With the help and assistance from eating disorder specialists, a person can slowly but surely learn how to incorporate these foods as part of healthy diet. Professionals who may be able to assist a person through this process include registered dietitians and eating disorder counselors/therapists.

By working with a professional, you can begin to understand the basics of food and nutrition as well as learn how to separate food from emotions. Many individuals who struggle with bulimia often have a strong sense of guilt or shame after eating or consuming certain fear foods.

The intensity of these emotions can lead to compensatory behaviors, such as purging, excessive exercise or laxative abuse. Learning how to separate these emotions from food and cope with these intense emotions in a healthy way can help an individual take the emotion away from the food.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy to fear foods in a appropriate and structured setting may also be an effective way to renegotiate fear foods. This is something that can be completed under the guidance of a registered dietitian, who can offer the support need through this process.

When recovering from bulimia, there is often a need to learn how to eat normally again. A registered dietitian can help construct a meal plan, which serves as a framework for guidance on how much to eat through the day. Since normal eating is often skewed when dealing with bulimia, a meal plan can help a person regain a sense of what normalized eating should be.

The Structure of a Meal Plan

cafeteriaWithin the structure of a meal plan, a person recovering from bulimia can begin to slow incorporate fear foods, having exposure within the safety of a framework for eating. Many individuals can find success through this approach, as they learn that foods they once feared can actually be incorporated in their daily meal plan.

Having the guidance of a dietitian can be an instrumental part of learning how to renegotiate fear foods within the structure of a meal plan. Often times, an person may discover that strong emotions are evoked when trying fear foods, such as anger, frustration, or fear.

Discussing Emotions with a Therapist

It is helpful to have a therapist to discuss these emotions with. Processing emotions in a healthy manner can help take the feelings away from the food, which are effective in renegotiating that food.

The healing journey from bulimia involves many aspects, including the renegotiation of fear foods. For the person who is unsure of how to eat something without binging or purging, know that is hope for recovery and healing. Begin your journey today by reaching out to a specialist or professional who can help you overcome your fear of eating.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What foods have been most difficult for you to renegotiate in your recovery from bulimia? What techniques or approaches have been helpful to you in normalizing eating and gaining the ability to eat a variety of foods?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 26th, 2015
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