Does Trying to Stay Healthy Sometimes Make You Crazy?

April 30, 2014
Barbara Sinclair Food for Thought collage Quest to Stay healthy sometimes makes you crazy

Raise your hand if on your path to becoming healthier you might have become a little obsessive-compulsive. A little confused. A little over-zealous. A little C R A Z Y!

I remember clearly back in 2009 when I was a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition being asked a similar question. I was just emerging from seven years under a dark cloud of fibromyalgia. With each month that passed, my pain was lessening.

I felt triumphant and I had enrolled at IIN so that I could learn how to help others accomplish the same thing I had – heal from a chronic condition holistically.

And then I heard the term Orthorexia Nervosa uttered for the first time. When roughly two-thirds of a class of 1,400 students raised their hands to answer YES to the above question, we were more than slightly stunned to hear that we just might have an eating disorder.

What? No more fibromyalgia, but now I have an eating disorder?

The term orthorexia nervosa was first coined by Dr. Steven Bratman in 1997 after he noticed some disturbing patterns in some of his patients.  Orthorexia nervosa (or just orthorexia) signifies an eating disorder characterized by individuals obsessed with healthy eating and a repulsion for foods that they deem unhealthy.

Dr. Bratman, not surprisingly, received a backlash of criticism (he even has a section called Reader Hatemail! on his website). But I have to admit, from a personal standpoint, I was kind of grateful for the intervention that happened during our class. It opened my eyes to the danger of any kind of obsessive practice – healthy or not.

Does Trying to Stay Healthy Sometimes Make You Crazy?

We all told stories that day of how overzealous we had become. How our minds began to analyze everything we put in our mouths. Eating out became almost impossible, not to mention the discomfort of eating at an unhealthy relative’s home! And this is healthy?

I had become immersed in a health-conscious community that was often at war with each other. Vegans vs. omnivores vs. raw foodists vs. cooked foodists. Grains are bad for you. No wait! Grains are a prime source of energy for the body. Juicing heals everything…OR…Juicing is laden with calories and is not a whole food.

It got very personal in this war. Very personal. Sides were taken and once someone had espoused a certain belief, nothing was going to shake that belief. I have witnessed people getting sicker and sicker, but so entrenched in their food beliefs that they won’t even consider an alternative.

You can Google just about any food theory and find it debunked by another. And this was one of the most valuable lessons I learned at IIN. One day the speaker would be David Wolfe, the raw food guru, and we would leave convinced that raw was the way to go. After all, he was nearly bouncing off the stage with energy!

The next day Sally Fallon Morell of the Weston A. Price Foundation was up there espousing meat, butter, etc. as the way to go. Who doesn’t want to hear that we can put a half of a stick of butter in our oatmeal and feel good about it?

Joshua Rosenthal, IIN’s founder, and head teacher, knew just what he was doing. And it was brilliant. Because, the truth is, there is no one dietary practice that works for everyone.

Let me be VERY CLEAR here. I am NOT bashing healthy eating or healthy living. Really – look at the title of my website! I am passionate about living a clean, healthy holistic lifestyle. I have no more chronic pain, don’t take pharmaceuticals, and I feel better because of it. Who doesn’t want to feel better?

I still cringe when I see people chugging soda or sprinkling artificial sweetener in their tea or coffee. I detest GMOs and am passionate about banning them forever. Factory farming makes my blood boil. I filter my drinking water and shower water (you should see how black it gets!)

But over the past several years I have learned that, although good food and clean water are incredibly important ingredients in keeping our bodies strong and viable, there are lots of other important factors that can often override our healthy eating practices. Here are just a few:

  • Stress
  • Our environment
  • Our relationships
  • Our daily routine
  • Our detachment from Nature

Probably the reason I eventually fell in love with Ayurveda was that at the root of this ancient mind/body/spirit system of preventative medicine was the importance of our unique constitution and our connection to Nature. Do I live a perfect Ayurveda lifestyle each and every day? Hell no! But I sure do try.

I had an interesting aha moment of my own not too long ago. I was having unusual (for me) digestive problems all throughout the fall and winter. I attributed much of it to a severe Vata imbalance and a particularly harsh Vata Season wasn’t helping.

I did everything in my power to right this imbalance. I was ultra-careful about the foods I was eating, I tried various herbs, and tried really hard to stick to a routine. But my digestive fire had all but gone out and nothing I did seemed to work.

I kept getting this intuitive hit that this was a much more complex issue – that I was holding onto something deep in my tissues. I did a lot of soul-searching.

