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When Healthy Eating Becomes an Obsession w/ Christy Harrison

Is it possible to be too obsessed with healthy eating?

Today we talk with non-diet dietitian Christy Harrison about a condition known as orthorexia, which is an unhealthy preoccupation with healthy eating.

Christy is the perfect person to talk to about this condition because she’s both a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counselor. She’s also the host of the popular Food Psych Podcast, which explores people’s relationships with food and paths to body acceptance.

This is an episode you don’t want to miss!

In this episode we cover:

  1. Why being extremely “healthy” may not be a good thing
  2. What exactly orthorexia is and why it’s harmful for your mental and physical health
  3. How do you know if you (or a loved one) has orthorexia? What are patterns to look for?
  4. How social media may be part of the problem (and also part of the solution)
  5. How do you go about treating orthorexia
  6. What are 3 things you can start to do today to have a better relationship with food

Resources Mentioned:

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Our podcast is released every Wednesday. In each episode, we cover tips and tricks for making lifelong sustainable healthy living changes to upgrade your diet and health. We also interview leading experts in the field of health and nutrition to pick their brains on how to cultivate a healthy life that you love. We hope you enjoyed this episode, and we’ll catch you next time!

 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Wendy Lopez: Hey, it’s Wendy.

Jessica Jones: And it’s Jess. And you’re listening to the Food Heaven podcast.

Wendy Lopez: Your online resource for delicious and nutritious living. This episode is sponsored by Dream Cloud, an affordable and luxury mattress company that provides all the support and comfort you need to ensure you’re getting the best sleep possible. Dream club mattresses have an eight layer construction and are made with cashmere blend cover materials, so that you can live your best life while getting in those Zzzs.

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Wendy Lopez: You’ll be able to try out the mattress for a whole year, y’all. And if you’re not satisfied, no questions asked. Dream cloud would give you a full refund and will come and pick up your mattress. Again, Foodhaevenmadeeasy.com/dream and use the code ‘food’ to get $200 off your mattress. We’ll also include the link in the show notes. Let’s get into our episode.

Jessica Jones: Hey everyone. Thanks so much for tuning into another episode of the Food Heaven podcast with Wendy and Jess.

Wendy Lopez: Hey, y’all!

Jessica Jones: Today we’re going to be talking with non- diet dietician Christie Harrison about a condition known as orthorexia, which is when people have an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. And Christy is the perfect dietician to talk to about this, because she is focused on intuitive eating with her counseling. And she offers online courses and a private intuitive eating coaching group to help people all over the world make peace with food and their bodies.

Jessica Jones: And since 2013 Christy has hosted the Food Psych podcast, which explores people’s relationships with food and paths to body acceptance, and it’s now one of the iTunes top 100 health podcasts reaching tens of thousands of listeners each week. And Christy is strongly committed to the health at every size movement, and serves as a member at large on the board of the association for size and diversity and health.

Jessica Jones: And she’s also spoken about health at every size, intuitive eating and the non diet approach at numerous conferences and events, including the 2017 multi-service eating disorders association conference. And they EDRD pro symposium, and the RD entrepreneurs symposium. So welcome to the podcast Christy, we’re so excited to have you.

Christy Harrison: Thank you so much. I’m really glad to be here.

Jessica Jones: Yay. So, let’s just get started with kind of talking a little bit more about your background as an RD. So, I know you were a journalist actually first and then an RD, and I know you take a really firm non diet approach to nutrition. So, what kind of led you to that path? Have you always taken that approach or did you kind of like switch your philosophy along the road at all?

Christy Harrison: Oh yeah, totally. I was a very winding path to get here. So, I started out in journalism at the outset of my career and I had an eating disorder at the same time. So it was, you know, I was obsessed with food because I was restricting food. And actually my eating disorder was sort of non-specified. It didn’t really fit neatly into any of the categories in the diagnostic and statistical manual, but it had a lot of features of orthorexia, which we’re going to be talking about today.

Christy Harrison: So, I was really obsessed with food and nutrition and I was restricting my eating and I was also obsessed with healthy eating, you know, “healthy.” So naturally, I was really drawn to, you know, being at the early stages of my career as a journalist. I was drawn to writing and editing stories about those topics, and that, you know, became my beat, basically nutrition and food.

Christy Harrison: And so, you know, in my work doing that, I interviewed a lot of dietitians and nutrition professionals as experts for my stories, and thought that what they are doing seems really cool. You know, and I thought, okay, maybe this is something that I’d like to do in the back of my mind. But then in 2008, there started to be some rumblings that they were going to close the magazine I was working at, which was Gourmet rest in peace, because I ended up folding in 2009.

Christy Harrison: But I sort of, you know, heard these rumblings coming down the pike and it’s like, journalism seems like a bit of a tenuous career path at this point, because they were closing magazines left and right. Journalists weren’t getting paid enough, everything was starting to move online. I mean I was already working online because I was the web editor at Gourmet, but it was like, you know, online places were suddenly paying people peanuts, and it was really hard to make a living as a freelancer as a journalist.

