When Being Healthy Becomes an Unhealthy Obsession

10.17.2017 Life
Amy Cummins
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There are endless news articles and blog posts out there informing us of the trendiest new adaptogens we must add to our diets, the lectin-ridden foods we should avoid, and the inflammation-causing habits we need to cut.

As someone who loves health, clickbait headlines promising lit-from-within glows and cancer-free bodies get me every time. I can’t resist reading up on the latest wellness findings, and for a long time, I worked hard to follow their promoted recommendations. I became these articles’ definition of someone in perfect health; I started each morning with lemon water and a superfood-laden green smoothie, took the trendiest supplements, and followed a strict vegan diet free of processed sugar, alcohol and gluten.

But despite being super healthy, I didn’t feel healthy. According to the media’s claims, I should have looked radiant, been more energetic than ever, experienced great digestion, and felt happier knowing I wasn’t contributing to all of the maladies associated with eating animal products. But instead, I experienced increased fatigue, brain fog, acne, amenorrhea, depression and a dangerous amount of weight loss to boot.

What was the deal?

When I told others what I was going through, I was met with the assumption that I was somehow just “doing veganism wrong” and was interrogated in an attempt to discover the fix. Was I getting enough B12? Had I been rotating my greens? What about food combining?

As valid as their questions were, I think the bigger issue stemmed from the fact that I was steeped in vegan ideologies, and vegan ideologies alone. From the blogs I was reading to the Instagrammers I was following, all of the information I consumed came from a vegan viewpoint and publicized that particular lifestyle — which is great for a lot of people, but not for me.

It seems so obvious looking back, but I’ve since seen the same thing happen to countless others as well. Whether one is vegan, raw, paleo, ketogenic, etc. there is a high likelihood they’ll fall into the same trap I did because, at their core, all diets are in essence eating philosophies, each advocating a set of rules and ideas that outline the optimal foods and manner in which to eat.

These ideologies are not bad in and of themselves, and can be beneficial in guiding people toward a healthier life, but adhering to a specific diet does not guarantee automatic health.

In labeling certain foods as “good” and others as “bad,” for instance, diets tend to promote an “I must make the optimal food choices 100% of the time” approach to eating, which in turn can cause binging on “good” foods, create stress around eating “bad” foods, and even develop into orthorexia or other disorders if taken to an extreme.

I get that it’s tempting to want to follow our favorite health influencers or diet’s recommendations, but entrenching ourselves in one set of principles — instead of our bodies’ natural cues — to dictate our food choices is never a good idea. Because, as I learned, mental health is health too. Agonizing over whether a scoop of ice cream will annihilate our gut flora, throw off our macro count, or put our bodies out of ketosis is just as unhealthy as eating the ice cream itself. So why not just eat it and enjoy? Food is something that should be nourishing to both our bodies and our spirits.

Of course, sometimes we need to adhere to certain diets due to allergies and intolerances, but we should never let our restrictions dictate everything we believe about health. Instead, let’s let our whole lives nourish our being and work to create a new narrative within this crazy diet culture we live in.

How have various food ideologies shaped your idea of health?

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