When I traveled to Arizona in March I left behind the frigid weather in NYC where I had hibernated most of the winter. I hiked in the desert, spent quiet time with the birds and the trees (cactus, too!), and had an amazing session with a gifted healer. And on the third day, as if someone had waved a magic wand over me, my appetite returned and my digestion was back to normal.

Was it the change in environment? The healing session? A shift in diet? Or maybe a combination of all three, along with some good old letting go.

Sometimes we just need to relax our rigid beliefs and practices, no matter how healthy they may be. And check our judgment of others at the door. Please!

I know that this could spark a pretty lively discussion, and I would love for you to leave a comment below!

Much love,
Barbara

P.S. I STILL LOVE farmer’s markets and eating seasonally, kale and collard greens. I love rising with the sun and going to bed early. I love my morning yoga and dancing to happy songs. But oh, I still do love potato chips, and I rue the day I ever tasted those dark chocolate sea salt caramel truffles from Whole Foods!

You May Also Like
Filter by
Post Page
Ayurveda Mind Wellness Healing Art & Poetry Nature & Inspiration Intuition
Sort by
Spread the Love
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

29 Comments

  1. Naomi Santoro

    The Buddha, Siddartha Gautama, grew up in a palace, the son of a king, living a life of complete ease with every desire satisfied. When he became acquainted with suffering outside his palace walls he went in search of a solution. He chose the life of an ascetic, the exact reverse of the life he had known. He dressed only in a loin cloth, lived in the woods, begged for his one small bowl of rice a day, grew skinny, dirty, and was no closer to an answer.
    One day, sitting on the banks of a river, he watched a boat towing a line sail by. He noted that if the line were too loose, the boat it towed would not follow. If the line were too tight, it would break. It had to be neither.
    From this realization came his basic dharma, way of life: the Middle Way.
    Or as Aristotle also noted: The mean between the two extremes.
    A principle I try to follow.
    Right On, Barbara!
    Another great column.

      • Naomi Santoro

        The Buddha, Siddartha Gautama, grew up in a palace, the son of a king, living a life of complete ease with every desire satisfied. When he became acquainted with suffering outside his palace walls he went in search of a solution. He chose the life of an ascetic, the exact reverse of the life he had known. He dressed only in a loin cloth, lived in the woods, begged for his one small bowl of rice a day, grew skinny, dirty, and was no closer to an answer.
        One day, sitting on the banks of a river, he watched a boat towing a line sail by. He noted that if the line were too loose, the boat it towed would not follow. If the line were too tight, it would break. It had to be neither.
        From this realization came his basic dharma, way of life: the Middle Way.
        Or as Aristotle also noted: The mean between the two extremes.
        A principle I try to follow.
        Right On, Barbara!
        Another great column.

  2. Great article, Barbara, and yes, a big issue. I think it’s all about balance, and about knowing what’s right for YOU (not for your friend or mother or even teacher). Many people are other-directed, following this teacher then that guru, without checking in with what their own body and spirit need to be well-nourished . There are really no “shoulds”. What is the best food choice right now, given your mood and health and the environment, for you? Love you, my friend.

    • What an informative article on this issue that plagues so many of us who are focused on healthy diets. I had never heard of orthorexia nervosa, but I have certainly experienced it. Another insightful, helpful blog, Barbara. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Nancy! You’re a great example of someone living this principle! xoxo

  3. What an informative article on this issue that plagues so many of us who are focused on healthy diets. I had never heard of orthorexia nervosa, but I have certainly experienced it. Another insightful, helpful blog, Barbara. Thanks!

      • THANK YOU, Barbara!
        I feel like I´ve been on the receiving end of this – criticism between the lines of “not eating enough vegetables”, of “still not vegan”, of “still killing animals to eat”.
        So, I do eat what I like, and there are chips and there is chocolate. And organic veggies and fruits. A mixed diet not following any prescription. There will come a time when I´ll go more ayurvedic, I know. Just – not now. And being vulnerable to criticism kind of magically draws it to my door.
        So I am very grateful to you for “reminding me to allow” – whatever style works for me. And reminding some other crazy geeks that … it can go too far.
        Wishing you a successful month of May!

