Note: I'm writing about donuts in the spirit of the season, but feel free to substitute with any other relevant food. :)
When I'm sitting with a client working on a meal plan, I will often hear statements along the lines of, "Oh, I don't eat donuts."
"Why not?" I ask.
"I just don't like them."
"They bother my stomach."
"They make me nauseous."
Hmm. Are any of those things possible? Sure. Are they probable? Now that depends on the client and his or her history. As a dietetics student, I volunteered at Toronto General Hospital's Eating Disorder Program. I remember a nutrition group in which we helped patients tease apart which foods they truly did not like and which foods felt scary due to their eating disorder. It wasn't as easy as it might seem. Here's why:
Brains are association-making machines. If you begin to have anxiety around a certain food, your brain will label it as dangerous. Here's what this can look like:
Eating this food will make be binge!
It'll make me gain weight!
If I eat it once, I'll lose control and never stop eating it!
If I eat it, something terrible will happen to me!"
Since your brain is connected to the rest of your body, you may experience physical sensations of anxiety when you eat the food or even THINK about eating the food. If a food has become scary to you, you might truly feel nauseous when you eat it. You may dislike the mental stress that you experience when you eat the food. You may dread the feelings of shame and fear that occur after you eat the food. No wonder you don't like eating donuts!
But...do you actually dislike the taste of a donut? If you had zero emotions attached to this food, what would the experience of eating it be like for you? Do you enjoy the texture, flavor, and aroma?
It's very useful to sort this out. You don't need to enjoy every single food on the planet. But to live your best recovered life, it is helpful to know which foods you are afraid of versus which foods are just not your cup of tea. Then you can decide whether you want to conquer your food fears and stop avoiding certain foods unecessarily.
Intrigued? Here's an exercise you can try. Pick a food you currently avoid and try asking yourself these questions:
What are my earliest memories of this food?
Which people and experiences do I associate with this food?
Did I enjoy this food as a child?
When was the last time I ate this food? What was it like for me?
What do I think might happen if I eat this food?
Would there be any benefits to being able to enjoy this food?
There is a big difference between choosing to pass on a food you don't enjoy versus feeling afraid to eat something. In the first case, YOU are making a decision. In the other, fear is controlling you.
What if you discover you don't particularly care for donuts after all? No big deal. There's a whole world out there of other pastries to enjoy. But knowing that you CAN have one, without shame or fear, is sweet indeed.