How to Recognize and Overcome Food Anxiety

Food and mealtimes are a normal part of our days. We might hit up the drive-thru, grab a quick snack, or cook a hearty meal together with our family. Food can be mundane or exciting. Food can also bring us together.But some people can feel great anxiety over this seemingly ordinary part of the day. Food anxiety varies from person to person. It is generally characterized by intense anxiety before mealtimes or difficulty eating food. Food anxiety may also occur because of an unhealthy relationship with food, like eating too much or too little.

Types of Food Anxiety

Many people with food anxiety have a related eating disorder. There are a variety of eating disorders, each classified by a person’s habits and relationships with food.

  • Anorexia nervosa – Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by restrictive eating. A person with anorexia nervosa experiences extreme anxiety around food and mealtimes. They restrict their eating over an intense fear of gaining weight. Individuals with anorexia nervosa might also binge and purge their food.
  • Bulimia nervosa – A person with bulimia nervosa binges and purges their food. This means that they eat a large amount of food in one sitting and then attempt to rid themselves of it. Purging can include forced vomiting, taking laxatives, or exercising.
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) – People with ARFID avoid food and eat very little of it. This eating disorder differs from anorexia nervosa because the individual does not avoid food to lose weight. Rather, they avoid food because of anxiety or sensory repulsions to certain foods.
  • Binge eating disorder (BED) – Someone with a binge eating disorder eats a large amount of food in one sitting. They do not purge their food. Instead, they feel intense guilt or shame for overeating. Someone with BED might eat to the point of discomfort.
  • Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED) – UFED occurs when someone does not meet the full criteria of a specific eating disorder. Someone with UFED still exhibits symptoms of eating disorders. These symptoms can interfere with a person’s regular functions and responsibilities.

Ways to Cope with Food Anxiety

Food anxiety can be debilitating. It can disrupt a person’s routine, relationships, and significantly affect their mental wellbeing. Thankfully treatment is possible and there are a variety of methods that can help.

  • Clinical help – Therapy and medication are successful methods of treating food anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and nutritional counseling can help someone with an eating disorder identify triggers and apply healthy coping strategies.
  • Positive affirmations – Positive affirmations can help in moments of anxiety. Identifying and acknowledging bad thoughts can help us replace them with something positive. Breathing exercises can also help relax the body when anxiety hits.
  • Avoid triggers – Calorie tracking apps, scales, and dieting literature can trigger symptoms of food anxiety. Removing these items from our surroundings makes it more difficult to indulge in bad habits.
  • Celebrate achievements – Focusing on positive achievements provides encouragement. Eating a fear food, stopping a binge session, or finishing a meal are examples of positive achievements.
  • Set goals – Eating disorders can cause us to neglect daily responsibilities. Setting realistic goals can provide a sense of accomplishment. Examples goals include drinking more water, eating more slowly, going for a walk, or making the bed.

Finding Strength

Specific treatment methods might not work for everyone. Someone suffering from an eating disorder should try out different methods until they find what works best for them. Eating disorders can be incredibly isolating, but it is important to remember that you are not alone. It is okay to ask for help. Treatment is possible and many people have successfully recovered from their eating disorders. Reach out today if you’re ready to talk.

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