I first want to say as a disclaimer, some behaviors like the ones I’m about to mention are not a “problem” for people. A person who has a healthy relationship with food and her/his body can go a few days and eat the same exact thing and it not have any real negative consequences. For those people, food does not have meaning the way it can for those with food issues. Food is not related to emotions like guilt or joy for example. As someone progresses along the continuum of unhealthy eating behaviors or food their list of “good” foods becomes shorter and their list of “bad” foods becomes longer. This is of course an internal list that a person may not even know they have. It manifests when looking for food in a grocery store or picking out something from a menu at a new restaurant. A voice is there that quietly helps make the distinction between good and bad.
This type of experience starts early in life for many and for some it’s not an issue. For others the result is that anxiety increases when introduced to the possibility of eating foods that don’t feel safe to eat. What if they feel guilty after eating it? What if they eat more than they thought they would because it tastes so good? This nervous energy around eating coupled with anticipated guilt slowly makes it’s way into a person’s life until many foods become feared.
That is why VARIETY is an extremely important factor in healing eating issues. If you are afraid of eating things because you’re afraid they will make you gain weight or over eat, then you are going to eventually get to a crossroad. You’re going to have to try to eat outside the short list of approved food items.
People have foods they consider SAFE and they often eat them over and over again. Unfortunately when you spend most of your time eating safe foods the result is more and more foods become dangerous. You will not become safe by avoiding everything that you view as scary.
By slowly exposing yourself to new foods your anxiety for each of them decreases. Ultimately that’s what you want if your goal is to feel comfortable around food or to decrease both binging or restrictive behaviors. Increasing variety should be a slow process and foods that are giving you discomfort should be tried once and then not tried again for awhile. Eating 3 peanut butter sandwiches (one for each meal of the day) is not the way to expose yourself to new foods. However, integrating a couple foods that give you discomfort each week can be very helpful in your healing. Going for the most challenging food items (the ones that you want to avoid at all costs) first probably isn’t a good idea. Slowly working your way to integrate foods that create mild anxiety and discomfort at first is a better, more gentle approach to increasing variety.