Terms like ‘orthorexia‘ and ‘cyberchondria‘ lump everybody who wants to decrease their risk of cancer or treat a health condition naturally in the same category: Gluten-avoiding, broccoli-munching, tin-foil-hat-wearing lunatics.
Those with autoimmune disease (like myself) are, in every way, more sensitive than those not living with a chronic illness. This often means not only a marked increase in sensitivity to overly-processed foods and synthetic chemicals, but also to the emotions of others.
Living with a chronic illness is difficult enough without feeling as though the people around you are actively questioning your sincerity or your sanity.
When I was a kid in the early ’80s, I was sick pretty much all the time. My stomach always hurt, I was constantly tired, I was brought to tears at the drop of a hat, and to rage at the slightest insult. Everything was too bright, too loud, too much. I was light years ahead of my peers in spiritual awareness, but my social skills were in the stone age.
When I finally found out in 2002 that all the symptoms I was supposedly “making up for attention” my entire life was a treatable condition called ‘gluten intolerance’, all the puzzle pieces started to fall into place.
I was glad to be able to tell people, “I told you I was sick”, but the way I perceived food went through a drastic, overnight change.
After all, it had been food that was killing me. Food that made my stomach ache, my nose run, my muscles hurt, my emotions run rampant, and my brain so foggy, I seemed to process everything in slow motion.
Since there were no labeling laws at the time, and I was brand new to the gluten-free diet, eating became something akin to playing a constant game of Russian roulette. I never knew whether I would get sick or not. This was what began my foray into online research, and it quickly morphed into my ‘special interest‘.
Being obsessed with something in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
After all, Merriam-Webster’s dictionary gives several definitions of this word:
: a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal
: someone or something that a person thinks about constantly or frequently
: an activity that someone is very interested in or spends a lot of time doing
I’m partial to the third definition. How about you?
Wanting to Avoid Synthetic or GMO Food is Not Pathological
Multiple research studies have offered verifiable evidence that a diet rich in highly-processed food can cause a host of unexplainable symptoms ranging from chronic stomach aches to cancer.
Not to mention the fact that these foods are almost completely devoid of all nutritional value, which may lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Moreover, this type of food wrecks havoc with your digestive system by depleting your natural gut flora and digestive enzymes.
Of course people are getting sick all the time!
It’s a perfectly logical connection to make once you’ve done a little digging.
Let’s look at the evidence:
- Food Dyes
“Over the past 40 years, dozens of studies have demonstrated that food dyes and other ingredients can prompt adverse behavioral responses in children.” This quote comes from a 2014 summary published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
A study published in the American Journal of Nutrition stated, “The increased use of HFCS in the United States mirrors the rapid increase in obesity.” Fructose is digested, absorbed, and metabolized differently than cane sugar. Instead of being turned into energy, HFCS activates enzymes that cause your cells to accumulate fat.
A study published by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations suggested that aspartame “may cause human neurochemical changes that could have functional or behavioral consequences.” The study went on to say that ingesting carbohydrates along with artificial sweeteners enhances the negative effect on brain composition.
- GMO Foods
A review published in The Open Nutraceuticals Journal described genetically-modified foods as “inherently unsafe”, having linked them to toxic reactions in the digestive tract, liver damage, organ failure, higher death rates, immune reactions, allergies, and infertility.
Being Aware is Not Always Easy
Let’s face it, ignorance truly is bliss.
If you have no idea what the difference is between junk food and whole food, and you’ve never even guessed that your diet could be making you sick, what is there to worry about?
All you have to do is use your various prescription and over-the-counter drugs to counteract the symptoms associated with this type of diet.
I used to be that person. I ate fast food all the time and I had no idea what healthy felt like, so I didn’t know what I was missing. Then came the diagnosis of gluten intolerance and the subsequent online research. The more I uncovered, the more I wanted to know, and the more driven I was to spread the word.
But being aware comes with a price.
