Safe Foods and Fear Foods with an Eating Disorder

by | Jun 17, 2020 | Eating Disorder Recovery | 0 comments

I know that I’m not the only one that gets anxiety when they go grocery shopping. especially these days with COVID-19.

My anxiety about grocery shopping has always been a little different.

If I’m not prepared, I find myself aimlessly meandering through the aisles. My palms start to sweat, my heart feels like its in my throat, and I’m pushing my cart around the store like I’m in real life Mario Kart.

I came home about a month ago after a trip to the grocery store and saw my dear friend and neighbor, who knows all about my eating disorder. He asked me how it went. And I told him, “I’m pretty sure I blacked out.”

I wish I was joking. I unloaded my groceries and was so confused by what I was pulling out of my tote bags. There were things in there I never typically eat. Frozen sausage and egg breakfast sandwiches, random chips of a brand I’ve never heard of before, canned soup (I only ever make my own soup thanks to my wonderful friend who gave me her recipe).

But the weirdest part is that I genuinely don’t remember grabbing these things at the store. There was a part of me that thought maybe I accidentally grabbed someone else’s grocery bags on the way out.

Nope. They were my tote bags, and I did self check out so there was no possible way.

After talking with my therapist about it, we went through the process of trying to understand what it means to make a grocery list every single time. Seems like the normal thing to do right?

For me, this part also looks a little different.

I have two lists: Safe Foods & Fear Foods. They are just like they sound.

Safe foods are ones that I feel comfortable eating.

Fear foods (or challenge foods) are ones that I feel uncomfortable eating.

Challenge foods are truly a challenge in the sense that it takes me out of my comfort zone to challenge my feelings. There is also the challenge of overcoming something difficult. When I eat something that is one of my fear foods, I feel like I’ve conquered a 14er in Colorado. A food that I allowed to dictate my life is something I have now defeated and realized that I can still go about my life as normal.

The world will not fall apart if I eat this food.

Now I have 3 lists: Safe foods, challenge foods, and a grocery list.

But there is still 1 more list: Emergency take-out meals.

This is a list of one or two local restaurants within walking or short driving distance that. The meals are already on the list so just in case I’m in panic mode and can’t manage to cook for myself, I can pick up the phone and place an order for pick up. I won’t have to think about it or make any decisions in my state of anxiety because it’s already pre-planned for me.

The list is only two options: Vegetarian or not vegetarian.

Any more options than that in a state of anxiety and it only heightens the emotion.

Now I have 4 lists: Safe foods, challenge foods, a grocery list, and emergency take-out

At first it felt incredibly overwhelming. Thankfully I love making lists. It’s kind of always been my thing. But for some, it’s not. It can be incredibly daunting just thinking about it let alone taking action on it.

But I’ve come a long way in my recovery that I don’t have to always refer to these lists. The grocery shopping one is still key. It keeps me on a routine, robotic almost. Which my therapist says it’s a good thing, and eventually it won’t be so robotic for me. Eventually food will just be food and not a category of safe or unsafe.

The best part is that my challenge foods have significantly diminished. There are still a few things on there that bug me out, and that is totally okay. It’s more than okay. It’s amazing for me to see how that list has gone down so dramatically over the last two years.

No depiction of recovery is the same. It is never linear. It’s a constant navigation. And for that, I’m just proud that I’ve come this far.


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Meet the Author

Hey, I’m Lauren Dow. Author, podcast host, advocate, and feeler of the big feels. I’m here to provide a safe space to normalize the conversation about mental health and share about my journey of healing. Thanks for joining me on this wild ride.


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