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What It's Like to Eat a 'Fear Food' in Eating Disorder Recovery


Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

I have an eating disorder. I have fear foods. A “fear food “is exactly what it sounds like — a food or food group that causes a person severe anxiety and panic if they’re eating it.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Maybe not.

My friends and family don’t understand why I cannot “just eat” a piece of fruit and consequently stare at me in blank-faced bewilderment. So, I thought I’d give you an inside look at conquering fear foods. I’ll use an orange for this description.

The oranges in the cafeteria are piled up in a brown box on the second shelf of a tall, black case behind a glass door. They’re glaring at me. I’ve only just wandered in and already, I’m shaking. My palms are beginning to sweat as I rub them against my pant leg. My breathing struggles to remain paced and I can feel it getting caught in my throat. In two seconds, I will pick an orange to eat.

You can do this. Pick whichever is least bruised, I tell myself. Ohmygoshomygosh, where is it? Can’t find it. Can’t do this. Can’t breathe. I don’t even want to be. Stop, stop, stop. I found the orange.

I need to go grab a knife to peel it. What is under the peel? Will it poison me? I am unable to move. The orange feels as heavy as cement blocks. I start to head towards the trash and swivel back around because I will do this! After what feels like forever, I make it to the plastic knives, select one and take a seat.

Cutting it is difficult. It looks squishy. Inedible. Hazardous. A debate flashes through my head. Do I throw it away or face my fear? My heart is screaming. My bones ache. They’re firing spasms up my calves. I’m still trembling as if I am the wind. My breath comes out in short spurts. I press on. The orange is divided into eighths. I tell myself, People without disorders eat it, so I will, too.

Eating an orange feels skydiving. The first bite is exhilarating because, Wow, I’ve done it. The rest of the slice is pure terror. I’ve stopped breathing and began sweating. I’m only waiting for the part where I fall on my feet again. I’m shouting at myself not to do this. All of it feels very, very wrong. My mouth feels dry.

I finish part of the orange in a bit over an hour. My face is blotchy, since I cried the entire process. I feel sick to my stomach at the moment. Yet here I am.

I am alive.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via Natalia-flurno.