Obsessive or Addictive Personalities May Overdo It
If you’re prone to obsession or addiction, there is always an increased risk of overdoing anything in life, be it work, exercise, or healthy eating. Type A personalities (like myself) have a strong need to control their environment and are often centered on perfection.
In short, we don’t “half ass” anything.
Being driven, passionate, and relentless can be an asset in certain aspects of your life, but it can also be a hindrance.
For example, the more research I did, the more incredibly messed up I realized our food system had become. How virtually everything on the market was sold more for entertainment purposes than actual nourishment. I was grateful for this knowledge because the more synthetic products I cut out of my life, the better I felt.
However, there was a turning point. I don’t know when it happened. I can’t pinpoint it.
But somewhere along the line, my desire to keep my conditions under control developed into an obsession of the more questionable variety.
My diet became increasingly strict and I found myself feeling agitated and anxious whenever I couldn’t find organic or natural foods. I wasn’t starving myself by any means, but the mounting anxiety indicated a problem.
Signs Healthy Eating Has Become an Unhealthy Obsession
Has your desire to detoxify your body, heal disease, and increase longevity completely taken over your life?
Here are five signs it may have:
- You’ve become afraid of food
The thought of indulging in a candy bar doesn’t just make you uncomfortable, it makes you feel fearful. You suddenly picture yourself lying in a hospital bed stricken with cancer, hooked up to tubes.
- You spend much of your time researching your health online
You spend the bulk of your time pouring over online blogs and research studies, making lists of what’s “good” to eat and what’s “bad”, and it changes all the time. You try every new natural health fad that comes along and you gobble supplements like candy. You’re absolutely convinced that this remedy, this supplement will be the one to finally get rid of your lingering symptoms.
- When you eat something on your “bad list”, you feel ashamed
You’re at a backyard barbecue and accept the soft drink you’re offered. After you guzzle it back to counteract the effects of the hot day, you’re wracked with guilt. You can’t believe you just became “part of the problem” by supporting soft drink companies and the addictive and disgusting products they sell.
- You’d rather starve than eat “forbidden foods”
This is a big one. If you’re very hungry but cannot find any of the foods on your “safe” list (unless you have severe food allergies), and you would rather wrestle with hunger pangs than provide your body with some type of sustenance, you may have become too obsessed with healthy eating.
- You become anxious when you see others eating “poison”
If watching others fill their carts with empty-calorie snack foods, soda, and ready-made meals makes you want to burst into tears and scream, you need to develop stronger boundaries. It doesn’t matter what you know, trying to force others to see things from your point of view is about as effective as trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.
Focus on Improving Your Gut Health, Not Just the Food You Put into It
From the research I’ve done over the past twelve years, it is my belief that our digestive systems have been severely compromised by junk food, excessive use of antibiotics and pain relievers, pesticides, and stress.
This is why we’ve become so sensitive to everything. We can’t filter toxins as easily as we once could, and our immune systems are rejecting our environment.
To decrease your mystery symptoms and protect yourself from the daily onslaught of an over-processed world, focus on improving your gut health.
Start adding lacto-fermented vegetables, milk kefir, kombucha tea, sauerkraut, and fermented soy sauce (organic) to your diet. Invest in a good brand of digestive enzymes and take one half an hour before your two largest meals of the day.
Being obsessed with healthy eating is a catch-22. On the one hand, the more you know about how food affects you, the more you can tailor your diet to reduce or completely stop your symptoms.
But if your desire to eat healthily and avoid chronic disease begins to interfere with your daily living, social activities, and relationships, it may be time to take a step back.
Remember, none of us are getting out of here alive. If you already eat a healthy diet, exercise, and take care of your gut health, the occasional soft drink or candy bar will not kill you. Your digestive system will filter out the chemicals it can’t make use of, and you will go on with your day.
The key message is this: While you’re in the process of improving and prolonging your life, don’t forget to live it.