food anxiety

Googling the term “food anxiety” yielded a remarkable article:

It’s lengthy, but well written and worth the 5-10 minutes it takes to get through it.

Here’s a teaser (emphasis mine):

Moral strictures on food tend to be heavily dependent on gender, with taboos against fatty foods strongest for women. Researchers have found that how much one eats can determine perceptions of attractiveness, masculinity, and femininity….

According to Noble & Associates, while just 12 percent of American households demonstrate some consistency in modifying their diets along health or philosophical lines, 33 percent exhibit what Noble’s Chris Wolf calls “dietary schizophrenia“: trying to balance their indulgences with bouts of healthy eating. “You’ll see someone eat three slices of chocolate cake one day and just fiber the next,” Wolf says.

With our modern traditions of abundance, convenience, nutrition science, and culinary moralizing, we want food to do so many different things that just enjoying food as food has come to seem impossible.

….[T]he welter of contradictory and bizarre food behaviors seem almost logical. We’re bingeing on cookbooks, food magazines, and fancy kitchenware–yet cooking far less.… Food has become a voyeuristic pursuit. Instead of simply eating it, says Wolf, “we drool over pictures of food. It’s food pornography.”

Now, I thought I’d coined the term “food anxiety”, but apparently not. :) I hear indications of food anxiety among many people now, male and female alike, particularly when eating out: “well, let the artery clogging begin”, “I know this is bad for me, but…”, “Hmmm, I think I’ll order the heart attack with cheese”.

Some people suffer from a more severe version (usually a holdover from an eating disorder). For instance, there are times when, inexplicably, even though my body wants food, my mind tells me that food is revolting, and points out the “bad” part of any food I consider eating. For instance, I look at

  • a slice of bread: “too high of a glycemic index b/c of the wheat content”
  • veggies: “too many carbs”
  • meat: “disgusting, dead animal flesh”
  • cheese: “saturated fat”
  • smoothie: “too much sugar”
  • tofu: “fermented, over-processed soy”
  • nuts: “too high in calories”….and on and on ad nauseum.

Obviously, I still am able to eat, but it’s a strange undertaking to force myself to nourish my body, amidst a swirl of carping, accusing voices ringing in my head.

A healthy view of food, of course, is to see it as fuel–a neutral substance that helps my body function, that I can obtain in an enjoyable manner, thanks to God. For some reason, I have a tendency to veer away from this healthy view into a time-consuming, energy sapping milieu of shame & fear.

And really, what good does obsessing over food do for me? It’s like obsessing over breathing or going to the bathroom: pointless! Aren’t there, oh, ate least TWENTY THOUSAND other things worth devoting that kind of brain power to???


The most effective course of action seems to be spending the time to set up a structure beforehand (e.g., a 2 week menu plan, etc) so that I can eat my prepared, healthy dishes without devoting any more mental and emotional energy to anguishing over whether or not it’s “healthy” (or, more disfunctionally, “OK” to eat).

Hopefully, by cooking and eating healthfully, I can reprogram/bypass my own hangups, and hopefully avert food anxiety for those who eat my cooking. (Just for clarification, the wunderhusband–and main consumer of my cooking– has NO food anxiety whatsoever, and can’t fathom why anyone would have such a horrifying view of such a wonderful substance. Just another reason why we’re a good complement to each other) :)

I’ve also found that eating a more vegetarian diet drastically reduces my food anxiety. One of the most positive restaurant experiences that I’ve had recently involved eating at a superb vegan/raw food restaurant. I knew everything was veggie based, low sugar, high fiber, high nutrient, and I cannot tell you how relaxed and happy I felt during the meal. I’d almost forgotten how enjoyable eating out can be.

Another method of coping has been to remind myself to get over, well, myself. The world is full of intense beauty and horror, existing and unfolding simultaneously. And I’m obsessing over how many calories are in a pancake? Or that I consumed more than x number of calories in one day? Obviously, it’s vital to my spiritual, mental, and emotional health to cope effectively with the emotional vampire known as food anxiety.

Any thoughts on this issue? I know this is a touchy subject for many women, and I’d love to hear how other people have dealt with it.


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