Once you’ve been in the ‘alternative health’ game for a while, you start to realize that a lot of what passes as ‘healthy’ eating is actually an eating disorder in disguise.
It can be so very difficult to spot this, especially initially, because deep down we all know that at least on some basic level, we are what we eat, and the more fruit and veg we can get down us, and the more whole grains we knock back, and the more ice-cream, margarine and jelly beans we avoid, the better it’s probably going to be for us, health-wise.
BUT - there’s a line that’s so easily crossed when ‘eating healthy’ actually turns into ‘eating disordered’, and in this post, I want to try to pin down where that line actually is.
THE FIRST RED FLAG: EVERYTHING IS BOILED DOWN TO FOOD
One big red flag is when the ‘healthy eating’ person starts to bring all their problems and issues - and everyone else’s problems and issues back down to food. Got a headache? It’s a food issue. Feeling sad, anxious or upset about something? It’s a food issue. Having serious relationship difficulties with your parents, spouse or kids? Man, you just need to eat more seaweed and steer clear of red meat!!!
And so on and so forth, until the whole awesome complexity of being a sentient human being with a spiritual dimension and a highly complicated inner emotional world is boiled down to how much gluten or sugar you’re consuming.
Sadly, this is something that I see SO OFTEN in the ‘healthy eating’ world, and amongst the ‘healthy eating’ experts out there that is pretty much passes as standard, normal behavior. And that’s such a shame, because people are rarely so black and white, and even when food is a major component in their issues, it’s hardly ever the only thing contributing to their problems or difficulties.
People typically eat junk when they feel overwhelmed by life, and when their self-destructive emotional and spiritual impulses are running the show. But here’s the thing: simply switching the diet over to wholefoods / raw foods / gluten free / sugar free / macrobiotic / whatever the fad of the month is doesn’t solve the underlying emotional and spiritual issues.
Over time, it can surely ameliorate them, and begin the process of moving to a much healthier overall mindset and approach to life which puts a proper emphasis on looking after the self, and dealing with cause and effect, but food is not the whole answer.
So that’s the first way you can tell if ‘eating healthy’ has morphed into ‘eating disordered’, when absolutely everything in the world is brought down to food, or the particular diet etc that the person happens to be following.
THE SECOND RED FLAG: A RIGID, JUDGMENTAL AND CONTROLLING ATTITUDE
Another key sign that ‘eating healthy’ has become ‘eating disordered’ is when the healthy eater starts to adopt an extremely rigid, judgmental and even controlling attitude towards people in their orbit that aren’t eating healthy, according to them.
Again, this is unfortunately such normal ‘standard’ behavior in the alternative health world that it’s completely off most people’s radars. But to call a spade a spade, when people start getting all uppity about other people’s ‘lack of self-control’ that they don’t just eat kale for lunch, or jog five miles before breakfast, or contort themselves into all sorts of ‘relaxing’ poses for three hours a day, that’s another big flashing neon sign that ‘eating healthy’ has become ‘eating disordered’.
Rigid thinking is one of the key signs mental health professionals look for when diagnosing serious issues including personality disorders, etc. The more ‘rigid’ a person is, the more controlling they are, the less flexibility or ‘give’ there is in their routine, their thought processes, their ability to roll with the punches and react to ever-changing external circumstances, the bigger the problem.
Again, let’s remember that so many people only eat unhealthily in the first place due to underlying emotional and spiritual issues that aren’t being properly acknowledged and addressed.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to ‘flip’ these issues into a rigid, intolerant and judgmental approach to food and life that’s anything but really healthy.
THE THIRD RED FLAG: THEY'RE ANGRY, MISERABLE AND STRESSED!
The last telltale sign that ‘eating healthy’ is really actually ‘eating disordered’ is the person’s own mood. Invariably, when people are truly ‘eating healthy’ in a balanced, truly useful way, they feel great, they feel happy, they exude calm and joy, and they tend to be pretty laid back individuals that are easy to get on with and be around.
By contrast, when someone is ‘eating disordered’ then they’re usually full of repressed (and not so repressed…) anger, prickliness and intolerance. They tend to be wound very tight, on the ‘mega stressed’ end of the relaxation scale, and to be very hard to be around or really get on with, for any length of time, not least because they often put the burden of their own incredibly high expectations (and diet prep…) on to you.
These are the people who will tut disapprovingly when they see you holding the Starbucks paper cup, or who have to tell you how many ‘bad’ calories are in that muffin you’re eating, or who encourage you / nag you to eat different, or exercise better, or fast more ALL THE TIME!!!
No conversation can pass that doesn’t have some reference to food, and if you’re not eating disordered yourself, that usually makes for a pretty annoying, stressful and aggravating exchange of ideas.
So, to sum up: if someone isn’t glowing with joy, if they’re a martinet about food, or hyper-anxious about everything they’re eating, if they can’t go with the flow and keep feeling the need to bring up their food (figuratively speaking…) every chance they get, and to lecture people about their diets - the chances are very high that they are eating DISORDERED, not eating healthy.
Whatever they’re actually claiming or telling you about their AMAZING!!! eating habits.