As a naturopathic doctor, I believe in the healing aspects of nutrition and movement. I subscribe to the power of food as medicine to optimize health, biochemical individuality, and a personalized approach to dietary suggestions.
However, I have become very concerned with how “healthcare” has become overfocused on weight loss. This obsession has been fueled by the current “obesity epidemic,” which appears scary at first glance, but is a scientifically flawed premise. Furthermore, this fixation on body size and promotion of restrictive diets is (unintentionally) promoting weight stigma, eating disorders, and a perpetual cycle of weight rebound. (source, source, source, source)
I myself was bamboozled by the concepts of “food addiction” and confusing causation for association in relationship to weight in the past. It is now my desire to reach out to both professionals and you, my dear readers, to help prevent the harms that can result from this form of healthism and set the path straight.
For this reason I’ve dedicated a series of articles on this topic. In this article, I will detail what happens when the quest to be “healthy” or thin goes to the extreme.
Moralizing Food Choices: The Dangers of Giving Food the Power to Make You “Good” or “Bad”
When one is an elite athlete or model, feeling healthy and having an idealized body, is part of one’s full time job. These individuals have lives that are based on their physique and their outward appearances. For them, using strict nutritional guidelines and exercise regimes to reach their personal bests in competitions or down the runway is a requirement. It is often based on a personal choice or a calling aimed to defy what many believe is beyond physical possibilities.
However, except for a handful of athletes in my practice, as with the general population, my clients are not professional models or Olympians. Yet, more and more, they are expressing to me how they feel “guilty” for eating certain foods, or not exercising, as if it were a requirement to be a good person. Some even will confess to me that they have “been bad” because they ate a homemade cookie at their 90-year-old grandma’s house.
Step-back. What is going on!
Nourishing dietary and lifestyle choices are supposed to be enhancing life, not to be used with a religious undertone and a moral obligation to follow it. More and more, I am witnessing intelligent, lively, beautiful people spending their previous free time agonizing and ruminating over what they should put in their mouths or how to fit in an acceptable form of exercise for the day. They view this as a form of “self-care.” Wanting to eat well and move one’s body as a means to feel good and be healthy is one thing, but, when dietary and exercise practices are rigid and a basis for one’s self-esteem, that can be a red flag to signal disordered eating patterns.
Many of my clients have inspired me with the reasons they provide to pursue wellness and a release from unwanted physical and emotional symptoms. For example, Lucy came to me because she wanted to have enough energy to keep up with the grandkids. Patty wanted to go on a retirement cruise with her husband and not have to worry about “ruining the mood” by fighting hot flashes and soaking through their sheets in their private cabin. Ben wanted to be able to sit at his desk at work without having to get up frequently to use the toilet due to digestive distress. Finally, Maggie, a college journalist graduate, wanted to overcome her anxiety so she could finally start the book on social justice that her soul had been beckoning her to since high school, 10-years ago. (No worries HIPPA authorities, I did change the names to protect the awesome.)
Can you relate?
Rather than viewing health as a means to allow one to reach their highest potential and pursue their goals to make a difference in the world, somehow, these higher values get lost in the shuffle of counting macros, watching the clock to ensure a 16 hour time span has passed before eating, and obsessively checking triceps’ folds in order to prevent the “harms of weight gain.”
The Dangerous Line of Being Healthy and Obsessing Over Health
It appears that many are basing their dietary choices more on societal expectations and ideals on external acceptance over what is truly healthy and nourishing to their bodies based on their unique biological needs. When one becomes fixated with dietary lifestyle patterns and “healthy living,” a fine line can be crossed from self-care to a pathological obsession.
In the wellness community, this form of disordered eating pattern can most often turn into orthorexia nervosa. Orthorexia is an evolving term surfacing in the late 90s that is still not well-defined but becoming more pervasive as “an eating disorder not specified.” According to one review, many agree on the following characteristics of it:
(a) obsessional or pathological preoccupation with healthy nutrition;
(b) emotional consequences (e.g. distress, anxieties) of non-adherence to self-imposed nutritional rules;
(c) psychosocial impairments in relevant areas of life as well as malnutrition and weight loss. (source)
I have felt very uneasy about the current marketing of restrictive food and exercise practices promoted by trusted medical professionals that many are being lured into and promoted. I feel it is normalizing eating disordered behaviors and/or contributing to orthorexia.
When one’s food and lifestyle choices become a moral compass, a means to reach a social status, or more important than relationships, rather than a way to nourish their body and optimize health, we are in trouble. (source, source)
How Obsessing Over Kale Smoothies, Keto Diets, and Ketones Is Missing the Point
Are we too busy shoving down polyphenols and drinking the latest cardiovascular smoothie to recognize that what might be killing us emotionally and physically may be the very same isolating practice we are using to aid our health?
Rather than finding comfort in loved ones from the terrors legitimately going on in the world, are we trying to find a false sense of security and control in counting calories and steps?
In the final post in this series, I’ll explore more on how this may be exactly the case.
If You Are Struggling with a Dysfunctional Relationship with Food
One can still desire weight loss or an idealized body in this culture. It is normalized and nothing to be ashamed of. However, there is another option to making it a focal point in your life. It is to reject diet-culture and body stigma and live your life according to your own ideals and wellness values. Some may have a hard time deciphering what is their own beliefs from what dietary memes they have been “fed.” Others may feel stuck and unable to get out of disordered and extreme lifestyle patterns.
Part of my practice is focused on Health at Every Size (HAES) and helping people heal their relationship with food to truly nourish their bodies and lives. I feel being healthy is a means to reach one’s goals and I desire to be of service to those who seek peace of mind and balance with their physical body.
I focus on the wellness aspect for those struggling with disordered eating practices and I also have a network of colleagues who can help with those who need more support.
If you are struggling with dysfunctional relationships with your body, food, or exercise, you are not alone. Please, reach out for help. I am happy to either assist you myself or help you find the right fit for you.
If you find this message helpful and want a truly healthy life that incorporates food as medicine, but not as the most important part of your life, please share this post and comment below.
Please also see my previous posts. Be sure to check out my third article on the power of relationships and using essential oils to enhance the dining experience when breaking bread with loved ones.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
For additional safety and medical information, visit my essential oils database. It includes a full category on how to use essential oils safely and potential drug interactions that can occur.
Please be extra cautious and be sure to check with your doctor if you have a seizure disorder. The Epilepsy Society of the UK lists certain essential oils implicated for their antiseizure effect as well as those that have stimulating properties.
If you and/or your physician are interested in consulting with me to assist with supporting the integration of essential oils safely into a therapeutic protocol, essential oils consultations are available.