A pursuit of finding the ‘right’ diet and to eat ‘healthy’ can become unhealthy if it becomes an obsession and takes the joy out of eating and life.
Diets and health claims for supplements or alternative therapies frequently prey on our fear of illness and death.
I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with eating whole foods, taking nutritional supplements (if the diet is inadequate or deficiencies have been detected), having a massage for muscle tension or meditating to reduce stress. These can be incredibly beneficial practices in maintaining good health, physically, mentally and emotionally.
However, an issue may arise when the motivator to adopt diets and healthful behaviours originates from fear.
In a state of fear, we can become vested in finding the ‘right’ ways to eat and live to ensure our longevity and quality of life.
How is this a problem, you ask?
When healthy eating becomes an obsession
In a state of fear, we can place immense credence and expectation on our eating and lifestyle behaviours, possibly becoming dogmatic in our approach and eroding the very health benefits we aspire to attain. This is becoming increasingly rampant with health bloggers, social media sensations, online diet programs and health gurus.
Some of the individuals that run these sites appear to have a very fearful relationship with food. Some of their lifestyle behaviours play out as attempting to control their health through certain actions that they now recommend.
Their messages are appealing to those that desire control over their body and wish to prevent the further demise of their health. However, they can cause harm.
When healthy eating becomes disordered eating
Orthorexia is an obsessive preoccupation with eating healthy.
Let me be clear, orthorexia doesn’t refer to the individual who enjoys a visit to the farmers market and making their own sauerkraut. Rather it refers to an individual who may partake in these same activities in a far more obsessive way, to the point that they are paranoid about food that is not ‘clean’ of pesticides, artificial flavours or colourings.
People with orthorexia may disengage in social activities for fear of the food that may be served. They may feel anxious about shopping, preparing food and eating. They generally believe there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to eat, which is not surprising given that is the perception we are fed by the media and so-called health ‘gurus’.
There is no ‘right’ way to eat or live
The thing is, there is no absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to eat.
There are actually many ways of eating we can adopt to ensure we acquire the essential nutrients for energy and building blocks of our body.
Even if there was a ‘right’ way to eat, or an individual is meeting their nutritional requirements and consuming a diet that appears to be ‘healthy’, or follows a certain diet to the letter, there are no absolute guarantees that it will resolve their health issues, nor lead to prolonged longevity or full use of all your physical and mental faculties until death.
Unfortunately, all we absolutely know with certainty is that each and every one of us will die.
Therefore, what is the point of being obsessed with healthy eating and adopting lifestyle behaviours that may not be sustainable or enjoyable?
Instead, I recommend choosing to enjoy your life—to eat, move, sleep, work and play in ways that maximise that enjoyment without the intention of controlling your departure from your life.
Now, when I say you can choose to maximise enjoyment, you may feel a little resistance to this. This may stem from the perception that if you focus on enjoyment you will eat junk food, watch movies and quit your job. If this is a fear for you, you may find it useful to read the blog, Are you afraid ditching diets means you’ll let your body go?
I propose that when we are fully aware of our body and how our body and mind respond to the foods we eat, the activities we participate in, the work we do, the amount of sleep we obtain, and the play we partake in, we can better acknowledge what nourishes and energises our body and what stimulates and engages our mind.
Eating ‘junk food’, watching movies and taking time off work are all acceptable actions in a balanced life, but they aren’t all any of us what to experience in our life.
I believe what we want is to fully experience our life as it unfolds.
What if I have legitimate health concerns?
This may be hard to contemplate for those of you who have serious health issues. I understand that and acknowledge that I have not walked in your shoes. I have only experienced loving and walking beside people like you. And I have committed considerable time to researching and reflecting on this issue.
In the past, I have explored and adopted eating and lifestyle behaviours out of fear and a belief that there was a miracle for enduring health until death.
There is a salient point I would encourage you to consider, which I believe can take the stress out of eating and living ‘right’ to improve or reverse your health condition:
There is no one diet that is guaranteed to heal your specific health condition.
No diet can guarantee your health, longevity or happiness
Often when I say this at a workshop or to people I meet they nod in agreement. Yet it is something that many people struggle to comprehend.
Although they may agree that there is no one diet that suits all or is guaranteed, they still find themselves lured into and searching for the most healthful way to eat.
Some of the diets I get asked about are ambiguous in that even amongst the proponents of these diets there are no clear guidelines or consistency. Other times the diets they ask me about are incredibly restrictive and only really viable if you were to never leave the house again, unless to a juice bar or raw food café.
These restrictive diets can lure us.
I confess they lured me with incredible case studies of remarkable healing and weight loss results.
Yet they are unrealistic in our society. Further, no scientific evidence shows they are worth the effort and possible social isolation and emotional turmoil.
Don’t let the fear of dying, prevent you from living your life to its fullest potential.
Even if there was a ‘one diet suits all’ or a diet that has been devised to ‘cure’ your specific ailments, there is absolutely no guarantee that it will work for you. Just like with medications or surgeries, no doctor can guarantee one hundred per cent success. This doesn’t mean that because you have only been given a twenty-five per cent success rate with IVF or a fifty per cent chance that a surgery won’t relieve your symptoms, it is not worth trying if you so choose. Rather, I suggest you consider not putting all your eggs in one basket. And be open-minded to exploring and trying other treatments or lifestyle changes.
It is not about accepting your fate and not taking action, but rather not attaching to the outcome, so that you spend your life fighting to achieve an outcome or avoid death that you forget to live.
Rather than focus on the thought of, ‘How I don’t want to die’, it may be that more relaxation, peace, happiness and healing could be achieved by asking yourself, ‘How do I want to live the life I have?’
From this place of non-attachment to the outcome of the actions you take, you may find you can choose treatments, diet or lifestyle changes that enhance your life and bring you joy. Choices that can be made more intuitively through listening to your body, mind, heart and soul.
I know this has been the case for me. It has also been our approach to my husband’s cancer diagnosis at the end of 2022. No matter the outcome of his treatments, I wanted us to prioritise and feel immense love, peace and joy.
“Get busy living, or get busy dying”—The Shawshank Redemption, Stephen King
Other blogs on the topic of taking healthy eating too far
- Confessions of a Raw Food Diet Escapee
- Orthorexia: How it’s possible to take healthy eating too far?
- A Wellness Diet that Promises You’ll Get Pregnant