06/04/2014 02:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The New and Dangerous Eating Disorder

What is one of the most dangerous ingredient in any food?

Not gluten, not GMO's, not even grease.The worst ingredient you can add to your food is guilt.

This guilt around food is something I see more and more in my coaching practice. I am a recovered food addict as well as a food freedom coach. That means I help women eliminate that ingredient, guilt, from their diet and lives.


What is it?

The term for this persistent guilt regarding food is termed othorexia. Orthorexia isn't listed in the big official book of mental illnesses, the DSM V, yet, but I suspect it will be someday. It is defined as an extreme fear and aversion to foods that may be associated with health risks. In one coaching session I met a client who described to me what orthorexia feels like. The more she learned about the ingredients and power of food over, she began to feel powerless. Everything on the shelves of her local grocery store seemed to be a death threat. She felt confined to a lifestyle of kale. She literally shivered at the as she went down the aisle.

The Carb Cut

I could relate to the fear of food. My first diet was the Atkins diet. That's when I learned carbohydrates were off limits. It had never occurred to me that food could be bad, until I saw the endcap at a mall bookstore. We had taken a teenage roadtrip to a bigger city with a mall. We blasted Avril Lavigne with our feet on the dash. Singing about how things were "So Complicated" but I didn't realize my life was about to get really complicated. From that moment on, I looked at food, carbohydrates specifically as an opponent and a danger. Often, I'd lose my battle on weekends and start the fight again on Mondays.

Don't Go Too Far

Now, I don't want to say that all diets and the focus on good and safe ingredients is wrong. But even through good intentions, overanalyzing the ingredients of every food is the spark that causes orthorexia and food guilt. Advancements in science and the consciousness to eat responsibly has created a prism of approaches to eating. Vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, gluten free, GMO free. But with any good thing, it can go too far.

The Comfort

To be honest, I sometimes wish I had the discipline to fall into one of those categories. I've always been comforted by being part of a category. I loved being the A-student and a high achiever. It's tremendously calming to feel cradled inside of a "type." Diets are no different. They can cradle you. If I was vegan, I'd know what to eat and what to avoid. I'd know I was contributing to a more humane world. If I was paleo, I know I'd have less cravings and lower bodyfat. Plus I'd have the community of those cool CrossFitters on my side.

Watch for the Media Scare Tactics

But with food, I'm just a square peg that tried for too long to fit into a round hole. And I beat myself up over it trying to jam my lifestyle into a restricted pattern of eating. Part of what made me feel so "wrong" was because of the scare tactics around food. Again, most diets and food intelligence is born from good intentions, but I've realized the byproduct of so much focus on "healthy" "clean" foods is guilt. For me, guilt is worse than any artificial sweetener. It's insidious and robs me of experience life with a clear and open mind.

Good vs. Bad Food?

One of the biggest lessons I recall from my time at an eating disorder treatment center was food is neither good nor bad. I was taught to look at so-called bad foods like pizza and dissect them for what they were. Just bread, tomato sauce, cheese. I slowly unraveled myself from the fear. Through a steady commitment to a mentally healthy approach to my self worth I found peace. My tried and true diet is simply the guilt and fear free diet.

I still have the tough days where the diet industry gets its hooks in me. I still feel a little guilty every time I rip open a little packet of fake sugar. But most days I feel proud of how far I've come. I relish food for the experience it brings, for the sustenance it gives me.

To me holistic eating involves a reverence my mental health as well as my bodily health.

Orthorexia can provide a lesson in forgiveness. I still try to eat within the guidelines of a healthy diet. If I only ate what I felt like eating, well, that would be anarchy. I'd eat 80-percent peanut butter and 20-percent red velvet cake.

But sometimes I have to trade a healthy meal for a healthy mind.

Read Brynn's free ebook now here.

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If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.