It's no secret that I've spent several years trying to beat my eating disorder and because of this, I've become quite outspoken about mental health. I'm passionate about spreading awareness — and this is how this article came about.

Depending on how knowledgeable you are about eating disorders, you may or may not have heard of fear foods. In short, they're foods often avoided by a person suffering from an eating disorder due to the irrational negative thoughts that they tend to provoke.

Disclaimer: it's important to recognise that I am writing this article from my point of view. While I believe that what I'm writing is an accurate description of fear foods for many people, it cannot be forgotten that every individual is different and there is no uniform way of approaching fear foods.

1. Fear foods are really scary

Heema Gokani

Some people are scared of heights, others, spiders: I was scared of bread. Bread (amongst other foods) provoked anxiety; it sent me panicking at the thought of having to eat it. At the point where I was still eating some lunch, I'd eat the filling from my sandwiches with a fork and throw away the bread because it absolutely terrified me. In my mind, bread could only make me fat. There was no other way around it.

2. Fear foods are often accompanied by "safe foods"

Heema Gokani

When fear foods arise, there are often "safe foods" not far behind. While bread, rice and white potatoes all sent me spiraling down; cous cous, sweet potatoes and most kinds of veg were a safe place. When I was in a good place, I let some people close to me know about my list of safe foods — when I'd not eaten or retained enough food, persuading me to have something off the list meant that I was much less likely to automatically vomit it back up. Knowing about someone's "safe foods" means that you can often intervene even when they're not willing to help.

3. They're not always logical

Heema Gokani

Often, there does seem to be a pattern. With me, things that contained lots of carbohydrates or fats tended to be more likely to end up as fear foods. On the other hand, crumpets were a pretty solid safe food and there seems to be little logic in that! It's important to just accept them as they are and go with it. You don't have to know why!

4. You should never force someone to eat a fear food

Heema Gokani

It's great to be encouraging when someone's in recovery, but you should never force or pressure someone into eating a fear food. Fear foods are often triggering and can set a person in recovery back. They'll come to terms with eating fear foods when they're ready and having someone to cheer them along when they eat that bowl of rice or celebrate like a madman when they successfully dig into a baked potato will make the world of difference.

5. Fear foods don't just disappear like that

Heema Gokani

It takes a lot of hard work to defeat fear foods. Just because you've seen someone eat their fear foods once does not meant that they've beaten them. It's a huge step in recovery, sure, but it's important that you don't just expect them to be 100% fine with all foods straight away. It's okay to be rocky and to suddenly want to avoid old foods all over again; it's okay to step back and say "I'm not ready for this today". I promise you, one day, the fear will subside into something so tiny that you won't notice it at all and that time when just eating a slice of bread was more scary than the prospect of failing university will seem a million years away.

To someone with little knowledge about eating disorders and how they work, the concept of fear foods may seem bizarre. But they are very real and very distressing to those who experience them. It's so, so important to just be there and be aware: if you're doing that, then you're helping!

If you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder, you can visit Beat for more information and and advice on getting help.