Paleo, Keto, “Clean Eating”: Why Your Food Label Could Be Hurting You

A few years ago, I was literally obsessed with clean eating.

I’d spend hours meal prepping every week to prevent myself from going out to eat. I had a list of “safe” foods and a long list of other foods I rarely allowed myself to eat.

If I could go back in time and read my own thoughts, they’d go something like this:

Did I eat clean enough? Did I exceed my minimum required calorie intake for the day? How can I eat healthier than I already am? Have I burned enough calories today? Did that food have too many ingredients in it?

I had a strong urge to control my food. But soon, I realized I was chasing a false sense of control. It was actually the other way around – I was letting food control me.

More than a label

I realized that I had a need to categorize myself, and it’s this labeling that creates an unnecessary sense of pressure and closed-mindedness.

This closed-mindedness is also what limited me from opening up to new foods. Labeling yourself (e.g. paleo, low-carb, raw, etc.) tends to make you adhere to eliminating many foods and food groups because of dietary rules.

When food becomes a set of do’s and don’ts, eating becomes more stressful and less intuitive.

It’s easy to become obsessed with someone else’s “clean eating” and start comparing yourself to them.

What do I do?

What do you do when you feel trapped in a world of eating do’s and don’ts; constantly checking how your own eating habits measure up with that “clean eating” food blogger or the next diet craze?

Just ask yourself this question,

What eating style is best for ME?

Instead of trying to copy someone else’s diet and forcing myself to eat like them, I turned the question around to figure out what worked best for me.

When I had orthorexia and labeled myself as vegan, I became so strict and “clean” with my diet, that there were very few foods I’d allow myself to eat. I was very judgmental of other people’s diets that weren’t like mine, and I was even judgmental of my own past diets.

It was only when I un-labeled myself that I finally became free. It felt so liberating to no longer call myself a vegan or whatever diet I was forcing myself to stay on. I could finally keep my mind open, experiment with different foods and listen to my body.

But I didn’t break free from orthorexia just like that.

There were a lot of things that I needed to work on and understand before I could recover from my orthorexia.

First of all I had to understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all diet*. Different people thrive on different diets. We’re all unique and different individuals shaped by our heritage, gender, height, weight, activity level, lifestyle and location.

Embrace change

We’re always changing just like our dietary needs and preferences change over time. Bio-individuality is very important to understand.

As a child you ate different from you do today, and today you’re eating different than you’ll be eating five years from now. This was so important for me to understand.

Just because something works for someone else doesn’t mean it’ll work for me. We’re all different in so many ways.

The best thing I did was experiment.

As scary as this was for me, I knew I had to take this step in order for me to recover. I kept an open mind and let myself experiment with different food to find my own favorites and food preferences. I had to find my own balance through trial and error.

That said, achieving food freedom is truly an amazing feeling. I feel much happier and much more alive now that I’m recovered from orthorexia!

Don’t give up hope, warrior. Step out in faith. Lose the labels, keep an open mind, try new foods, and keep fighting. Food freedom is worth the struggle.

*by the term “diet”, we are referring to the kinds of foods a person typically eats, not a restrictive set of dietary rules

Image: @MarcoVerch

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