(ab)normal fears: colorful foods

Yes, I’m afraid of vampires, ghosts, and goblins. I’m afraid of chainsaw murderers, sharks, snakes, Porta Potties, and dirty public seating. And yes, I’m afraid of failing, regret, and being single forever, but, on a less conventional level, I’m also afraid of food.

Why is food scary?

As someone who has given food so much power since before she even knew that a trough of fries bathing in ketchup wasn’t a square meal- all her 10 year old self knew was that she wish she were skinnier – the simple joy of taste has become tinged with thoughts of just what nourishment does to the body. Sure, the meals and snacks I document are varied in terms of healthfulness, but each picture fails to capture the emotion I feel towards it. 

Yeah yeah yeah, we all know that most former sufferers of anorexia fear fat, you may be thinking, but my fears don’t stop at dessert. My food fears are so complex it’s hard to approach them. My food fears start with color.

As my illness progressed, in addition to restricting my caloric intake, I took to restricting the variety of foods I ate, a task that I made more manageable by adopting a color-restriction approach.

Three years ago, just before I decided to start challenging myself by gradually adding more color to my meals. At this Christmas meal, my family ate all the traditional fixings, but I made my own meal.

At this Christmas dinner, my family ate all the traditional fixings while I made my own meal. Six months later I began to challenge my fears.

Woah, dude, you’re totally wacko; you have body image issues and yet you choose not to eat the things that are most nutritious simply because they’re colorful? That’s what I thought when the habit of controlling the color of the foods I consumed emerged. Now, however, it makes perfect sense: I needed order. I needed simplicity. And I needed predictability in a world that was ever-changing. Color, I decided, represented chaos.

At home, I used to have my own shelf. Can you guess which one was mine? Just look for the brown and whites.

At home, I used to have my own shelf in the pantry. Can you guess which one was mine?

So, let me get this straight, you like only ate blue on one day, red on another, and green on another? Don’t laugh, but kind of. And the kind of is there because I actually only let white and brown foods enter my mouth. Limiting myself to wild rice, cauliflower, mushrooms, walnuts, almonds, cheese, plain yogurt, cottage cheese, tofu, tempeh, brown bread, bran flakes, milk, and chocolate meant that I could eat enough to maintain a healthy weight without feeling overwhelmed.


Christmas Eve: Once again, I have a separate monotonous meal to “enjoy.” I always felt terribly awkward about not eating the same things as everyone else, but I had to do what I had to do to maintain a healthy weight.

Breaking this system has been perhaps the most challenging part of recovery. Welcoming colorful foods back into my life has meant embracing the disarray of reality; a plate of greens, yellows, oranges, and reds represented disorder, and without monotony, I thought I’d crumble under the weight of reality, and spiral back into anorexia. Good news: I was wrong.

It took months to muster up the courage to eat a single piece of lettuce. It wasn’t the calories; I was eating the recommended daily amount. It was the green. My brown and white routine was trustworthy: it ensured weight stability and mental clarity, and although I continued to feel repulsion toward my body, keeping food colors monotonous created a sense of harmony.

Then relationships happened.

Relationships are built on shared pleasurable experiences, one of which is meals, and if you refuse to eat anything but white and brown foods, you’re in for a challenge. Foodie friends taught me that to enrich relationships, I would have to relax about the whole color thing, and the same foodie friends taught me how to rekindle the flame with variety. Let’s just say that the next boyfriend I have will be grateful.

In Vegas for my 21st, I chose to go to an Italian restaurant, partly because it was written up as a good place to dine, but largely because I knew I could order something that catered to my disorder. While my friends traded bites of fish and roasted vegetables, I stuck firmly to my pasta with mushrooms.

In Vegas for my 21st, I chose to go to an Italian restaurant, partly because it was written up as a good place to dine, but largely because I knew I could order something that catered to my disorder; while my friends traded bites of fish and roasted vegetables, I stuck firmly to my pasta with mushrooms.

Brown and white may no longer be my significant others, but our connection was so strong it’s hard to completely move on. Eating a “rainbow diet” has reinvigorated me, but during busy times or times of change, stress encourages me to fall back into color restriction; sometimes I give in, but most of the time I rock on.

Have you ever experienced something similar? If so, how did you/ do you cope? 


2 responses to “(ab)normal fears: colorful foods

  1. Wow Hannah….you continue to amaze me. Knowing you during the time you struggled with this and looking at the insight you have now is inspiring. I have so many questions!,
    I just want to say to you that I know how much work goes into changing each small (or may it seem small) behavior. This has made me take another deep look into “why” I create my own chaos. Although I don’t have as organized chaos as you, its all the same battle- with ourselves.
    Thank you for sharing your blog. You are such a creative and intelligent author. I enjoy your entries…
    thank you

    • Great to hear from you, Nik, and thanks for the encouragement. Frustratingly, looking at our chaos can seem to create more chaos, but sometimes things just have to get messier before they create clarity. It’s exhausting, but that’s what makes us so strong. You got it, girl!

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