Monday, October 31, 2016

Reader Advice Day: Question about Food Choice Guilt, Part I

Hey guys, it's been a long time since my last post. I hope that you are all doing really, really well with your food and your life in general. If you are struggling, I'm happy to provide you with all of the support that I can. E-mail any questions to be featured here on the blog to

Just a short update on my situation before I move on to the reader question today. I don't know if you will be surprised or not, but I have moved on from a UWL/Starchivore diet and I am experimenting with other WFPB dietary patterns. I don't want to go into all of the details right here, right now, but I will tell you that I felt like I needed a change both physically and emotionally and that I am very, very happy with where I am right now.

I have learned A TON more incredible stuff about food addiction and how to live my best life and I am feeling phenomenal. One of my favorite lessons that I picked up lately is that just because something is good for you for a while doesn't mean that it is going to work for you forever, as difficult as change may be. Some things are for a lifetime, but some things are simply for a season. And that's OKAY. It's okay to recognize that you are stuck somewhere that you no longer belong and that you need and want to move on. So with that, I will tell you that the UWL/Starchivore diet was great for me while it lasted, but that it was best for me to move on. I'm as committed as I ever have been to maintaining being sugar and flour free and also to a whole food, plant based diet. Those things quite possibly might last for my lifetime, but I certainly can't predict the future with 100% certainty anymore.

And now onto today's important question.


I think I read something on your About page a few months ago that said you didn't beat yourself up if you ever ate a bite or two of something that wasn't plant based? Is that correct? Can you link me to a post that you may have written on this subject? Seems like I remember that you had a name for a person that was a healthy eater. orthorexia?

I am an on again, off again plant based follower. My family is not and sometimes when I make something for them, I don't always make my main dish separate. I'll end up having what they are having.

I beat myself up so much when I do this and I spiral into days of bad eating.

Any suggestions?"

Oh, dear reader, do I have suggestions!

First off, I don't want anyone to be confused. The term "orthorexia" does not apply to anyone who is a healthy eater. Orthorexia is a term used to describe a condition where sufferers unhealthily obsess over healthy eating. It's a fairly new diagnosis and it's very controversial within the plant based community, with some leaders denying its existence all together.

Eating healthy in this day and age is a lot for anyone to navigate and it can become completely and totally overwhelming for many people, leading up to some folks experiencing real psychological distress over the whole thing. And that's pretty normal in my opinion, given the ridiculous amount of conflicting nutritional information out there! Even within the plant based community, the conflicting information could put any reasonable person on complete and total overload. To eat oil or not to eat oil? Nuts or no nuts? Sugar or no sugar? Flour or no flour? A little bit of animal product is okay in an otherwise healthy diet or any animal is going to kill you and destroy the plant while you are at it? Seriously, you are NOT alone in your struggle with all of this.

The amount of guilt that these decisions can cause in an otherwise healthy person is quite concerning to me. And that is what leads up to some people feeling tremendous anxiety over what they eat to the point where it's been classified as a psychological disorder.

Therefore, I'm very open to the idea that Orthorexia is a real phenomenon.  Many people experience some degree of anxiety along their plant based path based on the number of people that I have spoken to about it. If you think that you suffer from a mild to moderate case of this, I don't think that it's a good enough reason to give up on healthy eating. I think that it can be managed if you get the right help. If you believe that you are experiencing severe anxiety around food, I implore you to seek professional help. But it doesn't sound like this is the case here.

I'm not a psychologist or a doctor, so I can't speak to whether or not Orthorexia is a real disorder, or how to cure it, but I can speak to some pretty solid ideas for how to set yourself up for success on a minute-to-minute and a day-to-day basis if you have set an intention to eat a healthy plant based diet of any variety.

(1) The first thing that I want you to know is that you are TOTALLY normal. I can't begin to tell you the number of people who experience the exact same food choice guilt phenomenon that you are experiencing.

(2) I urge you to consider that dietary change is a marathon and not a sprint. Celebrate all of your successes much more than you beat yourself up over your blips. If you eat something off plan it doesn't negate all of the healthy eating that you did that day or that week or that month. 

