4 Signs You Have An Unhealthy Relationship with Healthy Food
Meal plan. Clean eating. Paleo. Keto. Primal. Low Carb. Macros.
No matter your nutrition philosophy of choice, it is easy to become extremely passionate about what works for you. This passion can sometimes lead to a dogmatic approach to eating.
What’s wrong with being passionate about your nutritional philosophy? Well, potentially nothing…unless that passion leads to an unhealthy, rigid approach to food.
I know this all too well from a past of unhealthy restriction and very unhealthy relationship with food. After spending my entire life overweight, I dropped 75lbs by making better choices and exercising. Not long after this loss, I decided to enter in to the world of physique competitions. I was on severely strict meal plans where I was prescribed the same thing daily for 4 weeks (YES – 4 weeks of the same foods each day in the same measurements). I prepped and weighed every single ounce. I would not indulge in anything extra – not an extra ounce of chicken breast, not an extra blueberry – nada.
I was seeing my body become ‘stage lean’ (NOTE: stage lean is not maintainable for life.) and became absolutely obsessed with the way my eating and exercise was making my body look. I had never looked lean or shredded. Once I saw my body this way, I BELIEVED the food was the absolute cause and I developed severely restrictive, dogmatic approaches to food. I didn’t just eat this way in preparation for my 7 competitions. I ate this way YEAR round for 3 solid years. I was so afraid to go ‘off plan’ or have any resemblance of balance for fear of eating the wrong foods that would have negative impacts on my body. This way of living caused some pretty extensive impacts on my life and relationships (not to mention detrimental impacts on my health) which I will detail below in the 4 signs you may have an unhealthy relationship with healthy food:
1. Refusal to eat anything outside of your nutrition philosophy
This can take on many forms but here are a few:
Refusal to eat at a restaurant because you don’t know the weight of the food or the actual macros if you aren’t making at home
Additionally -> Feeling nervous when eating at a restaurant because you don’t know the weight of the food or macros.
Refusal to eat anything cooked by someone else in their home (ie: avoiding dinner parties, holiday events, etc.)
Refusal to eat anything that is not part of your approach. (i.e. your husband buys you a cupcake for your birthday but you refuse to take a bite because you are strict-paleo and don’t eat sugar)
All out avoiding social situations where food is provided
** This signifies a lack of balance in your life. Do you need to indulge or give up your own goals for others? No absolutely not. But refusing to eat at a restaurant with your family or all out avoiding social situations because of food will slowly begin to isolate you from living your LIFE.
2. Most of your day is spent thinking about food
How much of your day are you thinking about food? Here are just a few of the ways this thought process can consume you:
Constantly thinking about your next meal
Designing your next meal plan and calculating every single calorie and macro to a T
Constantly calculating macros in your app or spreadsheet
Worried about the meals you will eat next and if you will have enough macros left at the end of the day
Worrying about finding paleo/clean/keto approved foods or knowing exact macros at your work meeting, family outing, etc.
Constantly researching and finding reasons that foods are bad for you
Most of your conversations center around food and your eating philosophy
** Much of this focus on food is a control mechanism. This control can truly consume and isolate you making you less able to connect, communicate effectively and even progress in your job and personal life.
3. Feelings of superiority for your food choices
This sign is characterized by thinking that your way of eating is the only way and judging others (silently or verbally) for their own choices in nutrition.
I have been there – even judging my own family members. What this does is alienate you from others and make you difficult to be around. Relationships become strained and you may begin to feel more and more alone.
Not everyone needs to follow your specific nutrition philosophy to be healthy. Encourage others to make healthy lifestyle changes if you are asked, be open to discussing your ‘why’ behind your choices but never judge or criticize. This can lead down a path of isolation and loneliness away from people who don’t follow your lifestyle choices.
4. Deviating from your nutrition philosophy leads to guilt and shame
Does eating ‘off-plan’ for your nutrition philosophy lead to feelings of guilt, shame and beating yourself up? This is a tell-tale sign of food obsession.
This guilt and shame can manifest in many ways:
Feelings of inadequacy or failure
Extreme restriction to ‘make-up’ for eating off-plan
Guilt/shame cardio or exercise to ‘work-off’ the off-plan foods consumed
Extreme attention paid to ‘re-calculating’ or re planning your food intake to ensure you ‘never fall off the wagon again’
** This way of living causes much stress and negative emotions in relation to food.
What all of the above translates in to is a disordered relationship with food. Food obsession can be an eating disorder classified as ‘Orthorexia’. Though you may not have or think you have orthorexia, if you could relate to the above 4 signs, it may benefit your health to read on.
What is Orthorexia? The term literally means ‘fixation on righteous eating’
The National Eating Disorder Association has this to say about Orthorexia:
"Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.” An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.
Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating. Eventually, the obsession with healthy eating can crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships, and become physically dangerous."
If any of the above resonates with you, awakens you, worries you or even makes you defensive of your current food philosophy, consider some of the below steps to healing and creating a better relationship with food.
Stop counting calories, macros and delete counting apps from your phone
If this is too difficult, skip to the next bullet point.
You CAN find freedom by simply letting go and beginning to eat 'intuitively'.
Seek counseling the underlying emotional issues that are leading to the disordered relationship with food
Cognitive behavior therapy can be extremely beneficial for unhealthy relationships with food
Neurofeedback is another treatment that can have an effect on behavior, mood and thinking
Focus on something empowering like performance based exercise
Finding a new focus will take your mind off of your food obsession AND help you to learn to fuel your body with what it needs
Find more peace in your mind
Try meditation, take up a yoga practice and do lots of restorative activity like long walks and hot baths to really learn to have a peaceful mindset that isn't plagued with thoughts of food
Above all - put your health first. Being committed to a healthy lifestyle is an amazing commitment but it can also lead down a path of diminishing returns. If you have an unhealthy relationship with food, seek healing, find peace and practice BALANCE. You can heal and come through this on the other end while still being a healthy human being.
I am living proof.