Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Food Obsessions

Do you look down on others who don't eat your way? Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat anywhere but at home, distancing you from family and friends? Does your diet socially isolate you? Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, your good intentions for being healthy may be going a little to the extreme and leading to an unhealthy lifestyle. Orthorexia nervosa, is a new term coined for a condition that indicates an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food. The term is derived from the Greek “ortho,” which means “right,” or “correct.” (This is from:

This may sound like an oxymoron. How can focusing on healthy food be bad for you? The apparent contradiction has led to a great deal of challenge of the concept.

But the emphasis is intended to be on “unhealthy obsession.” One can have an unhealthy obsession with something that is otherwise healthy. Think of exercise addition, or workaholism. People suffering from this obsession may display the following signs.

  • Spending more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food
  • Planning tomorrow's menu today
  • Feeling virtuous about what they eat, but not enjoying it much
  • Continually limiting the number of foods they eat
  • Experiencing a reduced quality of life or social isolation (because their diet makes it difficult for them to eat anywhere but at home)
  • Feeling critical of others who do not eat as well they do
  • Skipping foods they once enjoyed in order to eat the "right" foods
  • Feeling guilt or self-loathing when they stray from their diet
  • Feeling in "total" control when they eat the correct diet
It's normal to change what you eat to improve your health, treat an illness or lose weight. Usually, people focus less on what they eat once they're used to their new eating habits. However, people with orthorexia nervosa remained consumed with what types of food they allow themselves to eat, and feel badly about themselves if they fail to stick to their diet.

There are times where it is appropriate to put alot more time and effort into your diet:
  • For a short period, while one is transitioning to a new diet. After the new diet becomes habit, your attention to dietary details can/should be reduced.

  • Those who are are following a certain diet as part of a program for healing from serious illness may need to strictly follow the diet for an extended period. However, per the above, once the diet becomes habit, then attention to the details can be reduced. Also, once a person's health improves sufficiently, one may be able to be a bit less strict regarding the details of diet.
Many years ago, when I was new to eating healthier food, I was very perfectionistic, judgemental, and needed to be "in control" in many areas of my life. It translated into my new dietary views, and in my concern for the health of my family and friends, I put pressure on them to change their diet too. But this pressure only made them get defensive or withdraw from me. I started to realize that nothing good was coming from this approach. I realized that the motivation for someone to change MUST come from them if it to be lasting change. I began to take responsibility for myself and myself alone, giving others the grace to make their own choices. I began to see that if I truly cared about their wellbeing and our relationship, I would love and accept them where they are and not put pressure on them to change. Believe it or not, this approach led to better relationships and allowed them to begin to notice the health benefits I was getting. They became more open to my food choices over time. As my relationships improved, I realized that when all is said and done, the relationships with those I cared about were as important to me as the food I was eating. And I wasn't going to let something like food bring division with those I cared about. The most healthy meal eaten with hostility is counterproductive to health. Meals are meant to be shared with love and fellowship because those relationships are just as important to your health and wellbeing as the food you prepare.

Health is not just about food. That is a large part of it, but a healthy way of living involves your emotional health, your mental outlook, your stress level, your daily habits, your sleep patterns, your exercise routine, and your connection with others. A good diet cannot make up for unhealthy lifestyle issues, such as marital strife, lack of sleep, strong negative emotions, relationship conflict, etc... They can undermine even the best efforts to attain good health.

True health is holistic. Holistic health is a concept that upholds ALL aspects of people's needs: psychological, physical and social, and these should be taken into account and seen as a whole. Holistic health focuses on all facets of human functioning, which involves our taking responsibility for maintaining all aspects of our well-being. What good is your "organic" diet if you are healthy and live a long time, but have no close relationships?? An individual is a whole made up of interdependent parts, which are the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. When one part is not working at its best, it impacts all of the other parts of that person. Maintain a healthy balance in all areas of your life, and you will have mastered what it means to be truly healthy.
Mind Matters

Your mental and emotional outlook are just as important to your health as the food you eat. Your brain does not know the difference between what it see's in it's environment and what it remembers. Your body does not know the difference between what you see and what you imagine. Scientists have studied the brain patterns of runners training for marathons. They hooked them up to electrodes that measured their brain waves and told them to imagine running the race they were training for. As they ran the race in their minds, their brain and body responded just as if they were running it for real.

