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Introducing a Forbidden Food

One of the scariest tasks in becoming a “normal” eater is starting to eat foods that you’ve forbidden yourself. However, if you move forward with mindfulness, planning and structure, you’ll be less fearful and more successful. Every time you aim to “legalize” a new food, follow (all of) these steps. All you need is a paper, pen, food, and courage!

Step 1: Pick a food that challenges you which you don’t regularly keep in the house, one that exerts a moderate irrational pull, but not the most difficult food for you to resist.
Step 2: After making a choice, without judgment, record your feelings about re-introducing this food into your diet—anxious, fearful, angry, hopeless, yearning, excited, mixed. Breathe deeply. Calm your anxiety by soothing self-talk.
Step 3: Make a list of at least half a dozen beliefs you have about this food: I can’t eat this “normally”; I’ll gobble this right up; This is a stupid exercise; If I eat this, I’ll get fat; I’ve never been able to eat this without eating it all; Eating this will start a food binge. Step 4: Turn all your irrational beliefs into rational ones: I can learn to eat this “normally”; I will eat this slowly; This exercise is scary, not stupid; I won’t get fat from eating this; I can learn not to overeat this; I can eat this and it won’t start a binge.
Step 5: Buy your challenging food. Notice how you feel picking it off the store shelf, placing it in your cart, watching it get bagged to take home, unpacking it—anxious, upset, scared, angry, can’t wait to get at it? For now, identify your feelings and record them when you get home. Breathe deeply. Calm your anxiety by soothing self-talk.
Step 6: When you feel relaxed (a must!) and ready to give this food a try, put it on your kitchen table. Study it and continue to focus on what you’re feeling. Are you dying to gobble it all up and make it go away? Are you frustrated with having to identify feelings when all you want to do is eat? Are you terrified and want to put or throw the food away? Without judging, record your reactions.
Step 7: Pick up the food and really look at it, smell it, touch it, and put it down. Stay connected to your feelings. Breathe deeply. Calm your anxiety by soothing self-talk.
Step 8: Take a small bite and let the food sit on your tongue. Notice the flavor. Put the food down and check in with your feelings. Breathe deeply. Resume eating and alternate between noticing emotions—fear, deprivation, contentment, anxiety, delight—and body sensations until you’re satisfied (the flavor has peaked or you’ve had enough).
Step 9: Stop eating, breathe deeply, and record what the experience was like.

Go through the steps in this exercise again and again until you’re comfortable with this food. When you are, move on to another challenging food. Have faith in the process.