5/23/17

It's time to overcome your fear of "bad" foods



We live in a very carb-phobic society. Despite their role in a healthy diet, alongside providing a great source of energy for athletes, many people feel guilty, anxious and uncomfortable around carbohydrate containing foods.

When I work with an athlete who fears carbohydrates, I often explore the dialogue that goes on in the head when carbohydrates are (about to be) consumed. Not surprising, many athletes experience similar internal dialogue such as "carbs are bad" or "carbs will make me fat" or "I feel so bloated/heavy when I eat carbs." Although the psychology of eating is quite complex, it's interesting how many athletes have a similar list of foods that are either good/allowed or bad/off-limits.

For example, in the past 12 months, have you found yourself recently consuming the following foods?
  • Kombucha
  • Kale
  • Avocado
  • Coconut oil
  • Turmeric
  • Bone Broth
  • Bacon
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Cauliflower rice
  • Almond milk
  • Almond butter
  • Coconut milk
While there is nothing wrong with the above foods, these food options are very "in" right now compared to the following foods which appear on the off-limit list for many athletes: 
  • Bread - any kind
  • Grains - any kind
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Yogurt
  • Cow's milk
  • Fruit - the high sugar kind
  • Corn
  • Beans and legumes
There are many risks to restrictive eating as an extreme fixation on "perfect" eating can often deprive you of key nutrients. There are also psychological issues that can result from always needing to stay in control of exactly what goes inside your body and when. It takes a lot of work, energy and time to live a lifestyle where you have an off-limit food list. While some athletes need to take extra precautions to avoid certain foods for medical reasons, most athletes voluntarily restrict food that is termed "bad" because there is a strong belief that eating certain foods will make you lose control over your diet (causing overeating) or you anticipate weight gain or the inability to stop eating the food once you start.

When you fear food (ex. bad food list), eating can be an uncomfortable time as you may feel intense feelings of guilt, anxiety or shame around food (especially when eating in social settings). Whether you fear a food group like carbohydrates, a food category like desserts or certain foods like cookies or peanut butter, fear foods have become part of your life and you may find yourself struggling to meet your personal nutrition and energy needs.

Fear foods develop from many reasons but with the rise of social media interactions, blogs, tweets, websites and instagram posts, there are a lot of mixed messages about food. And an overload of information causes confusion. The more times you avoid certain foods, the longer and longer your fear food list may become - leaving you with little appetite to eat.

Understanding that there are many consequences to living a life with fear foods, such as social isolation, limited nutritional variety, lack of enjoyment in eating, obsessive thoughts and anxiety about food, risk for an eating disorder and an unhealthy relationship with food and the body, remind yourself that food should not have power over you.

The focus of overcoming your fear of bad foods is to step outside of your comfort zone. Because fear foods bring guilt, anxiety and fear into your life, it's necessary to incorporate foods into your diet that were previously off-limit until the anxiety response to a food significantly decreases. This process requires time and help so don't hesitate to reach out to a Registered Dietitian for help.