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Fear Foods Going Bump in the Night

Spooky Foods

Are you afraid of the carbs?

Nightmare on Aisle 13

Goblins, ghouls, and witches aren’t the only things haunting Americans this October.

For many adults, October usually marks the beginning of feasting season, with seasonal favorites making their way to shelves again in time for tailgates, major holidays, and cold weather. This time of year is particularly difficult for those of us with “Fear Foods” - foods that are heavily influenced by one’s negative thoughts and feelings towards them. Fear Foods can include special treats and meals, and sometimes “Fear Foods” include foods that are high in nutritional value but are highly socially stigmatized (e.g., carbs, proteins, fats).

“Fear foods develop from personal values, attitudes, feelings and even memories associated with a certain food. Messages from the people close to you – family, friends, coaches, teachers, healthcare providers – all play a significant role in determining your thoughts about food and can ultimately influence your (dis)comfort with particular food items.” Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C

You may be in the presence of a “Fear Food” if you find yourself thinking:

  • “Oh, no, this snack has too many calories/carbs, I can’t possibly let myself have that”

  • “That treat looks so good, but I’m worried that I won’t be able to stop eating it once I start.”

  • “Eating that will make me fat.”

  • “People will judge me if they see me eating this.”

It is difficult for some to allow themselves to enjoy the holidays when they are held captive by the specter of food. Here are a few tips to help navigate this Feasting Season with no tricks and all treats.

  • Remember that there are no “good foods” or “bad foods”. A calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from a salad or a Snickers bar - our bodies don’t know the difference. While it is true that certain foods have different nutritional qualities than others, the larger, more important truth is that all foods have a place in a well-balanced lifestyle. The key word here is “balance” - choosing foods on a daily basis that reflect your health goals, while allowing yourself a “fun food” every once in a while, demonstrates a healthier and less-rigid attitude towards food and self-nourishment. “Remember, no single food has the power to make you thin or fat. And, ironically, the avoidance of a food is typically what leads a person to overeat it.” Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C

  • You are not a bad person for craving a treat. In a culture that pushes self-deprivation and excessive self-discipline, many of us feel doomed to fail when we reach for a sweet treat to comfort ourselves. We are all very human, and it is natural for us to want to “Treat Yo’self”! Remember that there is a big difference between “self-indulgence” and “self-compassion”.

    • “Self-indulgence” means making decisions for temporary gain and immediate gratification, without concern for how these decisions affect your long-term health and happiness.

    • “Self-compassion”, on the other hand, means treating yourself with the same love and concern you would treat a loved one; it also means caring enough about yourself to make choices that best serve your future self.

The key here is mindfulness - that is, being present enough in your own life to make a choice, rather than act impulsively or automatically. Choosing to allow yourself the joy of a Milky Way bar, while also choosing to stop eating at an appropriate time, is an example of mindfully Treating Yo’self.

  • Macro-nutrients are GOOD THINGS! Our society is quick to demonize carbs, fats, and proteins, when in reality we need ALL of these food groups to function on a daily basis. Each macro-nutrient is a form of energy designed to fuel your body throughout the day, and any diet plan that advises you to cut out entire groups of nutrients altogether is NOT your friend. And if you need help navigating through the ever-changing rules and diets we hear on the news or see scrolling through social media, then chat with a registered dietitian who has a degree in just this!

  • One meal does NOT determine your inherent worth or the quality of your relationship with food! One meal will not blow your recovery efforts. One piece of candy will not instantly transform your body.

  • See the value beyond the food. Food is often much, much more than something to eat; often it is a tool through which we can connect with our loved ones. While that Thanksgiving table might seem overwhelming, consider how sharing this meal brings you closer to relatives you may not get to see regularly. When trick-or-treating with your children seems rife with triggers, consider the joy your child feels when sharing this special night with you; remember how joyful this night used to be for you! Recognize that eating special foods during certain times of the year is a rare treat that is meant to be enjoyed.

Written by: Caroline Whitaker, MS, NCC, Program Therapist