Strong negative emotions, such as fear, anger, worry, bitterness, resentment, etc... produce hormones that are released into your body every time you have those thoughts. The hypothalamus is a gland in the center of your head that is like a mini factory. It assembles certain biological chemicals called peptides. They are small chain amino acid sequences that turn into hormones and match the emotional states we experience on a daily basis. So, there are ones for anger, certain ones for sadness, certain ones for fear, etc.. The moment we experience that emotional state, the hypothalamus will immediately release that peptide from the pituitary into the bloodstream. Those peptides go to certain areas of the body where they attach to cell receptor sites and send a certain signal to the cell.

Those negative feelings cause stress in your body as your muscles constrict,your heart rate quickens, your stomach tightens up, and your sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive. You are changing your body chemistry with your emotions.

These thoughts and feelings, if they happen everyday, set up a condition in the body where it is getting a continual supply of these negative emotional chemicals and it can lead to elevated cortisol levels, high blood pressure, poor digestion, thyroid problems, poor sleep, liver stress, and many other health problems. Long-term emotional stress causes physical stress in the body. Let me say that again: Long-term emotional stress causes physical stress in the body. Hans Selye, an endocrinologist, studied what happens to the human body during periods of prolonged emotional stress. First the body goes into a state of mobilization, that he called the alarm phase. This is also know as the "fight or flight" response. The body prepares you to fight of flee as the heart startes beating rapidly, the body starts to sweat, and we feel a surge of adrenaline. This is a built in response to protect us from danger.

But if the stress continues, we enter a second phase called resistance. At this point the body gets additional assistance to be able to continue to handle the stress temporarily. More stress hormones such as cortisol are secreted by the adrenal glands. But when these hormones are released over too long of a period of time, negative physical effects result. Immune response is lowered, digestion is affected, blood pressure rises, and insulin levels are adversely affected. If the body continues in this state for an extended period of time, the stress can lead to the third and final phase: exhaustion. At this point the body's resources have finally become depleted by the constant stress. A weakened immune system increases vulnerability to disease. The body can seriously break down at this point.

One study at the University of California at Riverside found that being chronically anxious, pessimistic, depressed, or irritated actually doubled one's chances of developing a major disease.

What you believe or think about can determine how you feel, and can influence how you will act. But most of us think our thoughts and feelings are on autopilot, that we can't affect the way we feel. It is our feelings and emotions that tell us what is going on inside of us. Everyone goes through certain negative experiences in their life. We all have been hurt or betrayed. We also have to realize that it is our perception of a circumstance that is the major factor in whether or not we experience it negatively. Our perceptions are very powerful and can change a negative stressor into a positive one. Instead of allowing your unhappiness or unfulfillment to create obsessive thoughts about how bad things are, we can use that energy as the catalyst to think about how to make a change. Continually thinking about how bad things are keeps you trapped in a cycle that is unhealthy. As your mind and thoughts dwell on the negative, you are feeding your body those chemical messages that affect your physical body chemistry, which in turn affects your overall outlook, keeping you in a perpetuating cycle, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Unhealthy thought patterns and negative emotions that we are having are broken when we realize our current viewpoint is not working for us and we become open and teachable to the possibility of another viewpoint. If you don't like the results you have gotten form the choices you have made in the past, then get curious about what your life could be like if you made different choices. The choices you made yesterday do not have to have an effect on the choices you make today.

As you start to make new choices, give yourself the grace to learn and grow. In a stressful moment you may choose an unhealthy food to eat. That single choice is not going to ruin your health. Don't punish yourself for it, or feel guilt or shame. Recognize the reasons why you chose that food, learn from it, and understand that the choice doesn't have to determine your future choices. Use that choice as an opportunity for growth. THAT is a truly healthy mindset.


Refreshing Ginger Lemonade

  • 8 carrots
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 by 1 inch piece of fresh ginger root
  • 1/4 pineapple, optional
  • stevia or agave to sweeten to taste
Juice all of the produce and add 6 cups of filtered water to make 1/2 gallon. Sweeten to taste and chill.

This drink is more thirst-quenching than water and has electrolytes to keep you hydrated during these hot summer days. It also provides a natural energy boost.