5 Tips to Deal With Food Anxiety: When You Can’t Make Up Your Mind About What to Eat

buffetI am not a fan of buffets. I remember the very first time I went on a cruise, and hearing about the buffets and how wonderful they were. Not to me. Don’t get me wrong, the food looked amazing, but there were way too many choices: Asian food, Mexican, Italian, Thai, sushi bar, ice cream bar, salad bar, dessert bar, fruit bar and good old American burgers and fries. I would see something I thought looked yummy, but then walk a few feet and change my mind. I know the limits of my tummy capacity and there was no way I could try something of everything. So instead, we decided on the sit down dinner option (the only negative being you had to look presentable). Anyway, this option ended up being perfect. Each night we were presented with a limited (gourmet) menu with only a few choices for appetizer, salad, main course and dessert. This I could do. Not to mention, we were treated like royalty, and the food was spectacular. I loved it.

Cruises aside, I believe having anxiety about what to eat or even whether to eat is a common thing, especially among those who are trying to eat healthier, or trying to lose weight. Yesterday I did a workshop on a college campus (all women) and one of the questions was “How do we know what to eat? What do we go by? I have a friend who writes everything down, all this information about what she is eating (like grams of carbs, calories, fat), it seems so stressful, and I just don’t have time for that!”

Great question, I thought. But it is so hard to answer in this technological and perfect-body focused world we live in. Even websites and apps with good intentions, and that want to promote health (such as the Choose My Plate website) seem to be fat-phobic and hyper-focused on monitoring every morsel of food and calorie burned in exercise, all with the intent of assisting someone in attaining a lower weight. But with technology, and all of the new food products out there taking advantage of our phobias of sugar and carbs and fat, it really can get confusing. I hear people wondering out loud if their lunch is healthy, if they should eat this or that, complaining about eating something they consider “bad”, feelings of guilt about what they eat, or what they want to eat. When it comes to deciding what to eat for breakfast, or what to pack (or buy) for lunch, or what to cook for dinner, people struggle. And when a restaurant is involved, it can get very confusing.

Some people may not be able to relate to this stress at all. They eat whatever is there. They truly don’t care. God bless you! But please don’t get frustrated with your family members or friends who just can’t ignore the bombardment of nutrition information or body shaming that is out there. So, this post is for them. If you get really confused about what to eat, or if you feel bad about choices you sometimes make, here are some tips I hope make you feel better. After all, eating is only one small part of your very interesting life!

Tip #1: Food isn’t everything. Look at your “big picture”. When it comes to being healthy, things like stress at work, poor sleep, not exercising and not having good friends and/or family are truly more important. Food comes next. If you figure out how to make everything else good, usually eating healthy is much easier. So, answer these questions honestly: do you sleep well? are your relationships healthy and nurturing? do you love what you do? are you able to be active? If you don’t have these issues settled then it will be much harder to figure out how to manage to eat healthier too.

Tip#2: Do you eat your 3 meals a day? Breakfast, lunch and dinner are words that our modern lifestyle seems to forget. Back in the day, I remember looking forward to eating lunch. These days, lots of people feel guilty taking time out of their busy lives to enjoy a good lunch and instead get by with coffee, packages of crackers or fast snacks. They down giant coffees instead of breakfast and wonder whey they need to nibble all night. Making meal times a priority in your life is important. If you nurture your body by giving it enough energy in the form of a meal three times a day, you are more likely to feel good, have energy and make wiser choices when it comes to eating and your health.

Tip # 3: When it is time to decide what to eat, and you are confused, ask yourself: am I craving anything? If you are, well, there is your answer as far as what to eat. Remember, a craving is when you really want something that you did not see. It is different than a trigger food, which is a food you see and then think you want. You can get over a trigger food, because once you walk by it (or change the channel or walk away from the coffee break room where the donuts are) you will forget about that food. But, if you are truly craving a food, if it is on your mind all day (for example, I sometimes really really really want Buffalo Wild Wings boneless Thai wings and boneless Garlic Parmesan wings). I start thinking about them at work and have to order them so I can pick them up on the way home. This happens about 3 or 4 times a year. It doesn’t matter what I may have planned for dinner or what is simmering in the crock pot. I want wings. I believe in listening to that voice that tells you that you want something specific. You really can live without a salad every meal. If, on the other hand, you are not craving anything specific, then by all means, go home and have that yummy healthy whatever you are simmering in that crock pot. (Note: for those suffering from Binge Eating Disorder or other eating disorder, this advice may not apply and you should use the strategies that work for you).

Tip #4: If you are one of those people who are confused about your feelings of hunger (not really sure if you are hungry or not) then it can be difficult to know if you should eat or not. If you can relate to this, then you might want to do some reflecting at those moments when you are wanting to eat, or not sure if you should eat, or perplexed as to how much you should eat. First, ask yourself: when did I last eat? If it was an hour ago then you may not really be hungry. If it was over 4 hours ago then chances are, your are hungry and need to eat. But the other important question to ask is”what did I eat?” If you actually did eat only an hour ago but thought you could get by with just a yogurt for lunch, then you my friend are probably hungry. If, on the other hand, only an hour has gone by and you had a good meal with protein, fat, carbs and fiber (think nice sandwich with meat on a roll, lettuce and tomato, some pretzels and a yogurt) then you might not really be hungry and should try to figure out what you really DO need.

Tip#5: Nutrition Matters, but one meal does not make the man (or woman). In other words, yes, you need to learn about healthy eating, cooking, food preparation, and the basics about what someone your age needs to have energy and be healthy. You may not like milk so may need a calcium supplement. You may not eat meat so would need to find another source or protein and iron. Yes, there is a reason we nutritionists say you need to “eat a rainbow” every day (make half that plate colors!) But, your body does not really care that your day to day eating has to be perfect. All it cares about is that over time, you get what you need. Nothing bad will ever happen just because you did not drink milk or eat veggies and fruits for a day or 2. Trends over time are what matter.

So, if you don’t want to think too much about eating or nutrition, well, that might be a good thing. Instead, keep it easy. Just work on increasing the basics: more fruits and veggies, including protein foods with your meals so you don’t crash and drinking more water.

Extra Tip: If you ever find you stress out too much about what to eat you may want to seek out some support from a therapist who specializes in eating issues. Life is too short, and eating should be a joy, not add stress to your life. In fact, too much anxiety around eating may be a risk factor for disordered eating (see link below for a summary article on the relationship between anxiety and eating disorders). In the mean time, enjoy those buffets in moderation. Me, I will be at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Anxiety and Disordered Eating

 

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