Balancing Food and Fear

On a recent flight, I finally got to watch Free Solo, the documentary of Alex Honnold free climbing El Capitan. That’s a 3,000 plus foot climb without a rope. One mistake, and he’s plummeting to his death. Splat. The filmmakers depict the risk and pressure beautifully. No one in their right mind would do such a climb. Spoiler alert: The fact that he survived shocked many of his friends and climbing buddies.
Just the idea of such a climb sends shivers through me, much less watching it on film. Knowing he succeeded did not make it any easier on me. Actually, I couldn’t watch most of it. My fear of heights sends the sensation of falling through me with the simple thought of being up that high. I played a game on my phone to get me through the most death-defying scenes.
Clearly, Honnold has tamed his survival mode more than the average person. In the film, they show him getting the results of an MRI designed to study what’s happening in his brain when fear-inducing things pop up on a screen. The average person’s brain is all lit up in the amygdala, AKA the Survival Brain. Honnold’s brain barely registered anything. He asked if his brain was broken. They said it was not broken – but definitely he had trained himself not be as fearful as the average person. If you think about it, that’s not really surprising. Otherwise, he would definitely have not been able to climb El Capitan without a rope. His fear would have overtaken him.
However, his LACK of fear might also eventually prove fatal.
Many argue he was stupid to try it. When you watch the film, you see that his friends, and especially his girlfriend, wish some fear would show up to keep him from putting himself into that level of danger. One of the undercurrents of the film is that taking this kind of risk is how he feels alive.
I can’t imagine that he is going to live to a ripe old age. A mistake will catch him at one point, and in free climbing, even a tiny mistake is fatal. He really needs fear in order to survive.
And that’s the problem with fear. And food. It’s not the fear or the food that really matter. It’s the balance that matters.
We need both fear and food in order to survive. We can also overdo it with both.
When our relationship with food is out of balance, we get fat or emaciated. The fallout of eating too much or too little is pretty obvious. Not that having clothes that don’t fit makes it easier!
But, here’s the point: you can’t walk away from food. The only way to stay at the same weight is to be balanced with your food intake. If you use food as a coping mechanism, getting into balance will require you to find another way to cope. Or heal.
Fear is the same way. You can’t walk away from fear either, because fear keeps you out of danger. We are hardwired for survival. Fear can be your friend.
Fear can also be your greatest enemy. When we are out of balance with our fear, we will either over or under do it. We take crazy risks – or we get frozen and take no risks.
I usually get frozen – and as a result, don’t take risks. Or let fear hide in the background, keeping me away from the edge and therefore away from reasonable actions that need to happen. Like difficult conversations. Like trying a new sport. Like writing a blog like this.
Fear gives good reasons for why not to have that conversation or try the sport or write the blog. “Well, the way she spoke out of turn wasn’t really that bad. Maybe it won’t happen again.” “Sure I would love to learn how to row. But what if my boat turns over?” “I love to write about topics that matter. But what if I make someone mad?”
It’s not the fear – or the food – that’s the problem. It’s our relationship with the fear and food, that gets both out of balance. It’s the habitual pattern of just letting fear or food run you that gets us into trouble.
I have a special place in my pantry for chocolate – the really good, dark chocolate that is delicious and “healthy.” When I get a small bite and sit down and actually experience the deliciousness, the chocolate serves as a wonderful treat.
But what do I do all too often? I mindlessly open the pantry door, grab a bite, eat it as I do something else, grab another bit, do something else, and the next thing I know, I’ve eaten 3 servings. And I haven’t really tasted any of it. Now I have to work off those calories. Nope, that doesn’t serve me. It’s out of balance.
Fear and food in balance are our greatest friends. Out of balance, they start to run us and we become a slave to our old habits.
Where has your fear truly served you? Where have you let fear stop you from doing something worthwhile? What do you do to restore balance?