For many people who are battling an eating disorder, finding that first step on the road to recovery can be the hardest and most overwhelming part. Changing your relationship with food is one of the most important aspects of recovery. Oftentimes people say to me, "why don't you just eat more?" or "just double the serving size." It isn't that easy. Eating disorders alter the brain. The mental recovery is just as challenging as the physical recovery. After weeks of failed recovery attempts and increased frustration, I came across an article that motivated me to push forward: it was about "conquering your fear foods."

I came across the blog HealthyEzSweet, and found an article from author Cayenne, who shared her own four week fear foods challenge. The concept behind the challenge was simple: take small steps each week to reintroduce yourself to the foods your mind has labelled as "dangerous," "bad for you," or "unhealthy." After reading her post, I drafted my own "fear foods" list, and turned it into a beautiful calendar, which I posted on my vision board. And let me tell you, it felt dang good being able to check off each challenge as I accomplished them. 

I know this sounds silly, but it's important to remember that if you want to do these challenges, the longer you wait, the scarier it gets. Write down your fear foods. Then take a look at it and figure out where to start. Start small. Maybe it's adding oil to your vegetables. Or having frozen yogurt for dessert. Be gentle with yourself, but also remember why you are doing this. Learning to eliminate the "fear" in food will help create a positive relationship between you and food, which is the building block of recovery.

Week 1: "Sweet Tooth"

For the first week I decided to start with a category of foods that I think most people could add to their own challenge: sweets. I didn't force myself to eat a whole chocolate cake, dump a gallon of maple syrup in my oatmeal, or scarf down Coldstone every night. I started small. And let me tell you, at the end of this week, I looked back and thought to myself, "why haven't you been treating yourself?" Because let's be honest, cookies rock.

1. Buy a packaged sweet snack for midnight munching

2. Make pancakes for breakfast

3. Bake your favorite sweet treat (and eat it!)

Alison Cavicchi

Week 2: "Carbing Up"

This was a harder week for me because I had ingrained in my mind the idea that "all carbs are bad for you." Plus, being gluten free, carbs tend to be easier to avoid, since most require a gluten free alternative. I challenged myself to add one starch to every day of the week: potatoes, wraps, or pasta. I didn't overwhelm myself or try to "carb up" at every meal, every single day. Remember, small progress is still progress. 

1. Replace two salads with wraps for lunch

2. Eat gluten free pasta for dinner (no bean based pastas!)

3. Make roasted breakfast potatoes (oil and all

Alison Cavicchi

Week 3: "Eating Out"

One huge part of recovery that people often overlook is the importance of social eating. The people you share a meal with can be just as, if not more, important than the meal itself. We have to be comfortable in our skin, confident eating out, and excited about the idea of spontaneous ice cream trips. I encourage everyone to create a social week in their own calendar, and actually schedule dinner dates with people. 

1. Go out for froyo with a friend

2. Don't check the menu beforehand (order what you want!)

3. Replace a planned meal with takeout

Alison Cavicchi

Week 4: "Top it Off"

All those little "add-ins" that get tossed into salads, breakfast bowls and even dinners can be intimidating little guys; oftentimes we opt-out of the crumbled cheese, chopped nuts or heavy sauces, because we tell ourselves "the meal will be just as good without it." Not true. Give that salad a crunch (and pack in the protein), toss your pasta in creamy goodness (avocado pesto!), or indulge in a parfait for dessert (craisins and all!). You can do it.

1. Make a cream based pasta sauce

2. Add chopped nuts to your morning oatmeal and/or salad

3. Add dried fruit to your lunch

Alison Cavicchi

It is important to recognize that everyone who is battling an eating disorder is not battling the same thing. Everyone has their own obstacles, their own fears, and their own milestones to achieve. My battle may look completely different from yours. For me, completing my fear foods challenge was a major milestone. This experience showed me that food isn't scary, and that a plate of pancakes isn't going to somehow ruin my life. I highly encourage you to give this a try. And always remember that "you can't pour from an empty cup." You have to take care of yourself first. Stay strong, you can do this.