Dear Candy Q & A: Retraining Around Food
Q: I have been rewiring for a year but still find it challenging to train on food despite taking small incremental steps and slowly working my way up to actually ingesting food. What are common things that may hold someone back from making progress with food?
A: Two of the most common things that keep people from progressing are fear around the food or getting symptoms after ingesting it, and automatic negative thoughts or pops that go unmediated in regards to food. It is important to remember that our brain works by patterns of associations. In some cases, certain foods happened to be present during a particularly challenging or stressful time and the because they were present (even though they were not the cause of the stress) the brain has now deemed those foods to be unsafe or threatening to your system. How the brain perceives the food dictates our response to it. If we have fear around reacting negatively to a food, we are setting up our brain to continue firing in these old established patterns.
I am often reminded of studies discussing people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (aka multiple personalities) where one personality would be severely allergic to certain foods or have diabetes, while others weren't/ didn't. These examples go to show just how much our response to food (and blood sugar regulation) is mediated by the dominant pathways that are operating in the brain. I have seen time and time again people recover from severe reactions along with minor sensitivities. Our beliefs and expectations regarding the reactions and our ability to recover play a big role in the rate at which we make progress.
If your system is having trouble buying into the idea that a food is safe or that you can overcome it, I suggest that you do an experiment where you decide to suspend judgment for a couple of weeks and actively devote yourself to the retraining (not only when you work with the food but also later if any symptoms arise), and then re-evaluate at the end of the time frame. People often find when they can take fear out of the equation and trust that, even if symptoms come up, they can negate them through the retraining steps, it gives them courage to stay the course and continue retraining. Along similar lines, really step into your curious observer and see what negative thoughts are beliefs/expectations are still really strong around food and retraining with it. Make it your priority for the next little while to consistently interrupt those thoughts and redirect your attention.
Q: Do you have any tips on how to work on fear of getting ITs when training on foods? I don't really have any fear of the food themselves anymore but definitely still fearful of spiking or getting any ITs as they last for up to 3 days.
A: As I said above, fear is a huge factor in slowing progress and can actually be contributing to the spike or overreaction to the food(s). Consider using fear of a reaction as a trigger before rounds of practice for the next little while. Build your trust in your capacity to overcome a reaction, even if one arises. As people get better at letting go of the fear of a reaction, and then diving into practice when a reaction occurs (while stopping the negative thoughts and expectations about the reaction & how long it is going to last), they generally start to see those reactions go away faster. As this happens, it helps to build confidence in your ability to override a negative response and gives you courage to keep going on your retraining.
Q: Any tips for how to handle delayed ITs from foods and ITs that build up over time with continued exposure?
A: Practice, redirect and elevate your emotion while ingesting those foods and again anytime ITs occur. It is quite common for people to go through a process in retraining to react initially when the foods are ingested, then move to a reaction later (sometimes even days later) and eventually get to a place where they are no longer reacting at all. Keep retraining diligently, and again, become more aware of any negative thoughts, beliefs or expectations that could be contributing to this response.
Q: How many foods can you train on at the same time? Is it best to stick with just 1 food at a time or can you train on multiple foods?
A: It is ideal, at least initially, to start with one thing at a time. That way, you can track your progress. I recommend people pick something that they really enjoy, that brings them pleasure to add it back into their diet. This way, you already have a positive association and deeper motivation. Once you are making progress with foods and have had a good retraining experience, you can consider adding more things at once, or with less time in between before you go to the next item.
Q: What are your suggestions for how to deal with setbacks when retraining on foods? Should you keep going and continue to eat the new food when you spike? Or is it better to pause until the spike subsides?
A: Remember that there are ups and downs to the retraining process. Rarely is recovery a linear experience of getting better and better. There are going to be setbacks, and ups and downs along the way. How we respond to those setbacks and the thoughts or beliefs we entertain about them have a big impact on how quickly we are able to pull ourselves out of it and move forward again. If you stop eating a food after having a reaction you are reinforcing in your limbic system that the food is a problem for you. That being said, you may want to consider reducing the amount or increasing the time in between eating it (like every second or third day if you have been doing it daily).
A couple of final tips when working with foods that are particularly challenging:
1) Start with introducing the food in your imagination. Mentally rehearse eating it and bring in all the senses to make it as really as possible. Then move to seeing the food in front of you, and do the same. Then graduate to bringing it to your lips, or licking it. Eventually, go to putting a small amount in your mouth, and work your way up to bigger amounts. Often when people start in their imagination, their limbic system will initially have a negative reaction as thought they have eaten the food. This helps people understand that it is not actually about the food itself, it is our brain's perception (which is why we react even when we really haven't had any).
2) Once you are ingesting foods, consider doing it every second or third day at first, and then slowly work your way up to doing it daily (with rounds both when you ingest the food and at any point after if you are having a reaction).
3) Remind yourself of past times where you were able to eat that food without a reaction (if applicable), and relive those experiences mentally, bringing in all your senses and making it as real as possible. This reminds your brain that the food wasn't always a trigger, and that it had a different association with that food in the past.
4) When ingesting the food, elevate your emotions as you are doing it (in addition to doing rounds before and after). By doing this repeatedly, you help your brain to form a new positive association with the food. The elevating of your emotions can be totally unrelated to the food itself (anything that lifts you up in that moment is helpful).
Until next time!
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Candy Widdifield is Registered Clinical Counsellor, Wellness Coach, and Registered Reiki Master Teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. Her modalities include coaching, therapy, Reiki and the Safe & Sound Protocol. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com