Christy Harrison: And I was kind of seeing all this stuff coming down the pike. So, I was like, you know, I want to think about going back to school for something that I’m interested in. And I had been so interested in food and nutrition for those personal reasons that, that’s what I ended up doing. I decided to go back to school to get my masters of public health and nutrition and my RD license with the goal of, you know, having a private practice but also continuing to work and you know, in writing and speaking and eventually writing books on food and nutrition topics.

Christy Harrison: So, that was kind of my winding career path. And of course like in the back of my mind too, because I personally was motivated by wanting to figure out my relationship with food and also figure out, you know, nutrition and maybe lose some weight along the way. Like that was definitely a part of my motivation in the beginning because I was still a little bit disordered about food when I went back to school. So working in food magazines and food media really helped with my recovery.

Christy Harrison: It helps me stop restricting food as severely. But I was still kind of disordered about food in the sense that, you know, in the back of my mind I still wanted to lose weight. I still restricted myself from eating when I was hungry, to the point where sometimes I would binge on particular foods. I also restricted myself from having particular foods in the house. And so, those kind of components of my disordered eating were still there.

Christy Harrison: And so, when I went back to school for food and nutrition, I was kind of curious to have a way to recover from those, but also still thinking of transforming my body, you know, and luckily when I was in school, I also decided to start working on a book proposal for a book that I never ended up writing, but that sort of became the basis of the podcasts that I do now.

Christy Harrison: And actually super exciting. I just got a book deal last week [crosstalk [00:06:27]. I’m going to be doing this thing that I’ve been wanting to do for the long time. Thank you. Yeah. I can’t like say all the details publicly yet, because they haven’t announced it, but it’s with a major publisher and it’s like very exciting.

Jessica Jones: Oh my God.

Christy Harrison: But you know, back at the time, I was researching a different book sort of related to the one I’m ending up writing on like the history of emotional eating and you know, because I was very interested in emotional eating for my own reasons, I’ve thought of myself as an emotional eater.

Christy Harrison: So, I started researching this book and along the way I discovered the book intuitive eating. That was something that kept coming up in the science around emotional eating was like, you know, there are restrained eaters who tend to be the emotional eaters, and then there are people who do this different thing of like non restrained eating or intuitive eating.

Christy Harrison: And so, I discovered that book and I read that while I was still in school. And, you know, as a dietician in school, I’m sure you both know, like you’ve learned about calories and weight loss and you know, you also learn about very clinical, esoteric things like tube feeding, and you know, managing kidney disease and stuff like that.

Jessica Jones: And food service management.

Christy Harrison: Exactly yeah.

Jessica Jones: What does it have to do with anything?

Christy Harrison: Yeah, seriously. I know, I don’t know any dietitians who actually go into that, but I mean I’m sure there’s some out there, so that’s great. But like that was not my path certainly. But I was, you know, learning about all this kind of traditional dietetic stuff in school. But then outside in my research for this book, I was learning about intuitive eating, and non diet approaches and it was really fascinating to me and it started to resonate with what I felt like I needed to do to let go of the last steps of … the last part of my disorder with food.

Christy Harrison: And so, I started practicing intuitive eating in my own life. I also started to sort of notice that, in school there were people that I was gravitating towards the who seem to have a pretty good relationship with food. And you know, I ended up working at the department of health for New York city and found a lot of people there who had good relationships with food and had sort of a lot of friends from my days as a food journalist who had good relationships with food.

Christy Harrison: And I was able to kind of you know, piece together the last part of my recovery also along with therapy I should say, therapy was a huge piece of it for me. And so, you know, through that process I started to realize like, okay, this stuff that we’re learning in school, if we apply it sort of by the book, it can lead down this road to disorder like I experienced.

Christy Harrison: And there’s this other path, intuitive eating, that’s a much more, you know, that makes a lot more sense to me. And then, I was doing this job that Jessica and I worked at together where we were doing nutrition education in farmer’s markets. And I started noticing that the people who were my “top students,” like the people who came every week did all the work. Like, you know, we’re really excited to talk to me about the nutrition changes they were making and stuff.

Christy Harrison: There was something that felt not right about it to me. Like it felt similar to how I was in my disordered obsessive days with food. And I was able to kind of recognize that, you know, put such a fine point on it, but it was just this cognitive dissonance that was happening for me. So, that I think was the first sort of seed planted of you know, wanting to work in a different way with people and feeling like what I was doing in nutrition, what had been taught in nutrition wasn’t really working.

Christy Harrison: And around 2013 I was working at a different job at the department of health, a policy job. You know, spending a lot of at a time like doing crunching numbers and doing research and stuff. And I would often have a podcast on the background just to, you know, pass the time and it was an open office floor plan. So, it was kinda nice to have like a distraction from other people’s conversations and you know, like nice sort of white noise.

