The Dark Side of Clean Eating
IN NEPAL, I saw a sign outside a restaurant that said, “Life is short. Eat dessert first.”
It’s a good metaphor for what I’m going to discuss.
The topics are food anxiety, clean eating, and weight loss.
About 4 years ago, I had a short-lived flirtation with Orthorexia. My health wasn’t so great and I was looking for answers so I hired a holistic nutritionist.
I became gluten-free for 6 months, cut out caffeine, sugar, eliminated dairy and avoided eggs and other items in order to achieve better health.
I even made my own nut milk, sprouted my own seeds, and bought organic foods.
I almost never ate out at a restaurant because it was hell trying to find a place that could accommodate all my special dietary needs. (Not much fun for my husband either, even though he was a good sport about it.) I avoided traveling because I couldn’t control my diet — p.s. I love to travel.
I became anxious and socially isolated.
Ironically, I never got any healthier. In fact, I got worse. My thyroid antibodies went through the roof. (A sign my immune system was attacking my thyroid tissue.)
In the end, what made me feel better was good old pharmaceuticals. I significantly increased my thyroid medication, resumed my old eating habits, including gluten, and my antibodies went to zero. They’ve remained in normal ranges ever since.
So, when I reflect back to those dark days of fearing all kinds of foods and labeling them as good or bad, and getting judgy about other people’s poor nutritional choices and the greediness of the food industry, I can only thank my stars that I’m over that phase.
I enjoy eating out and I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I drink coffee, eat ice cream, and nothing is off-limits.
I no longer fear specific foods, and my mental health (and wallet) is better for it.
So why am I sharing this story?
Because there’s someone out there unnecessarily obsessed with every bite of food they eat, and if that’s you, I want you to know that it’s not healthy.
If you are constantly anxious about what you eat, and you’re not feeling significantly better, maybe it’s time to step back. Be honest about your symptoms and the stories you tell yourself about food.
Maybe you need to see a doctor about your health concerns. In my case, I needed to increase my thyroid medication in order to feel better. No amount of clean eating would fix that.
Is it possible that an obsession with clean eating, GMOs, grains, sugar, (insert latest evil food item here) provides a distraction from undiagnosed anxiety? An outlet for obsessiveness? A need for control? A need to feel superior? Or something else? Perhaps a deep-seated fear of illness and a belief that food purity will prevent you from getting sick?
Orthorexia is an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy in order to become – or remain – healthy. It’s an actual medical condition in which the sufferer systematically avoids specific foods in the belief that they are harmful.
You’re especially vulnerable to Orthorexia if you dislike or mistrust the medical establishment and want to find non-medicinal cures for your health concerns.
Here is an interesting meme by Alan Aragon about the link between Orthorexia, Anorexia, and OCD. I’ve shared it here, with his permission. Click here for the original post and discussion.
Life is short
I understand and respect the need for experimentation. Good nutrition and eliminating foods you may be sensitive to is important for good health. But life is too short to obsess about EVERYTHING you put in your mouth.
You may want to stick to whole, unprocessed foods 80% of the time, and once in a while, why not eat dessert first?
All-or-nothing attitudes will backfire, and sometimes turn into eating disorders. Inflexible mindsets lead to dis-ease and disease.
– From my FREE guide, 20 Essential Nutrition Habits for Permanent Weight Loss. Click here to download your copy.
Do you eat healthy but still can’t lose weight?
Most of my new clients have this complaint. They’ve tried everything to lose weight: low-carb-high-fat, low-fat, paleo, keto, plant-based, sugar-free, gluten-free and dairy-free, detoxes and intermittent fasting, and everything in between.
They’re often educated about different popular diets because they’ve tried so many, but they lack basic nutrition knowledge when it comes to the recommended daily guidelines for proteins, carbs, fiber, and fats. Many of my new clients don’t even know how to read and interpret a food label.
I teach them about nutrition and flexible eating, and the doors to their minds swing open. They feel almost giddy about the fact that they can eat anything they want.
They learn that they don’t have to eliminate entire food groups just to lose weight and get healthy and fit.
They can have a Snickers bar if they want. Or wine. Or ice cream.
In fact, most of my ladies enjoy a little chocolate each day.
They get to eat in a way that respects their lifestyle and preferences and still lose weight.
They learn the scientific principles behind nutrition, and they stop falling for nonsense.
And most satisfying of all: they stop fearing all the food and learn to eat in a way that is enjoyable, sustainable, and supports their body composition goals.
Would you like to work one-on-one with your own diet coach to help you lose weight and build a better relationship with food? Click here – https://adelefrizzell.com/programs-and-services
It’s not just about the weight you lose. It’s about the freedom you gain.
What is that one food that you thought was healthy but turned out it’s not? Share them with us below!
Sigh…. I still struggle with the moral implications of eating flesh, and thus factory farming and fishing. I really, really wish I could be a vegan. But, I have tried it several times and could not keep it up (and still have a life). I have a friend who lost 200 pounds on plant-based eating. And kept it off. If I ever come back in another life, I would prefer not to be a flesh-eater, because I love animals and a pig is not far from a dog in my opinion. It’s a moral and ethical dilemma. However, this is a huge issue that I can’t solve so I will focus on solving my own weight issue.
Hi Tricia! I understand the dilemma! I love animals too and was trying to do the right thing in becoming a vegetarian for 7 years but my health suffered. I still don’t eat pork or beef now, but I do eat dairy, eggs, fish and chicken and I feel better for it. At the end of the day, you have to find a way of eating that works for you, in the context of your lifestyle, preferences, and goals. I will say that once my clients are eating at least 100 grams of protein a day, they report feeling more energy, less hunger and cravings, and more satisfied (fuller) from their meals. Your friend may have lost 200 pounds with plant-based eating but I believe that going vegetarian is not the direct cause of her weight loss. Simply eating more plants and less calories is the real reason for her weight loss. While everyone would benefit from eating more plants, an omnivorous diet has been shown to have better health outcomes for the majority of people. I’m happy to hear you’re trying to ind a way of eating that works for you and leads to the best possible health outcomes.
Interesting article about healthy eating. I did not realize I grew up in an orthorexia environment. My mother worked at health food stores for most all of my childhood. She insisted on organic foods, followed a lot of the Adele Davis philosophy about food. Everything was whole wheat, raw pasteurized dairy, food bought from only certain produce and markets. Sugar was taboo in our house but honey, turbinado sugar and dates were okay. My mother was very superior in her attitude about the foods that came into our home and what we ate as a family. As I reflect on this article a ton of thoughts run through my mind. One thing that really stands out whether you are orthorexia or not our culture is extremely judgmental about food and nutrition.
Thank you for sharing that! Yes, our culture is very judgmental about food and nutrition. Everyone has an opinion, and people get almost religious about what they choose to eat and what diet they follow. And the irony is this: nutrition is only 1 component of health and wellness, and unless we maintain healthy body fat ranges, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and manage stress, the “perfect” diet is going to have a small impact.
In fact, this professor saw a huge change in his bloodwork when he lost 27 pounds EATING TWINKIES every day! http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor/index.html
“Haub’s “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent and his “good” cholesterol, or HDL, increased by 20 percent. He reduced the level of triglycerides, which are a form of fat, by 39 percent.” I am not saying eating Twinkies is a good weight-loss strategy because there are probably long-term health consequences, but it goes to show that how much you eat matters more than you eat when it comes to weight loss, and one doesn’t have to be obsessed about healthy eating to get healthier!