How Healthy Is Healthy?
When it comes to doing something good, doing it more must be better, right? That’s what I believed for the longest time. Veggies are good, so more must be better. Reducing sugar intake is good, so reducing it more must be better. Exercise is good, so more must be better. In my case, this ended up being so incredibly untrue!
For me, aspiring to be healthy lead to extremely obsessive behaviours; I wasn’t able to live my life. Sure, I was eating a shit tonne of veggies and I was physically active, but despite the fact that I was healthy, I was really unhealthy. In the summer of 2017 my life consisted of: thinking about what I was going to eat, how I could eat healthier, looking up recipes, researching the healthiest foods, planning workouts, logging workouts, seeing how I could improve workouts. I got to the point where I wouldn’t eat spinach because it wasn’t healthy enough. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND THINKS THAT!?
After publishing my post The Vegetable Challenge: A Year Later I had one of my blog followers send me a message describing a condition called orthorexia. Until this time I had never heard of such a thing. As you may be able to guess from the name, it is an eating disorder, although it is controversial and not recognized by all dieticians. People with orthorexia become so obsessed with healthful or proper eating that it damages their own well being. The warning signs and symptoms of orthorexia as listed by the National Eating Disorders Association are as follows:
- Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels
- An increase in concern about the health of ingredients
- Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat, all animal products)
- An inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’
- Unusual interest in the health of what others are eating
- Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events
- Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available
- Obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ blogs on Twitter and Instagram
- Body image concerns may or may not be present
Now, I’m not the type of person that likes to self diagnose, but after reading that list I was in shock because that was me.
Getting Healthy Back To Healthy
Anyone who has been following my blog for some time now may know that once I was no longer able to maintain this level of healthy eating, I started to binge. While I was completing my final semester of university I was either eating insanely healthy or I was eating an entire pizza and a pint of ice-cream. As time went on I was bingeing more and more. There was no in between, there was no balance. It was all or nothing.
This last month I realized that I needed to work on rebuilding how I looked at my health. I still don’t have a straightforward answer about what a balanced and healthy diet looks like, but I’m working towards developing that for myself. I’ve been working on Intuitive Eating and I’m learning that health means balancing my physical, mental, and emotional well being. I’m also learning how to satisfy my emotional and mental well being without food, because food can only provide a temporary comfort; it doesn’t resolve the underlying problem.
Developing a healthy relationship with food is not easy. I still have these two conflicting voices of “you know that’s not good for you, it’s bad for your body” and “it’s okay to enjoy your food”. Instead of restricting foods I’m learning to understand my cravings. I no longer make snap decisions like “I want ice-cream so I’m going out to get ice-cream”. Now, whenever I’m craving something I actually think through why I want it. Usually, I’m jut craving foods because I haven’t eaten enough. Then I think about eating that ice-cream and how it makes me feel. I know I don’t have the self control to not eat a full pint of ice-cream, and I know that the ice-cream is never satisfying. This usually makes me realize that I don’t want it. However, on the occasions where I still decide I want the ice-cream, I do enjoy it.
Working on balancing my eating habits also come in to play in the kitchen and when I go out to eat. Previously I didn’t have any sugar in my house. Now I do keep a small bag of it around because sometimes you need a bit of sugar to counteract the acidity of tomatoes in cooking. When it comes to eating out I try to do it no more than once a week. This is mostly a financial decision instead of a dietary decision. Usually I try and find a healthier place, but I live in a city of foodies, I can’t not go try a burger at that new burger joint or that street food vendor with the outstanding ratings. The point is that I’m learning to make what I eat work with my lifestyle.
I wish I had a straight forward answer to balancing a healthy diet, but I don’t and I’m not even sure if there is an answer to it. Instead, I just have to keep doing my best, and that’s totally okay because everyone has to find what works best for them.