  4. THANK YOU, Barbara!
    I feel like I´ve been on the receiving end of this – criticism between the lines of “not eating enough vegetables”, of “still not vegan”, of “still killing animals to eat”.
    So, I do eat what I like, and there are chips and there is chocolate. And organic veggies and fruits. A mixed diet not following any prescription. There will come a time when I´ll go more ayurvedic, I know. Just – not now. And being vulnerable to criticism kind of magically draws it to my door.
    So I am very grateful to you for “reminding me to allow” – whatever style works for me. And reminding some other crazy geeks that … it can go too far.
    Wishing you a successful month of May!

    • Thanks for weighing in, Wiebke! I try to share information (especially about Ayurveda because that’s what resonates with ME) but we have to all take charge of our own bodies and figure out the best thing for ourselves and our children. And relax about it. Stop the craziness! 🙂 xoxo

    • Misty Stam

      Such a refreshing article, Barbara! Well said. We are bombarded with so many opinions on how to eat and what to eat without consideration that we are all different and one thing isn’t always good for all. Thank you for the reminder to do what ‘feels’ right! Love you!

      • Thank you for weighing in, Misty! You were just on my mind yesterday! 🙂 xoxo

  5. Misty Stam

    Such a refreshing article, Barbara! Well said. We are bombarded with so many opinions on how to eat and what to eat without consideration that we are all different and one thing isn’t always good for all. Thank you for the reminder to do what ‘feels’ right! Love you!

    • Thank you for weighing in, Misty! You were just on my mind yesterday! 🙂 xoxo

      • Misty Stam

        Such a refreshing article, Barbara! Well said. We are bombarded with so many opinions on how to eat and what to eat without consideration that we are all different and one thing isn’t always good for all. Thank you for the reminder to do what ‘feels’ right! Love you!

        • Thank you for weighing in, Misty! You were just on my mind yesterday! 🙂 xoxo

  6. Thanks so much Barbara, a fantastic article that reminds me so much of what Anita Moorjani discusses in her book Dying to Be Me after she had become so obsessed with eating healthy and chemical free foods out of fear of developing cancer. Lo and behold she did anyway and realised she was more scared of life than death (if I interpret her correctly).
    I love that term for developing a repulsion for some foods deemed as unhealthy, I know I’ve done that when I wanted to convince myself a ‘treat’ food wasn’t good for me and taught myself not to like it. We really can give ourselves such a hard time in life. 🙂

    • Thanks so much Barbara, a fantastic article that reminds me so much of what Anita Moorjani discusses in her book Dying to Be Me after she had become so obsessed with eating healthy and chemical free foods out of fear of developing cancer. Lo and behold she did anyway and realised she was more scared of life than death (if I interpret her correctly).
      I love that term for developing a repulsion for some foods deemed as unhealthy, I know I’ve done that when I wanted to convince myself a ‘treat’ food wasn’t good for me and taught myself not to like it. We really can give ourselves such a hard time in life. 🙂

  7. Thanks so much Barbara, a fantastic article that reminds me so much of what Anita Moorjani discusses in her book Dying to Be Me after she had become so obsessed with eating healthy and chemical free foods out of fear of developing cancer. Lo and behold she did anyway and realised she was more scared of life than death (if I interpret her correctly).
    I love that term for developing a repulsion for some foods deemed as unhealthy, I know I’ve done that when I wanted to convince myself a ‘treat’ food wasn’t good for me and taught myself not to like it. We really can give ourselves such a hard time in life. 🙂

    • di

      great article Barbara. I have experienced some uptight foodies and it has always struck me how joyless they seem…. i have been vegetarian since the age of 9 ( having witnessed animals being killed for the table)….I have over the years gone in and out of eating fish…I have always held a strong belief in moderation and that joy is the biggest health kick of all!!!

      • Thanks for weighing in, Di! In my heart I want desperately to be a vegetarian, but my body couldn’t sustain it. I am as conscious as one can be about eating meat and have learned not to beat myself up about it.

  8. di

    great article Barbara. I have experienced some uptight foodies and it has always struck me how joyless they seem…. i have been vegetarian since the age of 9 ( having witnessed animals being killed for the table)….I have over the years gone in and out of eating fish…I have always held a strong belief in moderation and that joy is the biggest health kick of all!!!

    • Thanks for weighing in, Di! In my heart I want desperately to be a vegetarian, but my body couldn’t sustain it. I am as conscious as one can be about eating meat and have learned not to beat myself up about it.

  9. di

    great article Barbara. I have experienced some uptight foodies and it has always struck me how joyless they seem…. i have been vegetarian since the age of 9 ( having witnessed animals being killed for the table)….I have over the years gone in and out of eating fish…I have always held a strong belief in moderation and that joy is the biggest health kick of all!!!

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *