Food...it keeps us alive & healthy, it tickles our taste buds and it’s a great excuse for a social gathering. How could you have a fear of food? It sounds so silly right? Well unfortunately it’s actually a very real & common thing among people suffering from digestive disorders like IBS, SIBO & inflammatory bowel diseases. I’ve experienced this first hand and from my experience I don’t think this ‘food fear’ is talked about enough so that’s exactly what I’m going to do here...buckle up!
Do you have a digestive disorder or a sensitive tummy? If so, you’re probably familiar with this feeling but how many times have you looked at your food and felt so afraid of what it will do to you or how it will make you feel that you don’t even want to put it in your mouth? I’ll be honest and say for me it’s too many times that I’ve lost count! There was a point where I became so afraid of food that I was down to a very small list of what I believed to be ‘safe’ foods and even these foods caused me grief! No-one ever told me that the more you limit your diet the more sensitive your gut can become, this is something I discovered for myself and through my studies to be a Nutritionist.
It became so clear that this fear makes so much sense when you consider that digestive symptoms are mostly brought on by the presence of food (and sometimes just water) and the simple yet necessary act of eating becomes such a negative and daunting experience - it’s no wonder anxiety is so closely related to digestive disorders & discomfort!
It can be so confusing to know what and what not to eat when it comes to gut health (thanks to the plethora of information so freely available on the web), and most people often find themselves following a very specific & restricted diet of some form. This is where I believe the negativity & fear around food begins.
At some point or another in our digestive journey most of us end up doing our own research to find the ‘cure all diet’ (which unfortunately doesn’t exist) but end up finding, and probably trialling, numerous different ‘diets’ that promise relief of digestive symptoms. These ‘diets’ can vary quite a bit from each other but most of them strictly limit certain carbohydrates or particular food groups and often create a very negative association with these excluded foods. While some of these ‘diets’ may help to reduce your symptoms initially and keep them at bay, when used long term & without professional support they can be detrimental to not only your gut health & microbiome (the bacteria that are critical for our health & gut function) but also your mental health, specifically anxiety & fear of foods.
There is a strong correlation between digestive conditions like IBS and the development of eating disorders which often includes or begins with a fear of specific foods, food groups or just eating in general. It’s actually very understandable when you consider the negative association and emotions that surround the previously mentioned diets, creating a strong belief that these foods are ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ or ‘illegal’ when they are usually nutritious foods when our bodies are functioning correctly. We can become so fixated on the negativity around these ‘bad’ or excluded foods that the fear continues to intensify to a point that it can have a placebo effect, meaning that the negative beliefs, thoughts and emotions we have developed creates the IBS symptoms more so than the actual food itself.
Obviously, avoiding the unhealthy foods like processed sugar, soft drinks, packet snacks, unhealthy oils, processed wheat & so on is important for gut health & health in general and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t adjust your diet to help manage your symptoms or condition, but I do believe it’s important to remember that restricted diets should not be seen as a long term solution nor should they control your life. They are there to use as a guide to help control symptoms in the initial healing stages and working with a trained and qualified practitioner who can individualise your food plan specific for your body is absolutely vital for your health & wellbeing.
I really want to stress this point...food does not cause IBS, SIBO or any other digestive condition! Certain foods may trigger symptoms of a condition or disorder but they are not the actual cause.
The ultimate goal in gut healing is to treat the cause to reduce symptoms, heal the gut to improve & strengthen digestive function and eventually broaden the diet as much as possible (without experiencing symptoms) to ensure you can live your best life and keep your gut microbiome happy, healthy & thriving!
So don’t beat yourself up if you’re not 100% compliant 100% of the time! We are all human and slipping up occasionally or having a treat every now and then is not going to be as detrimental to your gut as you might tell yourself. So enjoy your life, focus on healthy wholefoods & creating a healthy relationship to food and remember that foods of the earth are medicine and they contain all the elements that we need to keep our bodies alive!
In health & healing…