Christy Harrison: And I started to think, you know, I’d really love to start a podcast and one thing that I miss about working in food media was like the sense of food culture, and talking about people’s relationships with food and what food meant to them in a way that, you know, food magazines I think do really well, especially Gourmet, did really well.

Christy Harrison: And there wasn’t really that part of my interest in food and nutrition wasn’t being met by the job that I had. And so, it was like, I’m going to start the side project and just do a podcast, you know? And so I launched food psych in 2013 with the initial goal being of just talking to people about their relationships with food and kind of coming to an awareness that we’re not alone in all having a little bit of weirdness around food that like I had gone through this struggle with my relationship with food and I wasn’t alone.

Christy Harrison: I was starting to realize that from other podcasts I was listening to what had nothing to do with food, but were more like, you know, Mark Marc talking to comedians and actors and stuff about their lives. And people would just throw in these little things of like, “Oh yeah, and I struggled with food,” or “I was always on diets or whatever, whatever.”

Christy Harrison: And I started to think, I’d like to be the Marc Maron of food, you know, talking to people about their relationships with food and really delving into that. And pretty quickly when I started the podcast, I realized that the audience who was finding it were people who are in the throws of an eating disorder or disordered eating. And we’re finding it really helpful from that perspective.

Christy Harrison: And I thought like, wait a minute, I’m at the beginning of my career as a dietician. I could, you know, specialize in this. When I’m start … I wanted to start a private practice. And so I started to get training and go to conferences, do some work experience and stuff in the field of eating disorders. And through that process, I started to discover that intuitive eating is in fact the gold standard of recovery. Like that’s what we’re aiming for, when we’re trying to get people to recover fully from an eating disorder.

Christy Harrison: And that there was this whole philosophy called Health At Every Size and the Non -Diet approach, which said like, not only is the pursuit of weight loss a trigger for eating disorders, but it also isn’t health promoting and it doesn’t work when people embark on intentional weight loss journeys. They may lose weight in the beginning, but they’re never really sustainable for more than a tiny, tiny percentage of the population.

Christy Harrison: And the effects of that kind of Yo-yo dieting on people’s health are really negative. And that, you know, weight loss is actually worse for people’s health than staying the same weight, and learning how to do health promoting behaviors, that don’t have anything to do with weight. So, I was learning all this and you know, observing and working with treatment centers that treated eating disorders and seeing how, you know, some people were really applying that science, and helping people recover from a focus on weight, and some treatment centers weren’t and people were not doing as well.

Christy Harrison: And you know, it was just fascinating to me to sort of see how the science was getting translated and from the get go I was like the science makes a lot of sense and really squares with my own experience of recovery too. So, that’s how I kind of came to be a real proponent of health at every size, and the non diet approach.

Wendy Lopez: Yeah, and then talking about eating disorders, I want to dive into orthorexia because I think now more than ever with all the documentaries, and the Instagram accounts and the books that have this health focused approach, there has been this obsession with healthy eating and like you can’t eat refined sugars, you can’t have saturated fats. You have to eat like 2000 grams of fiber a day. So I was wondering if you could go into orthorexia, like do you consider that to be an eating disorder and what exactly is orthorexia for those listeners that have never heard the term?

Christy Harrison: Yeah, so that’s a great question. And I mean like Jessica said in the beginning, it’s, you know, the sort of simplest definition is a healthy obsession with or an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. And you know, I might even add just obsession with healthy eating because obsession in of itself is sort of unhealthy in my mind. And so, you know, it’s not an official eating disorder yet, but like many eating disorders, there’s a long process of getting something recognize by the diagnostic and statistical manual, and sort of codified as a diagnosis, and that took a long time for it to happen with Bulimia.

Christy Harrison: It took a long time for it to happen with binge eating disorder. And now those are official diagnoses. And you know, I think it’s probably gonna happen with orthorexia too. And so there’s this, you know, ongoing discussion in the clinical community of how do we define it? How it doesn’t make sense to make it its own eating disorder or sub category with another eating disorder or whatever.

Christy Harrison: So, there’s a lot of like internecine conflict around whether it’s an official eating disorder, but in my mind it, it is, because it has so many features of an eating disorder that are pretty common to all of them, like restriction and restrictive eating that takes over your life and prevents you from having flexibility around food, having relationships that you know aren’t affected by your eating and your obsession with food and you know, the sort of taking over like how food and body obsession takes over people’s lives, with other forms of eating disorders.

Christy Harrison: That also really happens with orthorexia. And I’ve seen it in many, many people often to the point where they’re actually  malnourished. They’re actually not getting the nutrients their body needs because they’re so obsessed with like so-called purity and whole foods and you know, aren’t eating things that their bodies actually need. And you know, it’s really ironic because it started out with a pursuit of a healthy body. And in fact, you know, leads to just the opposite.

