Fear, Food, Empathy, and Eating Disorders

The experience of food when one has an eating disorder is difficult to explain. Yet, I’m gonna try to touch on one part that many may experience. Here goes.


I recently opened the front door to go grab the dry cleaning I forgot in my car. The largest non-tarantula spider I have ever seen greeted me–I almost ran into it! WITH MY FACE!


Well, needless to say, I went to pieces since I have a bit of a spider phobia–screaming and running with my knees high in the air (automatically I do this believing in the moment that it will stop any spider from being able to crawl up my leg). I know–my response was irrational. But FEAR can take even the most rational person to incomprehensible.


I ask you… What are you afraid of, phobic about? If you can’t identify with fear, then what are you uncomfortable around? Spiders? Snakes? Your in-laws?


Really think about it. Find something you are phobic about, scared of, or (at the very least) super uncomfortable being around.


For someone with an eating disorder, having to eat a meal or snack might feel how confronting (insert your fear) three to six times a day would feel for you. AND, each time, it can seem just as scary as the last (desensitization doesn’t necessarily naturally or automatically happen for people with eating disorders without help/concentrated work). After enduring your fear-thing–repeatedly–on a daily basis, how might you feel?


Plus, if you think about it, where have you been in the last 48-hours that food was not easily available, purchasable or close by? I notice that local office supply stores, gas stations, home supply stores and more have incorporated snacks just before the check-out. Well, for someone with an eating disorder, that can FEEL like (for me) reaching through the spider web and past that eight-legged monster to pay–each time.




And yes, there can also be feelings of compelled and/or obsessed simultaneously experienced with fear or terror. But right now, let’s focus on what can appear to an onlooker or supporter as irrational or attention-seeking. The fear can be so real to the person struggling.


Think about how you’d feel mentally and physically if you had to face your fear as many times a day as food is available, purchasable or needed to fuel your body…


It’s hard to have an eating disorder, which is a complex psychological illness that often also comes with physical consequences–and fear(s).


NOTE: From workshops, I’m remembering Carolyn Costin likening eating disorders to phobias. She deserves acknowledgment/credit for the initial idea.

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