The Shadow Side of Healthy Eating
When it comes to your health or eating habits, what do you pride yourself on? Your dedication to eating locally-sourced foods? Opening your refrigerator and finding gorgeous, organic produce? Your decision to cut down on sugar in your diet?
It feels good to make educated, pro-active decisions around food, especially when we’re up against an industry that is far more invested in financial gain than our collective health.
Maybe you do your homework and learn about GMO’s and then you find out that Trader Joe’s has a huge selection of non-GMO foods so you start shopping there.
Our choices make a difference. And each conscious micro-shift we make can empower us.
But what’s going on when we learn a lot about nutrition or the food industry and we even move toward changing some of our eating habits to reflect that, but the empowered feeling isn’t quite there?
Everything might look good on the outside, but something inside still doesn’t feel so relaxed.
Something still feels anxious.
There’s a shadow side to our collective interest in nutritional improvement.
You might get a vague sense of it when you’re working out at the gym, when you’re reading blogs about the newest dietary theory, or when you’re in conversation around diet in health-conscious communities.
It’s effects can work through you personally and come out of hiding when you’re home alone, when the kids are asleep or at school, when you’re out running errands, or even when you’re out eating socially.
How exactly might it work its way through you?
You might find yourself:
- Feeling anxiety around food almost always
- Constantly monitoring or tracking what you eat
- Distracted and controlled by a strong inner voice that judges your food choices
- Always feeling like you could be eating better, despite the improvements you’ve already made to your diet
- Experiencing overwhelm by all the nutritional strategies you feel you should be doing
- Sneak eating, binge eating, or overeating
- Feeling defeated by your cravings for certain foods
- Judging other people’s food at the grocery check-out line
More specifically, here’s what some of my clients have experienced first-hand:
- Finishing the Whole30, then binge eating peanut butter bread for several days afterwards, only to try and commit to another round of the Whole30
- Finishing a 10-day cleanse and feeling massive anxiety around how to integrate back into “regular” eating
- Starting to work out with a personal trainer and taking group fitness classes. In two weeks and not having the desired results, feeling defeated and quitting.
- Wanting to start changing diet choices for the better, but without the perfect amount of time or resources it never seems to happen
- Sharing a dessert with a friend, then coming home and eating ice cream even though it wasn’t really desired
- Feeling disgusted by how people could “let themselves eat that”
It’s the psychological toxin we call perfectionism and it can make itself known through our eating habits by creating unrelenting and impossible standards of purity or perfection.
It’s important to note these are often hidden in the most noble and heroic pursuits of optimal health, wellness, or conscious eating.
The Grey Zone
For the perfectionist, eating falls under one of two categories, “good” or “bad,” black or white, nutritional hero or villain.
Perfectionism has no room for shades of grey.
And the food perfectionist has no interest in hanging out in, what I call, The Grey Zone.
But this is often where the most potent medicine is, especially when the eater experiences the seesaw effect of perfect eating followed by a dietary falling from grace, followed by perfect eating, etc..
Choosing to consciously enter The Grey Zone requires an, often tearful, acceptance of not being perfect, of having to come back down to earth and, as Marion Woodman puts it, “be just like every other slug down here.”
What’s Your Zone?
The Grey Zone looks different for every eater. It typically involves something the eater feels is in radical opposition of what they’ve been trying to do with their diet.
When working with clients who are struggling with the effects of food perfectionism or nutritional heroism, I listen to stories, fears, and concerns and can get a pretty clear sense about what a person’s edges are and how to lovingly guide them into their personal Grey Zone.
My objective isn’t specifically getting my clients to eat more cookies or more fast food.
It’s helping my clients restore their sense of freedom by working their own edges of “right” and “wrong.” (sure, that may involve cookies!)
This is inner work. It often involves some intellectual interventions and specific personal fieldwork to integrate new insights.
In the end, the eater may still love their beautiful, organic food most of the time, but they are no longer bound by food fundamentalism. They have an embodied sense that their worthiness is not dependent on the food they put in their mouths, and are fully free to make their choices, perhaps change their minds, and be open to the ever-changing needs or preferences of the body.
Who doesn’t want that sort of freedom?
Like this article? Then you might also like: 2 ways to balance a funky mood with food
With love & respect,
Are you ready to work with Laura and shift your eating in 2016? Contact Laura HERE.