Food Anxiety

God of Paleo eating, forgive me for I have sinned.

About four years ago, Brandon and I embarked on a month of Whole 30 eating in an effort to figure out what was destroying his digestive system. The Whole 30 cuts all added sugar, alcohol, grains, beans and legumes, soy, and dairy products for 30 days. For 30 days, you eat only fruits, vegetables, seeds, tree nuts, oils, and meat. After just a few days, we noticed amazing results – we lost weight, sinus issues disappeared, complexion cleared up, snoring ended, acid reflux disappeared, indigestion gone, major digestive issues for Brandon disappeared, afternoon lethargy disappeared, and we both were sleeping like rocks. We felt amazing.

After we finished the Whole 30 Challenge, we said good riddance to soy and grains. Adios, sandwiches! Goodbye, pasta! You get the idea. It has been our goal in the weeks and months and years since that first Whole 30 to stick as close to that strict diet as possible – all whole foods, no processed or pre-packaged junk. When we slide back into eating pizza and ice cream on a habitual basis, we all notice the difference. When we consciously cut those things that we know will make us sick out of our diets again, we feel better again.

For the most part this has worked really well for us. Cutting out all of the pre-packaged and processed stuff has made for significant changes in how we feel. Participating in the Whole 30 was a powerful, eye opening experience to how much diet affects the way our bodies operate.

But Brandon’s digestive issues continue to spike, and so we try to cut out other parts of our diets that might be culprits. Chickens who are fed soy, for instance. Chickens who are fed soy that lay soy-fed eggs. Nitrates. Red meat.

The general progression of our dietary habits has looked something like this:

  • We tried the Whole 30 in 2012 and felt overwhelmed, but figured it out.
  • We switched to Paleo eating and felt overwhelmed, but figured it out.
  • We watched Forks Over Knives and felt overwhelmed.
  • We heard about Grain Brain and reinforced our anti-grain sentiments.
  • We launched Whole 30 challenges again in 2013 and 2014 and made A Case For and Against Detox
  • We learned how too much protein in your diet can affect your kidney health and started to cut back on meat.
  • We learned from the World Health Organization that red meat is a carcinogen.
  • I signed up for a plant-based diet wellness class at work taught by the Esselstyns of Reverse and Prevent Heart Disease fame who say, no animal anything, no dairy, no oils, no added sugars, just fruits, vegetables (lots of leafy greens especially), whole grains, beans and legumes, and today I’m beginning a seven-day plant-based diet challenge.
I am afraid to buy bread. And pasta. And rice. And cereal. The other day I bought a package of whole wheat spaghetti and felt a surge of shame.

I believe I suffer from FAD – Food Anxiety Disorder. I don’t think it’s a real thing but I bet it will become one soon, because of this:


There are plenty of recommended, modified, reduced, reorganized, This Is The Way diets I could reference. These are the two that are front of mind for us right now.

Eat meat.

Don’t eat meat.

Don’t eat grains.

Eat grains.

Don’t eat beans and legumes.

Eat as many beans and legumes as you want.


I should not feel anxiety about buying a food product that most of the world subsists on, right? I want to live the healthiest, most joyful life I can and provide strong guidelines for lifelong health for my kids. The world is against me in this mission. School wants a sweet treat, a salty treat, a juice drink, a goodie bag, and a healthy snack for the Halloween party. Church hosts a donut hour every Sunday and dessert at every cheese- and meat-based potluck. Restaurants offer three vegetarian, cheese-smothered entrees and four salads, one without meat, with cheese. Butter, cheese, white bread, and meat, everywhere!

I wouldn’t care about any of this if I hadn’t done that Whole 30 Challenge four years ago, stripping away the staples of the American diet, cutting my addiction to sugar cold turkey, and discovering all of the benefits of eating for health, not eating to satisfy my desires. We have evangelized for Paleo eating and now I find myself eyeing another model, another option, wanting the very best for my body and my family’s bodies for the long haul, wondering about all of that meat we’ve been eating and what it might be doing to our kidneys, our cells, our overall health.

And so I bought a bag of whole wheat pasta and a can of pasta sauce. I stirred in some spinach. My kids sung the praises of noodles over dinner and we Googled how much sugar is in one box of raisins (25 grams) and how much the average adult woman should eat each day (25 grams). We talked about eating well, about maybe even eating sandwiches again (SINNERS!!!!).

I wish I didn’t care about any of this because it’s just plain exhausting pushing against our cultural norms of cheese cheese cheese and meat meat meat. Countries all over the world and families in our own nation are malnourished and starving, anxious about where they are going to get their next meal and their next meal and their next meal. Here in the Fifty Nifty United States, we are anxious about consuming too much food and the wrong types of food. We eat junk and pay for it now and later. It’s a money-making industry of diet plans and pharmaceuticals.

Last night at dinner, Brandon and I scanned the menu and tried to decide what to eat.

“You’re making me freak out about meat,” Brandon said as we looked in vain for a non-meat, non-cheese dish.

“Don’t freak out,” I said, “Order whatever you want. I don’t want to be a slave to our diets, but I also want to feel good and be healthy.” I took my own advice and ordered sea scallops (They are of the animalia kingdom, folks. I was secretly hoping they could be considered plants.)

That’s the bottom line. Anxiety about food is not feeling good. It is not healthy. I need to remember that food is not an idol. Learning more about what foods are good for you and what foods may have negative impacts on your long-term health is good education and an important framework for making healthy decisions. I feel better when I don’t eat added sugars. I feel better when I don’t eat dairy. I feel better when I eat healthy grains. I feel better when I don’t eat red meat.

I especially feel better when I remember that I have to eat for the rest of my life, and life is a journey of successes and failures, of gaining more knowledge and growing in wisdom and discernment. I can choose into health or I can choose to indulge, and both choices are mine to make, consequences on either side.

Those sea scallops were delicious. I don’t regret them.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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