We’re back with our little word series this week to talk about fear. So far in the series we’ve talked about the important role patience plays when it comes to everything we talk about here at Brownble. Whether it’s the patience needed when changing the way you eat, or patience with family members around you when you’re going on your vegan journey, whether it’s an important part of being more appreciative of the body you have, going on this quest to improve your relationship with food, or to improve your own body image. It even applies to all the posts and episodes we’ve had on cooking and honing your skills in the kitchen. It’s what I’ve loved about this series so far, one little word can have so much to do with many different aspects of our lives, and each and every one of you are going to get something different out of them. After patience came the word that inspired it all and we dove into our relationship to excess and how a little mantra has helped me tremendously this year. Then came the topic of change and how we experience and deal with the many changes we might be going through when we’re on this path to feeling better right where we are, and when creating an impact in the world around us. All of this got me thinking, what is that one emotion that seems to always be present whenever we discuss any of these little words in the series? The answer?
Fear is such a powerful part of each and every one of our lives. It’s one of those basic human emotions, and for many of us, especially my fellow anxious chronic worriers, fear runs the show more often than we’d care to admit. Fear is related to all of our favourite topics here in the blog and in our podcast, so I thought it was only fair we let it have the spotlight it often craves, in our little word series.
Here are some of the ways fear might be popping its little head in our lives when it comes to the way we eat, the way we relate to our bodies, and the way as vegans (or mostly vegans, or vegan flirts) navigate this non-vegan world we live in.
We can experience fear when making any new change like a change in the way we eat, and this can be fear of what’s ahead, fear of missing favorite foods and traditions, fear of the extra work we may think this implies, or fear of what other people will think when we go on this new adventure (all my vegan peeps will be able to relate to this one).
We can experience fear in letting go of dieting and external food rules, a BIG part of what we help you through here at Brownble.
We can experience fear of eating certain foods in this very perfectionistic “wellness” era we’re living in, or we can experience fear when eating certain foods again which we had previously labelled as “bad” or “forbidden” with our own inner food police.
We can fear the opinions of people near us when we’re less than “perfect vegans”, especially when we have vegan friends or family members.
We can experience fear of what will happen to our bodies when we let go of rigid rules masquerading as self care or wellness.
We can experience fear of our bodies changing through time.
We can experience fear when this or any other journey has inspired us to create something more of it, such as having a career shift, going back to school so we can help others, or when daring to share our gifts (culinary or otherwise) with the world.
We can experience fear when telling our significant other that we’re thinking of making changes, and same goes for co-workers, friends, family members, even our doctor.
We can experience fear when thinking about our health and the habits we have or would like to have.
We can experience fear when thinking about the health of close family members.
We can experience fear when it comes to the effects our lifestyle choices are having on the environment, the animals and our fellow human beings in need.
Not to mention the fact that anything that triggers fear in us, even small daily aspects of our lives, all the way up to big traumas, everything, has an effect on the way we relate to food.
We even have a funny new acronym for a new variety of fear (as if we didn’t have enough of that already), and that is the funny FOMO (fear of missing out), for some of us experienced, and brought on daily, by our non-stop use of social media: Am I doing enough? Am I successful enough?… Pretty enough?… Skinny enough?… Curvy enough? Am I eating right? Am I exercising enough? Is my life where it should be?
Fear and I go way back
If there’s one emotion that has run my life the most it has been fear. After growing up with some challenging life circumstances because of having my only parent suffering from a serious life-threatening illness, I grew up making fear a bit of an ally.
Even as a little girl I learned to plan and prepare for the worst so I wouldn’t get blind sighted. This was a big source of confusion for me since if there’s one trait I’m pretty sure I was born with in spite of my life circumstances, it’s optimism. I’m a very joyful and cheerful person. I smile all the time, and I have always found a way to enjoy whatever it is I’m doing, but this has always come along with fear.
Fear on one side, and fun and joy on the other, have been like two little kids playing tug of war, each side pulling with all their might. Fear tugging away so that the side of me that was finding joy wouldn’t get the rug pulled out from under her, and joy, always seeing an opportunity whenever fear tripped, finally being able to come up to play, trying to live the moment so fully the highs would be very high.
No matter how much I’ve worked on it, and believe me, I’ve come a very long way, fear still pops its head out of the hole like a little gopher. Even now, with the situations that made fear my sidekick way back in that rearview mirror, I can still see it and sense it whenever something new starts appearing in my life.
So yeah, fear and I know each other.
It was there when making friends on that first day of school because I was afraid they’d ask me why my mom walked funny and where the heck my dad was. It was present in every single hospital waiting room in which I went through the task lists that my mom and I had rehearsed many times “in case of emergencies”. It was present when I became a teacher, and I had to pass certifications, teaching in front of all the pros. It was present when I had to show my real self to others when I knew I was always slightly different. It was present when I went vegan and was forced to jump into the deep end of the pool when it came to standing out as different. It was and sometimes still is present when I write about my personal views on veganism and how it allows for many ways of expressing itself in people’s lives. It happens when I create a project for Brownble in the cozy safety of my home, and then it has to come out into the cyber world. It is always present when I tell you stories like these, or the hundreds of other very personal tales I’ve shared.
The thing about fear is, the only way through it is with bravery, and as it turns out, people are brave not in the absence of fear, but because they felt afraid and crossed through it to the other side.
