Over-Obsessed or Healthfully Cautious? 5 ways to take the stress out of eating
Naked truth: I can obsess about food.
That’s probably no surprise given my line of work, but I obsessed about it long before I chose nutrition as my profession. In fact, I came to the study of nutrition through years of self-directed efforts at “purifying” my diet. The only thing that saved me from a full-blown eating disorder was my absolute love of food.
These days, it can be downright crazy-making figuring out what to eat. The omnivore’s dilemma has never been more profound. The more I learn, the more foods go on the Do Not Eat list. And the question “What’s for dinner?” gets harder and harder to answer.
Making good dietary choices without getting completely overwhelmed at all the conflicting information is an art in and of itself.
When does consciousness and care become an unhealthily obsession?
There’s a new term that describes such a situation: orthorexia nervosa. Wikipedia defines it as:
…a proposed eating disorder or mental disorder characterized by an extreme or excessive preoccupation with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthful.
But in our world where most “food” in the grocery store is anything but, which is worse: the ingredients in the food or stressing about them? I don’t have an easy answer to this question.
It’s no secret that we’re fatter and sicker than we’ve ever been, and that our food plays a pivotal role in this situation.
I see clients all the time who have been gathering tidbits about food over the years, and are completely overwhelmed, utterly confused, and totally stressed out about everything they put in their body:
egg yolks cause heart disease
eggs are nature’s perfect food
salt causes high blood pressure
salt is important for adrenal issues
soy will save you
soy will kill you
And the list goes on for just about every food item in the grocery store. Even broccoli has its haters. With a list as extensive and contradictory as this, is it any wonder we’re all freaked out about what to eat?
Here’s the kicker: stress begets stress. And stress is arguably a bigger killer than any single ingredient or food you eat. In fact, you could be eating the healthiest, freshest, most locally-grown, seasonal organic food in the world, but if you’re stressing while you eat it, it’s not doing your body any good.
In the face of all the confusion around food, here are five things you can do to bring some relief and joy back into dinner.
1) Listen to your own body and instincts. If you do nothing else on this list, do this. So often we second guess our own instincts and listen to the advice of some “expert” who has no context of our unique situation. Your body knows. Period. Trust it.
2) What you put in is what you get out. As with anything else, if you’re strung out and stressed about what you eat, your body is going to have a far more difficult time digesting it. When is it okay to just take a deep breath, let go of all the shoulds and shouldn’ts, and just ENJOY your dinner?
3) Don’t box yourself in. There is power in labels, and this isn’t always a good thing. How many of your diet-related labels are self-imposed and deeply limiting? I know that I ignored my body screaming at me all in the name of being a vegetarian. To what end? Because I felt righteous and better about myself in doing so. But ultimately all it did was create stress, blood sugar chaos, and crazy digestive issues.
4) Smile while you eat. This might sound silly and trite, but it’s true. Let’s take the pressure off of what’s for dinner and focus on what’s fun about eating. Plan meals with friends, turn on some dance tunes while you cook, light some candles at your next meal, and focus on how you FEEL when you eat, rather than the nutritional nitty gritty of what’s on your plate.
5) Seek the advice of a professional. With food, context is everything and yes there are times when even something as innocuous as spinach needs to be avoided for a while. Work with someone who’s trained in the bigger picture and can help you decipher what’s right for YOUR body. I bet there are all sorts of foods on your Do Not Eat list that can be happily integrated back into your daily routine. Hello butter, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.
Am I saying we should all throw up our hands in despair and rush out to Micky D’s? No. But I am saying that relaxing and enjoying our food is as important to our health as the food itself.
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