I always say that food changes everything. What you eat creates your cells, becomes your blood, and influences even your thoughts.
One of the things I love most about teaching at IIN is hearing from students and graduates who experience powerful transformations simply by changing their diet. Some people heal autoimmune disease by going paleo or cutting out grains. Other people lose weight and reverse heart disease by becoming vegan. Their lives are so much happier and they’re then able to help other people get healthy and happy. How amazing is that?
But I also often see the flipside of healthy eating – when people become so committed to one diet or lifestyle that it becomes an obsession.
I used to work at a health food store, and I would watch people spending hours comparing different flaxseed oil brands, agonizing over which one was best. Then I would go next door to the movie theatre and see people eating popcorn and drinking soda.
Guess what? The people at the movie theatre looked way happier and healthier than the ones obsessed with flaxseed oil, even though they were eating junk.
Why? It’s more important to live a happy life than to eat perfectly 100% of the time. Primary food – your relationships, career, exercise, and spirituality – feed you on a much deeper level than what’s on your plate.
Broccoli, quinoa, and coconut oil are amazing foods, but what happens when you become a perfectionist about your food to a crippling extent?
Have you ever turned down a dinner invitation because the restaurant doesn’t meet your health standards, even though you really wanted to spend time with your friends? Have you felt guilty or “bad” when you strayed from your eating plan? Do you feel anxiety about which foods to eat and which foods to avoid?
Food perfectionism has become a common issue, and when eating healthily goes too far, it can even become disordered. Though we often hear about the serious effects of eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, there’s one issue that’s less talked about: orthorexia.
Orthorexia is the obsession with eating perfectly healthily and avoiding all “unhealthy” foods at all cost.
Orthorexia will mean something different to each individual. For example, one person could be vegan and have orthorexia, meaning they lose sleep worrying about eating vegan food 100% of the time. Another person could have the same anxiety about eating 100% paleo. Others could be obsessed with eating all-organic. Whatever the diet, orthorexia sucks the joy out of your life.
So what’s the antidote to food obsession? Infusing your diet and lifestyle with more fun, pleasure, and flexibility and if necessary, talking through deep-seeded emotional issues with a therapist or coach.
Regardless of whether you’re a perfectionist or not, I advise almost everyone to follow the 90/10 principle, an approach to food we teach here at IIN.
This approach is incredibly simple: eat the foods you know are best for your body 90% of the time, and enjoy whatever you want the other 10%.
That 10% can be used when you get a fun dinner invitation to eat pasta even though you’re low-carb or when you want to celebrate your loved one’s birthday and enjoy a piece of chocolate cake. The key is staying sane and mentally flexible, rather than rigid.
I think this applies to every aspect of life, by the way. Many of us feel like “being good” in life is what makes us worthwhile – eating perfectly, pleasing others, and always fulfilling our responsibilities. I often encourage my clients and students to be “bad” and find the joy and freedom of throwing away all the rules once in awhile.
Obviously I’m not asking you to rob a bank or hurt another human being. Perhaps you’ll delete unread emails, play hooky from work, or tell someone what you really think. The purpose of this exercise is to put you back in charge of your life. Learning to put yourself first and find your voice is priceless!
Live a full, happy life, and health will come naturally, sans obsession, shame, and guilt.
If you’ve ever dealt with food perfectionism yourself or know someone who has, share as much as you’re comfortable with below, give me your tips, and ask me questions. I can’t wait to connect with you.
Joshua Rosenthal, Founder, Director, and Primary Teacher of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition shares his wisdom about creating a healthy and happy life that helps transform the world.