The start of the New Year has many of us thinking about resolutions and shifts we want in this next year of our lives. According to US News and World Report, about 40 percent of Americans make New Year resolutions, and about 30 percent of these resolutions are related to fitness or health.
Wanting to improve your health is a valuable and worthy cause. If you are unhealthy, risk for chronic disease, premature death, immobility and weight gain are some of the unpleasant results. You can also argue improving your health is a way of stewarding your body as a temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16). God wants us and designed us to experience health through the foods of the earth.
Your overall health includes many factors—some we can control, others which are genetic and beyond our control. One of the factors that impact our health, that we can control, is what we eat. The relationship between what we eat and our body is amazingly complex; nutrients from food are used to give us energy, repair tissues, make new cells, fight off pathogens and protect cells from harm. It’s really a beautiful, fascinating setup.
There is no doubt what we eat directly impacts our health: how we feel, energy levels, disease risk and immune health. In fact, diet is one of the most important factors for cancer risk. Therefore, eating healthy is an incredible part of your health. Finding out what eating healthy looks like and making steps to eat healthily are applaudable and encouraged.
How Orthorexia is ‘Too Healthy’
However, when taken in extreme, eating “too healthy” can have the opposite effect and actually cause more harm than good. How? When eating healthy becomes an obsession where thoughts/worries about food control you, healthy eating is doing more harm than good. There is actually a term for obsession with healthy eating: orthorexia.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), these are some warning signs of orthorexia:
- Compulsively checking ingredients and food labels
- Cutting out an increasing number of food groups
- Unusual interest in the health of what others are eating
- Spending hours per day thinking about what food may be served to you later in the day
- Being very distressed if “healthy” or “safe” foods are not available
Becoming obsessed with your food intake by severely limiting and cutting out food groups over time can lead to nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, lowering metabolic rate, decrease blood cells or cause other forms of malnutrition.
Basically with orthorexia, what starts as a good, worthy cause for bettering your health (eating healthy) turns into the opposite: you are controlled by food and your health actually declines.
Don’t be a slave
Something that is good and pure (eating) gets distorted and turned into something harmful. Sound familiar? How many other aspects of our life can we relate this to? Unfortunately, our relationship with food is also touched by The Fall and can be broken in multiple ways. Exercise is another example. This is good for us and our overall health. However, when distorted, exercise in either extreme can impair our health. That’s right, too much exercise—especially paired with “eating too healthy”—can also cause more harm than good.
How do you know if your healthy eating or exercise is doing more harm than good? I would ask you to be honest. How much are you thinking about what you are going to eat and does it control you? Focusing on healthy eating is not bad—starting a goal for healthy eating does require some initial focus and energy.
However, over time, are you obsessing with what you are or aren’t going to eat?
If you or someone you know identifies with this, seek out counseling from health professionals. You don’t need to go through this alone: there are many of us who have and are walking through this.
There are many ways to overcome this seemingly healthy (but suffocating) obsession. However, one of the most practical, straight pieces of advice I have found is in 1 Corinthians 6:12 NLT, “You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is good for you. And even though ‘I am allowed to do anything,’ I must not become a slave to anything.”
Don’t become a slave to healthy eating. Healthy eating is seemingly innocent because it is actually a good thing for you. However, when these thoughts subtly start to control you, it shifts to you actually being a slave.
There is freedom in eating. Yes, we should want to and actually eat healthily. Yes, we should make an effort to shift our eating for our own health benefit. However, it doesn’t have to control you. That is not freedom. God gave Adam and Eve freedom for what to eat.
Genesis 1:29 NIV: “Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”
Find your freedom with eating; find the enjoyment (not bondage) of nourishing your body with God-given foods.