Does Trying to Stay Healthy Sometimes Make 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:
- 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!
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!