Diets and health claims for supplements or alternative therapies frequently prey on our fear of illness and death. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with eating wholefoods, 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; potentially eroding the very health benefits we aspire to attain. This is becoming increasingly rampant with health bloggers, social media sensations and online diet programs and health gurus. Some of the individuals that run these sites appear to have a very fearful relationship with food and lifestyle behaviours that play out as attempting to control their health through certain actions that they now recommend. Their messages are appealing to others that desire control over their body and wish to prevent further demise of their health. This has led to a psychological condition, which at present hasn’t been classified as an eating disorder, but is being used by some psychologists, orthorexia.
When healthy eating becomes disordered eating
Orthorexia is a characterised by an obsessive preoccupation with eating healthy.
Quite simply orthorexia is a term for healthy eating disorder. It 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. They 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 not 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, even if 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 in being obsessed with healthy eating and adopting lifestyle behaviours that may not be sustainable or enjoyable? Instead I recommend choosing to enjoy your life and to eat, move, sleep, work, and play in ways that maximise that enjoyment, without the intention to control your departure from your life. When I say you can choose to maximise enjoyment some of you may feel a little resistance, which may stem from the perception that if you focus on enjoyment you will eat junk food, watch movies and quit our jobs.
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 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 have committed considerable time researching and reflecting on this very 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 that 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 with, and although they 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 questioned about are ambiguous, in that even amongst the proponents of these diets there are not 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 in, as they did me, with incredible case studies of remarkable healing and weight loss results. Yet they are unrealistic in our society. Further, there is no scientific evidence that they are worth 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 percent success. This doesn’t mean that because you have only been given a twenty-five percent success rate with IVF or a fifty percent chance that a surgery won’t relieve your symptoms it is not worth trying if you so choose. Rather I am suggesting that 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’, maybe, just maybe, more relaxation, peace, happiness and healing could be achieved by asking yourself ‘how do I want to live the life I have’, no matter how long that might be. From this place of non-attachment to the outcome of the actions you take, you may find you are able to 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.
“Get busy living, or get busy dying”—The Shawshank Redemption, Stephen King
Bratman S. Health food junkie. Yoga J 1997. pp 42–50.
Bratman S. Orthorexia vs. theories of healthy eating. Eat Weight Disord, 201.7. 22(3): 381