Wendy Lopez: Right. We just actually went to a conference two days ago. The Blog Her conference where this woman talked about how she used to have this blog called I think it was the blonde vegan or something like that, and how she was like so obsessed with like eating healthy and clean eating. That she was just really eating like salads and green juice I think and then she realized that she had orthorexia, and there was like some health consequences that were happening.

Wendy Lopez: And then she transitioned her whole way of eating and our whole blog and now I think she’s called the balanced blonde or something like that. But yeah, sometimes it can even be perpetuated with like social media. People feel like they have to fit into like, you know, whatever stereotype that they’re kind of preaching.

Wendy Lopez: So, one question I get and you kind of talked about this already, but, if there’s anything else to add, I guess like one question I get a lot from my patients is how do you know if you have orthorexia or even like a loved one? Like I had a patient who came to one of my talks about intuitive eating and then later came up and said, “Hey, I think my girlfriend might have like an orthorexia or some kind of like disordered eating.” But what are the patterns that you typically tell people to look out for?

Christy Harrison: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I think rigidity is sort of the theme with orthorexia and with all eating disorders really. So, looking for a sort of rigid patterns with food. Like, if you can’t go out to eat with friends without scouring the menu first or making a million substitutions to what you order or something like having to sort of have your routine locked in rigidly bringing Tupperware of food everywhere you go because you can’t like trust that something will be available that’s fine and works for your body.

Christy Harrison: Not being able to let go of the pursuit of healthy eating for a few days or, or like, you know, going on vacation for a week or two without feeling guilty about it. Feeling like you should have to make up for any, you know, “make up” for any perceived flaws or mistakes in eating by doing like a cleanse or a whole 30 or some kind of, you know, reset of some kind. Or having a really narrow range of foods that you think are safe to eat, and having that become increasingly narrow. I know that Jordan Younger who I think is the person you were talking about, the blonde vegan.

Christy Harrison: Or the balanced blonde now, you know, said that she had this, you know, ever narrowing sort of list of foods that, that she felt okay eating to the point where she was down to eating only a handful of foods. And I’ve seen that with clients as well who’ve had orthorexia that it’s like, you know, they’re sort of locked in these rigid patterns of just only eating the same foods over and over again because they feel like, you know, certain things are toxic to them.

Christy Harrison: And so an obsession with like purity and toxicity is another hallmark of orthorexia. So, if people feel like, you know, they have to cleanse their system of toxins, which by the way is not a thing like your body does that on its own just fine without any sort of outside intervention. And feeling like certain foods … processed foods like a demonizing of processed foods.

Christy Harrison: And of course the term processed food could pretty much apply to any food and our food system because all food is processed at some level. So, as orthorexia becomes more acute, oftentimes it’ll go from like, you know, not eating, say, you know, I don’t know, I don’t want to say a brand name, but like a certain type of chips that’s really popular and available at every gas station across the country. You know, that’s off the list.

Christy Harrison: But then slowly as you go down, it’s like, okay, anything, you know, even like commercial yogurt commercially made yogurt is off the list or you know, organic cold cuts don’t make the cut anymore because they’re too processed or whatever, you know. So it’s like your list is shrinking and shrinking of foods you think are okay and acceptable to eat, to the point where you’re spending hours every day preparing your food and like soaking dried beans and you know, preparing everything from scratch. Because you don’t feel safe, you know, eating things that other people have processed. That’s a big one.

Jessica Jones: Yeah. Oh my God. Those are all really good tips and points. Now, one thing that I kind of want to talk about is the idea of weight loss. So, I know like as dietitians, that’s kind of what we’re trained in. Like, like you had said weight management. And I know Wendy, when we kinda started our platform, like people said that they wanted weight loss, and wanted to talk about that a lot.

Jessica Jones: And then last year though we’ve really transitioned from focusing on, weight management to taking more of intuitive eating, weight neutral approach. And I tried to do this as well, like with the patients that I see one on one, but I still get patients who come to me kind of seeking weight loss, and don’t realize that they have some orthorexic tendencies.

Jessica Jones: And so, I just wonder from you do you ever get this type of person where it’s like, I need weight loss and they don’t realize that there might be like a bigger issue there, but yet it’s hard to always address it when they’re not really there, to focus on having more balanced necessarily. Yeah. So kind of what’s your take on like the best way to approach that as a practitioner, and also if that’s like, yeah, a person or a patient?

Christy Harrison: Oh yeah, that’s a great question. I think for me it’s been sort of an evolution because I think at first I was also still getting people who wanted weight loss and I was trying to bring them on slowly to an intuitive eating approach. You know, almost like the bait and switch.

Jessica Jones: Yeah.

