A Dance with Orthorexia

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We humans are dear strivers for perfection.  I love our efforts.  It’s so innocent.  All of us hoping to finally win the love, appreciation and affirmation we’re all craving.  Hoping that if enough effort is put forth, enough perfection attained, that we might finally reach the ‘heaven’ of our ideals.  What an innocent but destructive pursuit this can be.  It’s one I know too well.  And it has seeped into many, if not every, area of my life. 

When I discovered nutrition, I fell in love.  It was another way in which I could bring vitality into my life - a fairly easy and attainable way.  It became a new obsession, and a new ‘perfection’ preoccupation.  I devoured nutrition like all the kale I was eating.  And it wasn’t long (literally one day) before I was eating entirely ‘clean,’ well, my perception of what clean was at the time.

Animal products and processed foods were entirely removed from my diet and replaced with whole grains, legumes and tons of greens and veggies.  I was eating whole heads of broccoli with meals, daily green smoothies, eliminated caffeine, alcohol and sugar.  I soaked my nuts and seeds, made my own sprouts and consumed copious amounts of sour kraut and kimchi.  People were amazed and impressed with my tenacity and discipline for my newfound lifestyle.  And I truly fell in love with my choices and how I felt.  Until I didn’t.  What had happened over time was the weight of this commitment to ‘perfect’ eating was too much to bear.  I would stress over leaving my house, needing to make sure I had enough snacks to carry me throughout the day in case I couldn’t find any food that fit my diet.  I would bring food to friends’ homes (the memory of this causes me much discomfort).  Travel, my great love, became a great stress.  Essentially, I became bound to food.  For, my friends, it is impossible to attain perfection.  It is an unending, tiring pursuit.  For even when we imagine we have attained it, other pieces of us are diminished and wilting. 

Not only was I impacted on a psychological and relational level from this obsession, my physical being was also threatened and I eventually became quite sick.  And what a shock this was!  I had literally consumed everything I was supposed to. 

Theologian, Capon, said “moderation is not nearly as much our cup of tea as religion is.”  In other words, it seems to be very human to land, solidly and fundamentally on a ground by which we can claim Truth.  Certainty is so much more secure, isn’t it?  It is one of our addictions and driving forces.  This survival brain of ours simply won’t stop searching for a secure place to a land and breath.  And I’m sorry to say that the more disciplines I study (even the sciences), I continue to find more and more grey. God, it’s disappointing!  

And so, what does this mean for food?

Well, perhaps it is freeing for us to know that even nutrition is not black and white.  What is healthy for one, might not be for another.  And there is no perfect diet for all people at all times.  For me, this created a bit more freedom.  To get better, I had to adjust my diet (shockingly), but probably the biggest factor in regaining my health was a letting go, a trusting that my body was taking care of me even if I drank a coffee and ate a croissant.  This took so much stress out of my life, and I eventually healed.  Today, I may be the most relaxed Nutritionist you’ll meet.  Because eating is only a piece of the picture for health.   

So here is my great fundamental nutritional advice - eat and prepare your own whole, local, organic, seasonal foods as much as possible - best with humans you love, with thanks, and you will feel quite well.  You may even hear your body gratefully affirm, 'It is enough.’