My guess is that there's a lot of stuff that's going to be evolving in your life if you chose to stay on this healthy path and food choices are just the beginning. It's not like one day, you eat healthy and then forever more, you just eat only healthy food and life is perfect. For most folks, this path is not a straight arrow from where you started to where you are going. It's a very, very messy line. As long as your arrow remains pointed in the right direction, you are getting to where you need to be going!

(3) For sure, eating something off plan is NEVER a great reason to continue to make poor food choices because, well, you feel like you've already blown things. You have never blown things! The sooner you own this idea, the better your whole eating experience will be.

You have simply made a decision based on what is good for you AT THE MOMENT, instead of what is good for you in the future. But you can return immediately, or as soon as you realize what you are doing, to making decisions that are best for you in the future. 

It really can be that easy if you just learn one simple thing: People who have a healthy relationship with food NEVER use eating something off their healthy plan as an excuse to give up and pig out for a night, a day, a week or a month. Healthy people recognize very well that what they just ate wasn't the best for them. They then say to themselves, "Oh, that's wasn't the best choice, but that's life, I'm going to re-zoom eating according to my best interests right now and for the foreseeable future, until I have another sketchy-for-my-waistline food choice, because that's life."

For a great book on all of this, I highly recommend The Beck Diet Solution by Judith Beck.

(4) I also want to let you off the hook a little and tell you that I totally understand why you sometimes eat the food that you have prepared for your family. Being the caregiver and food maker for anyone other than yourself is a taxing endeavour. Add to that the fact that we are humans, prone to fatigue and exhaustion. It's no wonder that you sometimes don't want to make more food for yourself and you give in to eating the already prepared, probably delicious food that it already in front of your face. You are only human!

There's a wonderful book written on this subject by Dr. Doug Lisle called The Pleasure Trap. In the book, he explains how humans are hard wired to survive and that in order to do that, we seek pleasure, avoid pain and try to expend the least amount of energy that we can. Why? Because that's how we have survived all of these hundreds of thousands of years as a species. If we didn't do that, we'd be dead and our genes wouldn't be passed on. So when you are hungry and you choose to eat the food that is already prepared that is staring you in the face, you are doing what your basic instincts are directing you to do.

Now, there are strategies for long term success with healthier eating that combat our survival instincts. The main strategy I want to talk about today is having your food already prepared and ready for you when you get hungry so that you are never faced with a situation where you are hungry and your food is not right there for you. Getting to a place where this is the norm in your life takes planning and preparation time each week, but YOU ARE SO WORTH IT. If you don't take care of yourself, no one else will, so you've got to schedule time to do planning, grocery shopping and batch cooking of all of your plant based meals for the week in advance of when you need them. If you need help ideas on how to do that that, let me know.

(5) Planning your food and writing it down in advance helps. There is this very real phenomenon called "decision making fatigue." Simply put, people tend to make poorer decisions as the day drags on simply because we run out of decision making steam after a long day of making decisions. And who doesn't need to make decisions all day long? That's why it's best to take all of the decision making about our food choices out of the picture. One way to do that it to write down what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner either the night before or that morning. Then simply don't make any more decisions about the food that you are going to eat. You are already covered. This may seem daunting, but it gets very easy once you put it into practice. Again, I learned this technique from The Beck Diet Solution. It worked for me years ago and I have to admit I've put it back into practice today. I need to take my decision making fatigue seriously!

In a follow up post to this one, I'm going to go into great detail on some potentially radical new ideas about internal conflicts. An example of this is making a the food choice that satisfies you right here and now (ie the kids dinner you have already prepared) vs. a food choice that is good for you in the long run (ie making yourself your own healthier dinner). The battle between these two legitimate needs and desires just might be able to be reconciled. The potential for profoundly effecting all of our difficult future food choices for the positive is within our grasp. It should be a great post, so stay tuned!

What do you think HGK Community? Do you suffer from food guilt that throws your best intentions off kilter? Tell us about your experience! Do you have any great advice for our reader?

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