I have a clear memory of being 5 years old, at my babysitter, Mrs. Kelly’s house and being given a dixie cup with cereal in it as my afternoon snack. There were a few other kids my age who got the same, and I honestly remember–even at that age–looking at the other kids wondering if they felt as I did, that “this can’t possibly be all we get?? How are they are not still starving??”
It’s funny, when I started thinking about the topic of food anxiety, I noticed that my entire life has been dotted with similar experiences:
- In high school, my best friend Sally and I going to the local 7-Eleven and picking up candy, only to back-track and ALSO get a salty snack because everyone knows you need to have the taste of salt after a sweet, and then another sweet after salty, and back and forth, of course.
- Choosing candy items based on how long they took to eat. I would NEVER get Reese’s Cups because pfffft, there are ONLY TWO of them! How … unsatisfying? And over too quickly!
- After college, when I was teaching a bazillion fitness classes every week and doing 2+ hours of cardio I day, I exercised so that I could eat whatever I wanted (even though the “look” I was carrying at the time was a water-logged cardio one), and one thing I would always do would be to get bagels on Saturday morning. I would get a sausage, egg and cheese on a plain bagel. BUT–what if one bagel is not enough and I’m still hungry after?–so I would ALSO get a cinnamon sugar bagel with cream cheese too. Because you know, the savory/sweet alternating thing again.
- Even a few years ago, I would do a weekly Reese’s Pieces cheat every Sunday night, turning it into a cozy ritual. I would bundle up on the sofa to watch my fav Sunday night HBO show with my Reese’s, and here comes Jade holding his hand out for MY Reeses! Is he insane?? Doesn’t he know I only do this ONCE a week?? I’m not sharing!! :) Thus, I started getting him his own separate bag that I could then throw at him when he reached for mine. Ha!
FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. Fear of missing out on the ‘fun’ of food. Anxiety about the scarcity of food.
Though it wasn’t on a conscious level, I lived in a constant state of food anxiety. In my head: Will I be able to get enough of all the yummy foods I want to stuff down my throat at this one-and-only opportunity because come Monday, I can’t have any of it again, so I NEED TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT ALL RIGHT NOW!!!!
Maybe you’ve had similar experiences, maybe you haven’t. But I believe that many of us have an underlying anxiety about food that manifests in urgency. We don’t want to “miss the opportunity” to have this custom cake at this wedding, or the few-and-far-between opportunity to have popcorn at the movies or this award-winning dessert at this special restaurant I don’t know if I’ll ever get to eat at again.
I understand completely. And I’m actually not knocking an every-once-in-a-while indulgence, but when it snowballs into feeling like you are missing out every single day on some potentially-yummy food item, then you are actually being 100% ruled by your environment. No wonder you feel out of control. No wonder you (ironically) feel no sense of satisfaction when you eat whatever it is you feel like you’re missing out on. Because you’re always looking for the next chance to eat to your heart’s desire:
- A co-worker is eating something new and delicious that you just have to try
- When your office pals hit Happy Hour, “I’ll have whatever everyone else is having!”
- At a dinner or holiday party where you get to eat season treats–egg nog, yule logs, the cutest little mini desserts and pumpkin cheesecakes!!
- When a friend comes over to spend quality time–bring out the wine, cheese and crackers
Bottom line is that we can find opportunities for “missing out” on yummy food every single day. I can drive by McDonalds and see all the cars in the drive-thru and get depressed because “look at all those people who can eat Big Macs and I have to eat this dry chicken breast and these steamed veggies.” I can feel “left out” when I go to my Italian in-laws’ house on Friday night after a long week of work and watch everyone else devour bread, cheese, pasta and tiramisu and make the choice not to.
I can choose to NOT feel left out. I can actively CHOOSE my eating habits. I can CHOOSE to feel satisfied by my choices, and actually take pride in the fact that I don’t let my environment dictate my choices. In this way, I am more in control than ever.
So the key, if you are feeling FOMO around food is …. YOUR ATTITUDE. How you perceive the situation. FOMO is a choice.
Let other people be swayed by their environments. You make choices, for your own healthy lifestyle without circumstantial considerations. Let your ability to not take things, places, people into consideration be a source of pride and affirmation for you.
This attitude shift takes practice and patience. But the good news is that the more you own your choices and refuse to feel “left out” of (to-be-regretted-later) yummy/disgusting food encounters, the easier it becomes to see things that way. Essentially, it’s like strengthening your willpower muscle. Reinforcing it until you get to the point when the FOMO food you used to desire actually holds no appeal for you, because you’ve found a way to eat that already satisfies you.
I’m currently working on a follow up to this post, where I’ll go more in-depth about food anxiety and what drives us to eat out of stress or because we think it makes us feel better. We think “comfort food” is supposed to comfort us, when in actuality, it makes us more remorseful, UNcomfortable and physically worse later. But in the moment, it’s hard to be aware of that. Food anxiety is an elaborate interplay of brain chemistry, triggers + resulting habit loops, scarcity vs. abundance mindset and misguided stress management (including physiological factors).