Christy Harrison: You know, I’m trying to be open about it up front being like, my philosophy is a little different about this or whatever, but still you know, fundamentally taking someone who really want it and was in the midst of pursuing weight loss, and trying to slowly move them towards intuitive eating. And personally for me, I found that that was not very fulfilling work and it was frustrating I think for the clients as well. Because, you know, I think people have to really be ready for these ideas.

Christy Harrison: And I think if someone is actively pursuing weight loss and in that stage that’s sort of a different stage of readiness to change than someone who has done the pursuit of weight loss a bunch of times, you know, maybe has been a chronic dieter, and is like, I’m sick of this. There has to be a better way, what else is out there? You know, I think that now is the stage of change that I find people in, and that resonate with my work.

Christy Harrison: And you know changed all my marketing and stuff. And because of the focus of my podcast is so specific now to a lot of people find me through the podcast so they know where they’re getting. But you know, all the marketing language on my website says basically like, I don’t do weight loss, I won’t put you on a diet, I won’t tell you to, you know, cut out foods or try to lose weight or whatever.

Christy Harrison: This is about reconnecting with your body. And I think that message really resonates with people who are in that stage of change that I talked about where they’re like, what else is out there? I’ve tried everything, you know, weight loss has an … pursuing weight loss hasn’t produced the results that I had hoped.

Christy Harrison: But, I think if you’re still working with people who are coming in the door wanting weight loss and you know, trying to help them kind of open their eyes to what’s going on for them and their relationship with food. I feel like, I mean this is like very inside baseball for dietitians, so apologies to the general public, but like motivational interviewing I think is a great technique to use in that regard.

Christy Harrison: Like helping people build the sort of discrepancy between what they want their life to look like, and what it actually is now, and sort of understanding what’s standing in the way of that. Like is the pursuit of weight loss and is the obsession with healthy eating actually, you know, keeping me from my goals, keeping me from what I really want in life. Because I think for all of us, like the pursuit of weight loss or the pursuit of health isn’t an ending of itself.

Christy Harrison: We’re told to want weight loss in diet culture, which is the culture we live in because of what we think it means because of what we’ve been told, it’s going to hold for us, which is like love acceptance you know, wealth, fame, fortune, like all these things get sort of loaded onto the image of weight loss or the image of a thin body. And that’s what’s held up to us as like the key to all of your dreams coming true.

Christy Harrison: You know. So I think people all have different reasons for pursuing weight loss, but I think they often, you know, they pretty much always go back to something deeper. It’s like I want to find love and a relationship or I want to you know, be there for my kids, and watch them grow up. I want to, you know, have more attention from the gender that I prefer. Whatever, you know, it’s like there’s always some kind of deeper meaning behind it.

Christy Harrison: And I think drawing out what that deeper meaning is, and then understanding, okay, does what you’ve been doing already advance that goal or not? And how has the pursuit of weight loss or how has your fixation on food actually stood in the way of those things that you’re really hoping to get?

Wendy Lopez: I think in our field, especially being dietitians, oftentimes people come to us too, with these like desires to eat extremely healthy and non-processed and “clean” and they kind of expect like a pat on the back in return, since we are dietitians. And they don’t really see how like this extremity of healthy eating can be harmful or can be limiting. So can you talk about in your experience, how you’ve seen orthorexia manifest in harmful ways for clients or for loved ones?

Christy Harrison: Oh yeah, that’s a great question. I think orthorexia really takes people out of their lives. I think it disconnects them from their communities, because so much of the human experience, and for millennia really around the world has been connecting over food. You know, sharing, rituals of bonding over food holidays or what have you, but also like the family dinner, right? Or going out to dinner with friends or grabbing lunch with a coworker or something.

Christy Harrison: All of these things are ways that we bond and ways that we engage with other people that are really beautiful. And I think orthorexia takes people out of that because it makes them so fixated on what the food is going to be, or literally makes them feel like they can’t participate. So they’re like, “Well, I’ll come sit with you and order like a hot water or I’ll bring my Tupperware to this party and just eat what I brought and not participate in engaging in the food that’s there, not having a piece of the birthday cake for the birthday person or whatever.”

Christy Harrison: And so it really kind of isolates people. And especially as people progress into deeper and deeper orthorexia, it can be extremely isolating. And I think family and friends get very scared when they see that kind of thing, where someone’s only eating a handful of foods. And they won’t participate in family meals and stuff like that. And I think it’s really tricky for the loved ones of someone with any eating disorder really to say something and to speak up.

Christy Harrison: And I think it has to be done in sort of a very loving and gentle way because oftentimes, again, with a sort of readiness to change, it’s like sometimes people are so in it, and they’re so committed to the disordered behavior, that they don’t see how it’s actually affecting their lives. And when someone points that out to them, or when someone says like, “Hey, it’s hurting me that you’re so disconnected from me or from the family. Like I think your’e eating is getting in the way of this relationship.”

