Are you a “fussy eater”, or are you in denial about your food rules?
“I just don’t eat sugar because I don’t like it.”
“Dairy doesn’t agree with me, it makes me feel unwell.”
“I’d eat the donut if I wanted it, I just genuinely don’t like donuts.”
Sound familiar? These kinds of justifications are something we see time and time again. Many people in recovery attempt to justify their continual avoidance of certain foods and food groups by convincing themselves and others that they truly don’t like the food they’re trying to limit. While some of the time, this might be true or you may be suffering from an intolerance, many other times this is just a way of continuing to abide by your food fears and rules, while still telling yourself you’re “committed to recovery”. So which category do you fall into?
Do you believe you “don’t enjoy” dessert foods or entire food groups?
First things first, let’s identify which foods it is which you believe you don’t enjoy. Is it dessert foods or treats, like cake, chocolate, ice cream, donuts? Maybe it’s dairy, or high carbohydrate foods like pizza and pasta. Notice something these foods have in common? Society and diet culture often classify them as “bad” or “unhealthy” foods.
So if you’re convincing yourself you don’t like a bunch of these kinds of foods, it’s time to ask yourself: what is your honest motivation for avoiding these foods, or refusing to eat them? Do you truly not like them? Or do you find it easier to eliminate them if you convince yourself and others you can’t stomach them?
This might be a signal your food fears are being disguised from yourself and those around you, yet are continuing to control you. It’s time to reexamine your relationship with food and your body.
Do you experience a physical reaction to the food you avoid?
This is a tricky one… If you find yourself reacting negatively to certain foods, making you dislike the experience of eating them, this could be down to two reasons.
On one hand, you may genuinely have an intolerance to foods like dairy, gluten, or even high-fibre foods. If you experience flatulence, painful bloating and distention, nausea, constipation or diarrhoea, or heartburn, it might be time to tune into exactly which foods are causing these symptoms for you. If there’s a common link, you might decide to investigate further with a health professional to understand what’s not being well-tolerated by your body.
However, on the other hand some of these symptoms can be psychosomatic. This is where you’re so convinced you’re going to react in a certain way, so your body physically manifests it. So if you’re adamantly convinced you’re intolerant to dairy, you might find yourself feeling really nauseous and unwell each time you eat it, because your brain is tricking your body into displaying the symptoms you expected.
Ask yourself: which is true for you? If you’re unsure, talking to a health professional about your specific experiences and symptoms might be a good way to get an initial indication.
Do you still think every meal or treat has to be delicious, no exceptions?
Holding the belief that every meal, snack or treat has to be delicious suggests you’re still struggling with some form of restriction or disordered thoughts. This mentality implies that, if your current meal isn’t delicious, it’s a waste – because you can’t rely on allowing yourself to have a yummy meal next time around. It stems from a deprivation mentality, whereby you only allow yourself limited calories or energy intake, so you really have to make it “count”.
If you identify a food you “don’t enjoy”, think about how you’d feel if it were placed in front of you and you were challenged to eat the entire thing. Would you feel distressed? Angry that you’re “wasting” your calories for the day on this food? Would you mentally be calculating all the foods you could be eating instead of it?
If you’re horrified by the idea of trying the food you “dislike”, so much so that you know you couldn’t eat it if you were challenged to, it’s time to ask yourself: why can’t you give it a go? Why is it so important that every bite you put into your mouth is delicious? If there’s any restriction at play, it’s another signal to reconsider your relationship with food.
Is your diet very limited and repetitive?
If you eat the same thing, day in and day out, sticking to the same few meals or foods, this could be another signal that your “fussy eating” is actually food rules and fears at play.
By controlling your food and eating the same thing on repeat, you’re controlling your body and preventing body changes. You’re adhering to your own rigid rules, and allowing the disordered food fears and thoughts to continue running rampant.
If you experience stress or anxiety around introducing new foods into your diet (especially foods you haven’t tried before or don’t actively dislike), this is a warning sign. Ideally, you should be able to consider trying even the foods you “don’t enjoy” several times, in an attempt to be truly sure you don’t enjoy them. After all, there’s no such thing as “wasted calories” when you approach food from an abundance mindset. So if you’re not able to even contemplate this idea, question your motivations for keeping your dietary choices so incredibly limited and repetitive.
Do you use your dislikes as a reason to avoid eating in social settings?
If you find yourself turning down social settings and invitations with the excuse of “I’m a fussy eater so I’d rather not,” or “I don’t like that particular cuisine, sorry!” you need to question your actions.
Eating disorders and disordered eating thrive on isolating you, and making you actively avoid social scenarios. So when your “fussy eating” habits threaten to do the same, you need to ask yourself if these are yet more food rules and restrictions at play. If you truly are a fussy eater, there’s still likely to be at least one item on the menu which you can handle. And if not, why not suggest an alternative restaurant or pub or eating occasion to share with whoever invited you out?
If this isn’t an option for you, this suggests it’s the social setting itself which you’re avoiding. You’ve been presented with other options for still enjoying the company in a food-based scenario, yet you’re choosing to avoid them… Sounds like food fears and rules to us!
Is the list of foods you “dislike” slowly growing?
If you notice the list of foods you’ve convinced yourself you don’t enjoy continues growing longer and longer, this is another alarm bell. Bit by bit, you’ll tend to reduce the variety of foods in your diet, and move towards the habitual, repetitive way of eating which we discussed above.
Adding food after food to your “No way” list signals that you’re eliminating more and more from your diet, and essentially imposing more and more rules on yourself and your eating habits. This is a strong indicator that your “fussy eating” habits are really food rules in disguise.
In order to identify whether it’s food fears and rules, or true food dislikes at play, you need to be really brutally honest with yourself, and hold yourself accountable. Ask yourself what the motivations behind your food decisions are. Ask yourself how you’d feel if you had to eat one of the foods you’re convinced you dislike. Would you be distressed and anxious? Or would it simply be unenjoyable, but you’d move on afterwards without too much inner turmoil?
Be as real with yourself as possible, because working on your relationship with food is a crucial part of recovery. It’s not enough to simply disguise your food rules in other ways, under the guise of being a “fussy eater”. For full recovery, you truly need to unravel and unlearn all the fears and rules keeping you “stuck” and restricted, and give yourself permission to eat any food, as much as you like.
Need some help unpacking your food rules, and working towards full recovery? Join us today in Healing HA for all the support, tools and strategies you need to help you recover your period and find food freedom for good!
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Hi future friends, I’m Sarah King, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and health coach.
Science, not trends is the foundation of my approach. By nourishing the body and mind with scientific facts we can build foundations for a life of realness, not just wellness.