When the wonderful Heather Mason of The Minded Institute posted this article about orthorexia, an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food, I felt slightly uncomfortable.
As an advocate of healthy eating (and it’s synergy with a yoga practice) and indeed as someone who has not only participated in juice ‘feasts’ but encouraged others to do so, I needed to ask myself some serious questions about my own attitudes and how I communicate them.
I want to address the growing tendency to talk about clean eating. There is an inherent problem with the term ‘clean’ in relation to food as it inevitably implies that other foods are dirty. This dualism is potentially psychologically dangerous in that it can lead to guilt and other negative emotions becoming associated with the consumption of some foodstuffs. Such that the consumption of the ‘dirty’ foods potentially leads to far more angst than is merited by any nutritional ill effects. Although some foods are without doubt better for us than others a black and white divide is an overly simplistic and unhelpful way to regard food.
But it’s the social implications I find most concerning. Absenting oneself from social occasions, eating alone, declining to eat with others because of healthy food choices are not good signs of health in a wider sense. In our society, communal eating cements our social relationships. I had a wake up call when I saw the confusion and hurt in my elderly mother’s eyes when I declined to share the tea and cake offered at her care home. One of the last things to leave her dementia addled memory is the ritual of sharing tea with visitors. My occasional consumption of milky over brewed tea and sugary cake will not ruin my health but it gives her pleasure. And taking the bigger picture, it is a far healthier approach for me.
As usual, traditional yoga teaching has something to offer. Taking the ‘sattvic’ path of moderation, avoiding being overly obsessive or under observant about healthy eating is the most appropriate route.
Eating healthily is crucial for well being, vitality and longevity. But it’s worth just taking stock. Don’t let it take over your life to the point of obsession and social isolation. That’s far more unhealthy.