Christy Harrison: That can be really hard for people to hear at first. And sometimes they can be defensive, and angry and all kinds of emotions can come up. So I think trying to do it in the most loving way possible and sort of expecting that there might be some pushback. But persisting anyway and trying to keep the door open for the conversation. And maybe it’s going to be multiple conversations. Oftentimes it is. You know, the first time it might be a wall of defensiveness, and you don’t get anywhere.

Christy Harrison: And then a couple of weeks later you talk about it again, and a week later you talk about it again, and you’re circling around the conversation. So I think it’s important for friends and family to sort of be in it for the long haul when they’re having these conversations and realize that it might not happen overnight.

Jessica Jones: Right. Absolutely. It’s definitely a process for sure. Now I want to kind of switch gears and talk a little bit about social media in particular Instagram. So how have you found that Instagram plays into orthorexia basically. Like is it part of the problem for people? If it is part of the problem, what do you recommend to your clients to do to kind of tune this information out if it’s not helpful?

Christy Harrison: Yeah, that’s definitely I think is part of the problem, but can also be part of the solution. Because it’s a medium, right, it’s a platform. So there’s people on that platform that are spewing all kinds of problematic stuff about wellness and really furthering orthorexia. And if you follow those people who are like, “Eat this, don’t eat that.” Or, “Count your macros,” or blah, blah, blah, whatever version of the “wellness industry” they’re sort of promoting.

Christy Harrison: That is going to be a very different and much more triggering environment than if you can curate your social media, curate your Instagram to follow people who are offering a different method. You know, like I’m on Instagram and hundreds of my fellow non-dietitians and therapists, and stuff are also there, promoting very different messages. Sharing quotes about why it’s important to accept and love your body. Why the pursuit of weight loss is, you know, antithetical to have. Why you don’t need to be obsessed with clean eating.

Christy Harrison: Why clean eating is problematic. All of these different messages that can really counteract the wellness culture. And it’s on Instagram. So I think curating your environment is one thing that I work on with my clients pretty much from the get go, is like how can we remove triggering things from your environment that are going to make you feel like you have to go back into the disorder, and further the disorder. And replace that with a new message that’s going to be reinforced again and again every time you open up your feed. You know?

Wendy Lopez: Totally. And I think also like not feeling bad when you’re not posting like really pretty pictures of a salad all the time, which is something that we were talking about the other day. Like Hmm. You know, sometimes unconsciously we kind of put out content, and we don’t step back and kind of take a look at the kind of message that that sends out.

Wendy Lopez: So we were just saying the other day, hmm, maybe we should take pictures of some snacks that maybe aren’t deemed the healthiest, but just to be more transparent. Because we’re not eating all of these beautiful meals every single day. And a lot of times with social media you can kind of get that idea based on looking at someone’s feed, you know?

Christy Harrison: Totally. Yeah. That’s something I recommend to anyone who’s like a practitioner, a therapist, a dietician, or just someone with a following on Instagram or whatever platform that’s doing anything about food and wellness. I think we can’t just hold up this picture that, all we eat or these beautiful, smoothie bowls all day long, or whatever because that’s not realistic. And that actually would be very detrimental to people’s health, you know?

Christy Harrison: And I’ve seen on Instagram, I’ve kind of just fallen down rabbit holes sometimes with people who comment on my feed, and then going and seeing what they’re doing and the people commenting on there as being like, “How can I eat like this every single day?” And sort of seeming very rigid and clinging to this idea that their food has to look that way. And yeah, a balanced relationship with food definitely includes some processed foods. Definitely includes some, snacks from a gas station, definitely includes like, meals as well as snacks and balanced meals as well as sometimes meals that aren’t so balanced, right?

Christy Harrison: Like hot dog at a baseball game or whatever. A balanced relationship with food and a peaceful relationship with food, which ultimately translates into better health and wellness overall. Includes all of that stuff, right? Not just the beautiful salads, which are a part of it, and also maybe not so beautiful salads but just like veggies that you like.

Jessica Jones: Yeah. Yeah. Thrown together. Yeah.

Christy Harrison: Yeah. Just like whatever’s in the drawer.

Wendy Lopez: Yeah. So with clients that you’ve had that do have orthorexia, what is your approach to treatment? Like do you usually have an approach or do you have a method that you have seen to be effective? How do you usually go about that?

Christy Harrison: Yeah, it sort of depends on the client and where they’re at in their process. Because I mean, these days I’m really working with people who don’t have full blown eating disorders, but are more like chronic dieters. Maybe have some orthorexic tendencies but are not in the thick of it. And so that looks very different than if someone is in the thick of it. Like when I was working with full blown clinical eating disorders I was doing … I would give people a meal plan which was designed to give them enough food.

Christy Harrison: It’s a very different than like a typical diet meal plan. It’s more like how can we get your minimum needs met throughout the day and sort of show you this is how often and how much you need to eat to be able to sustain your body, and to get your body … Get that person’s body back into the rhythm of eating enough and eat. And With someone with orthorexia, the meal plan would also include a balance of different kinds of foods like that I was just talking about.