There really is no way through it than through it
Whatever it is that you’re feeling afraid of, many will tell you that an antidote is to just say yes, to say yes to everything. To try everything in spite of fear. This little technique works wonders for all you daring types. For all scaredy cat types like me though, another approach is needed. For me it was more about noticing when my reaction to anything was coming from fear. For me it was all about awareness and mindfulness whenever I was feeling those familiar pangs in my stomach, or had a jerk reaction to say no, or to say why something wouldn’t be right for me. I would check in, I would ask myself, is fear the one that is running the show? Before I could say yes and avoid bulldozing myself, I had to check in. I had to take a step back and comfort that little kid in me when I noticed that my reaction was stemming from fear.
Fear and food
I bet if you asked your grandmothers or great grandmothers if fear and food were ever joined at the hip, they would have a very different answer to what you and I might have today. To them, if fear was part of the eating equation it was probably all about the fear of scarcity, of going through periods in history when food wasn’t as available. It was probably all about the fear of not having enough. In many places around the world, this is the only fear associated with food and eating, the fear of going through famine, or of not having enough. For our grandmothers, and for anyone going through food insecurity, the presence of food is probably something to be joyful about. It’s something to be celebrated and enjoyed.
When food insecurity hasn’t been a part of our life, and especially in our Western society, fear has popped back on the plate, whether through the pursuit of dieting and shrinking our bodies, or through constant fear mongering on the fact that specific food items might make us sick. Sometimes our fear of certain foods or of the way we’re eating comes from our desire to distract ourselves from other painful emotions. For many of us the idea of controlling food or our bodies, as painful as it can be, is a powerful distraction. Fear can be at the core of the way we eat, or it can even be the excuse to hide away from the issues we really need help with. Usually a much deeper fear, like the fear of feeling pain whether emotional or due to future illness, or the fear of not fitting in, the fear of not belonging, or, the fear of losing the people we love, are some of the core issues that are often lying below the surface of fear, and that we rarely get to address or comfort in ourselves, which is why awareness is such an important part of letting go of it. This is how the fear of not belonging, or of not being loved, can often transform itself into discomfort and negative feelings about our body image. This is also how the fear of not being on steady ground and rooted, or the fear of experiencing pain, can transform itself into specific food fears with an obsessive pursuit of good health through control, often to our body’s own detriment.
Nowadays even vegans aren’t safe from food fears. A choice that used to come from our desire to help protect other beings and the planet we live in, has also been painted over with constant fears about specific foods, or even substances within something as simple as a potato or tomato. Fear and food have become so entangled that few of us see food as just food anymore. Many of us no longer see foods as neutral and important parts of our lives both for nourishment, survival and pleasure. Some of us see a bowl of white rice and fear rings the “refined” bell. Some of us see a piece of birthday cake and fear rings the “sugar” bell. Some of us see fries and fear rings the “oil” bell. Some of us see something that comes in a package and fear rings the “processed food” bell. We can have fear running the show when we’re making the choice to be vegan, when this is a choice that should come from kindness and is not about perfection.
Peeling off fear and addressing it as separate
We are in deep need of a separation between food and fear. This applies to our fear of certain foods, but it also applies to feeling fear in other moments of our lives and not looking into healing what needs to be healed, instead turning to food, or the restriction of it, as a means of control.
If there’s one little exercise that will help you improve your relationship with food and your relationship with your body, it’s to start observing and noticing fear with full awareness when it’s guiding your choices. By noticing, we can begin to separate fears from the actual moment we’re living through. We can separate fear from certain foods, fear from a big decision we have to make, fear from the pursuit of perfection or trying to control, fear of what others will think from what we’re really feeling inspired to try. When we can separate these two sides of the equation we can tend to fear by comforting and being kind to ourselves, and we can see the rest for what it is and act according to what truly serves us, our wellbeing and our happiness. Instead of acting from fear when we sit down to eat, when we decide to exercise, when we’re looking in the mirror, or when we’re trying to change a habit or challenging old beliefs, we can separate fear from the actual present moment and begin to see these moments themselves and the foods themselves as neutral. Neutral is that jumping off point to start healing and questioning perhaps years of very internalized beliefs. Neutral is like a palate cleanser. A way to start fresh every time we sit down to eat, and every day when it comes to the way we feel about and talk about our bodies, or any other aspect of our lives we’re feeling stuck with.
Since food and our relationship to food is what we celebrate here and in the podcast, today’s little word is meant to remind us that so many times our actions stem from fear, but what if we comforted that part of ourselves that is fearful, instead of acting on it on impulse. What if by doing that we start taking fear out of the eating equation. What if we start removing fear from the way we experience these glorious bodies that we live in, to which we give very little credit to, and which naturally know what to do to be in their perfect state of homeostasis. What if we started asking ourselves “why do we think this is true?”, whenever we’re struggling with a belief we have about ourselves, our bodies, or the way we eat. What if we look deep down into the core of that fear, took a little time to just observe it, comfort it and keep on going?
This was a huge part of the journey I had to go through when healing my relationship with food and changing old beliefs about my body image. I started noticing that everything stemmed from a fear of not belonging, or of losing control, and then I noticed I could peel fear off the topic at hand like a sticker, and see them both for what they were. After that, everything became easier. For me it’s a work in progress, not with food any longer, but certainly with anything that is new. When I learned that I could peel fear off and see everything as simply an experience I could try my best at, so many things started to change.
I hope you can do this little exercise this week. Whatever it is you’re struggling with, whether that’s finding a neutral place with previously forbidden foods, or whether it’s telling friends and family about new changes or decisions you’ve made, or whether it’s checking that judgemental body image voice at the door next time you look in the mirror, imagine yourself peeling off that fear sticker and sticking it to one side, so you can see the two as separate, and find both the comfort you need and some newfound courage to give something new a try.