Last week, I read six different articles with variations on the good-versus-bad-food theme. Good food? Bad food? It’s funny how we attribute moral properties to what is, essentially, a glob of chemical in a tasty package. Eating is supposed to provide nourishment and pleasure. But in our diet-obsessed culture, we have attributed to food an often-sinister quality.
Here’s one example: “Annie” was so tormented by her fear of food that she avoided parties and dinner invitations, because she didn’t want to be tempted by the tasty treats. When she ate, she spent the entire meal adding and re-adding the number of calories she was consuming. She read labels obsessively, and could tell you the calorie count of almost any food–and usually the number of carbohydrates, fat and protein as well. At best, she regarded food with suspicion; at worst, it terrified her.
Dieters are most susceptible to this mindset, but they’re not the only ones. Other fear-inducing foods and ingredients include saturated fat, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, GMOs, gluten, dairy, soy, pesticides, refined carbs, wheat, diet sodas, and anything that’s even remotely related to increased risk of inflammation, heart disease or cancer.
It’s important to be wary of some of these. I’m a huge proponent of eating clean foods, and make my living writing about them. If you’re sensitive to gluten, should you avoid bread? Absolutely. Will eating trans fats kill you? Probably so. But prudence and mindful choices can sometimes go the way of fear.
Think of how children eat. When you offer a child a cookie, he doesn’t think, “Dear god, that cookie was made with high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats! And it probably has 500 calories!” They think “Mmmm. Cookie. Sweet! Crunchy!” They eat the cookie, and have an experience of pure pleasure. Somewhere between the happily ignorant bliss of a child, and the ever-vigilant eye of a nutrition-savvy adult, there lies a middle path, one that doesn’t include worry, stress and fear.
If you find yourself from time to time (or frequently) seized by a fear of food, read on for six ways to loosen the grip.