Christy Harrison: So there might be a challenge on the meal plan of like, okay, one time this week for lunch, go out and have a sandwich and some chips with a friend at work or whatever. But this is your challenge for the week is to have some sort of processed or chain restaurant, or whatever sandwich. Or go to a movie and order the popcorn and get butter on it or whatever.

Christy Harrison: Whatever the sort of persons particular food rules and restrictions are and things that they have trouble with is working through challenging those things, and also having it in a context of a meal plan that’s providing them enough food and, giving them some variety and also some times to just rest and fall back on something that’s an easy meal for them or whatever, so that they’re not having to challenge themselves 24/7 either.

Christy Harrison: But as people progress in recovery and as they’re not quite as stuck in it and they’re able to have more flexibility with food and they’re able to eat enough and are starting to get back in touch with their hunger and fullness cues, and their body’s wisdom about food, then it becomes you know, time to start working on intuitive eating or working towards that. And so that can include starting to notice subtle levels of hunger and feeding yourself then.

Christy Harrison: Right? Intuitive eating to me is very much about getting enough food, having self care through food, taking care of your body by meeting its needs, and not about only eating when you’re hungry, or having to stop when you’re full, which is the sort of dietization of intuitive eating. And that’s not what it’s really about. So, with someone who is sort of in those later stages of recovery and, is letting go of the last bit of their orthorexia, it would be continuing to open up to more and more challenge foods, and making peace with the foods that are maybe, at the pinnacle of difficulty for them.

Christy Harrison: Like, “Okay, let’s have you go out for pizza,” or whatever the biggest fear food is. And ultimately getting people off a meal plan, not having them have to follow something, but, just sort of putting their body back in charge of what, and when they eat and being able to notice like, “Oh, I’m at sort of a subtle level of hunger right now, and it’s between lunch and dinner. I think I need a snack. Let me, figure out what kind of snack I really want, what seems good. And let me try to challenge myself here and maybe I’ll go across the street and get a bagel instead of eating the thing that I prepared from home or whatever.”

Jessica Jones: Right. Absolutely. Now, I know we kind of talked about this a little bit before in terms of like, if you have a friend or loved one who you think might have some disordered eating patterns, like orthorexia. But what can people, like listeners who may not have orthorexia themselves, but may see it in like a partner, or a friend, or a loved one. What do you recommend that they do to best support that person and kind of… I mean, do you encourage them to… I mean, you did say you people to mention it in a loving way, but yeah. How do people go about that?

Christy Harrison: Yeah, it’s really challenging because I think people definitely are at different stages of readiness to hear it, you know? But I think some people, it depends on the person. Like, if the person is a reader, or they like listening to podcasts, or they’re interested in Instagram or something, you can find examples of non diet media on those different platforms and pass them along to the person. You know, you could say, “I heard this really interesting podcast on Food Heaven about orthorexia, you might want to check it out. It sort of reminded me of some of the things we talked about or whatever.”

Christy Harrison: I think that’s a strategy to use if the person has already opened up a little bit about, “My relationship with food is difficult,” because sometimes friends and family will say little things that kind of give you an opening to discuss further. And oftentimes people do really want help and they’re asking for help in really subtle ways. So another thing I would say is sort of listen for those little openings. Be aware of when someone might be trying to talk about this stuff, and maybe they’re doing it in a weird way.

Christy Harrison: Maybe they’re being sort of critical of your food, or they’re being defensive about something, or they’re going about it in a roundabout way. But I think what it really means sometimes is that they want to talk about it, and that they’re maybe struggling with some ideas around how to relate to food and, want some help or someone’s perspective on it. So kind of noticing and listening for those openings, and then taking those opportunities to say, “Hey, it sounds like you’re struggling, if you ever want to talk, I’m here.

Christy Harrison: And I have some resources for you, and I can pass those along.” Or, just being sort of a listening ear and helping the person become aware. I just said about dietitians treating clients. I think that also really makes sense too for people talking to loved ones about drawing out the discrepancy between what they really want their life to look like, and what it does look like right now. And what might be standing in the way of that, you know?

Jessica Jones: Yeah. Oh my God, I love that advice. Yeah. And it’s great for people who have someone where they want them to get better and improve that relationship, but also they don’t want to do it in a shaming or pushy way. I think that, that’s really great advice. So what are three things that our listeners can start to do today to have a better relationship with food?

Christy Harrison: Great question. So one I think is challenge yourself. Like I was just saying about recovery from orthorexia. If you find that you have some rigid behavior patterns around food, and you’re afraid to eat something processed or something that doesn’t have veggies in it or whatever your fears are around food, sort of first investigating that. What are some of your rules that you have about food, and how can you challenge them. And make an effort to challenge yourself in safe settings that you’re not doing it all time or in a situation that’s already fraught, like a difficult meeting or something like that.

