Updated: Feb 9, 2020
I remember growing up firmly believing that food is medicine and that disease can be prevented and cured with a proper healthy organic diet. Although a healthy diet is one of the pillars to good health, I have grown and have personally experienced that it may not be the end all be all determination of health, and in thinking so, may cause harm.
I have always had an interest in nutrition. I went on my first official diet when I was in fifth grade, and on Halloween and Christmas, I would start new ones (seriously, I was crazy). Not to mention, during family dinner outings when everyone ordered burgers and fries, I ordered...turnip greens. I went from being a pescatarian to trying veganism and even raw veganism. I completed every diet and fad diet in between, including a ten-day water fast (almost passed out and ruined my digestive system, but I made it through). Google search after google search, food was either demonized or angelic. It was so ingrained in my mind that food will either save you or kill you, and it is up to us what we decide to put in our mouths.
This obsession with health and food destroyed my relationship with it, not to mention my body. It made me judgmental, hungry, miserable, and confused. Mealtime was so stressful, “Is this organic?”, “what if it has GMOs?”, “this has way too much sugar, I don’t want to get [insert chronic disease here]” were just some of the hundreds of thoughts that ran through my head when I was eating food that I did not prepare myself. Part of me felt superior to others because I felt like I knew something they didn’t: I knew of the perfect foods to eat.
I never knew that being "too healthy" could be problematic until I went to my first Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo hosted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, where I first learned about Orthorexia Nervosa (ON). ON is an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating that may cause preoccupation with food, stress, and anxiety around meals and/or unbalanced diets. This concept was so intriguing to me because it was different than anything I have heard or been taught, and to learn more I decided to do my thesis about it.
My thesis looked at ON in dietetic students who were studying to become registered dietitians. I thought this group was particularly interesting because many of us are presumed to be the “food police,” and are judged for what we eat, and/or become interested in the field due to issues with food (guilty as charged). My thesis concluded that as dietetic students move through their program their risk of ON decreases, and that somehow by increasing knowledge about nutrition and how all of the food groups are necessary (#sorrynotsorry keto), perhaps reduces the risk of ON.
I will never discount that a healthy diet is not essential because it certainly is. It is one of the few things we can control in terms of our health, but it is not everything. If eating a perfectly healthy diet causes mental and physical stress or causes you to isolate yourself, it is not a healthy diet. It has taken me years to accept that one candy bar won’t give me diabetes and one apple won’t take the doctor away (it will make me feel super bloated and crampy #ibsproblems).
I hope that you find joy in food and remember health includes physical, mental, social, and spiritual aspects. Diet alone cannot grant health. Eating should not be stressful...food should not be stressful. I believe in a balanced approach where food can be fuel, celebration, and comfort. Food is so much more than health, and it is such an essential part of our life but should not consume our life in its entirety.
In health and happiness,