Christy Harrison: But doing it in a way that gives you the best chance of success, but really challenging yourself and making the effort to notice, “Okay, when I did that, do I feel immense guilt and shame about it? Or am I okay with it and can I sort of notice like, “Yeah, the world didn’t crumble. I didn’t die, everything’s okay, even though I had that cheeseburger or whatever.”” So sort of challenging your food rules I think would be one.

Christy Harrison: The second one I think is noticing what those food rules are, and deciding not to follow them. Which can be very subtle. I think we all have unconscious food rules that we’ve absorbed from diet culture. And until we do the work to really examine those and unearth them, I think they can be very unconscious and just guide our food choices. And so just kind of becoming aware of, what am I saying to myself about food right now that might be standing in the way of having a better relationship with food?

Christy Harrison: And then the third thing I would say is to avoid compensating for your food choices by doing a cleanse or a detox. That’s sort of the most extreme version. But even sometimes people will feel bad about what they ate and decide, “Okay, I’m only going to eat x, y, and z tomorrow, because I ate so “bad today.” Or I have to exercise for this amount of time or whatever to make up for what I ate.

Christy Harrison: So noticing those little efforts at compensation or those ideas about compensation that might be coming up for you, and challenging that and saying, “You know what? I’m not going to do that. I’m going to sit with what it’s like to not compensate.” Which has the effect of helping your body and your mind feel like, “Okay, just because ate one way or had a more adventurous eating day maybe, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be taken away from me and I’m going to be deprived again.”

Christy Harrison: Because that deprivation, that sense of deprivation, both the physical and psychological level, not eating enough and having like an energy deficit and also not allowing yourself to eat the things you really want to eat, just perpetuates the cycle of disordered eating. Where you’ll restrict, restrict, restrict, and then binge or overeat or eat something you don’t feel good about or whatever as sort of a rebellion to all the restrictions and then feel guilty. And then the cycle continues. So it’s like the cycle of deprivation, restriction and then sort of breaking out of it.

Christy Harrison: And to have a peaceful relationship with food, you don’t want to be swinging back and forth like that. Between those two extremes. You want to be sort of settled. I always liken it to a pendulum, like the restriction pendulum is when you pull yourself over to the side of restriction and then let go. The pendulum is not just going to stop in the center. It’s going to swing all the way over to the other side. Right? And to really allow it to come to the center and stop, be sort of rooted and peaceful. You have to stop pulling yourself over to that side of restriction, and just allow your body to fall where it may.

Wendy Lopez: Yeah. I love what you said about seeing it more so as adventurous on your last point, because a lot of times we moralize food and we’re like, “Well, we did so bad today, so I’m going to do good on the next day.” And seeing it more so as like, “No, I was a little more adventurous today in my food choices and that’s totally fine, especially if it gave me some pleasure.” So those were all really, really great points, and we just want to say we love your podcast.

Wendy Lopez: We love all of the guests that you have on, like we get so many gems, especially as practitioners. It’s really useful for us, just all of the practical advice that you provide in the Food Tech podcast. So thank you so much for your podcast and for being on our podcast. Can you let us know where listeners can find out more about your work?

Christy Harrison: Yeah, absolutely. And thank you so much for that. That’s really nice to hear. So people can find me on my podcast, which is called Food Psych. It’s F-O-O-D P-S-Y-C-H. Sometimes people want to put an E on the end or make it all one word, but it’s two words, no E. And you can get that wherever you get your podcasts. And then I also have a free guide, which is a little more practical tips for putting intuitive eating and body acceptance into practice in your life. It’s called 7 Simple Strategies for Finding Peace and Freedom with Food, and you can get that at my website, which is Christyharrison.com/strategy.

Wendy Lopez: Great, and we’ll make sure that we link all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much everyone for tuning into another episode of the Food Heaven podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please do us a huge favor and leave us a review on iTunes right now. The more reviews we get, the higher we’re ranked in iTunes, which means that we get to reach more people. Also connect with us online at Food Heaven Show on Instagram and Twitter and we’re at Food Heaven Made Easy on Facebook.

Wendy Lopez: Our podcast is released every Wednesday, in each episode we cover tips and tricks for making lifelong sustainable living changes to upgrade your diet and health. We also interview leading experts in the field of health and nutrition to pick their brains on how to cultivate a healthy life that you love. We hope you enjoyed this episode and we’ll catch you next time. Bye.

Jessica Jones: Bye.

 

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2 Comments on When Healthy Eating Becomes an Obsession w/ Christy Harrison

  1. Avatar
    Criston
    May 17, 2018 at 12:59 am (2 years ago)

    This was a great podcast! Very informative!

    Reply
    • Wendy
      Wendy
      May 18, 2018 at 3:59 pm (2 years ago)

      Glad you enjoyed! xoxo

      Reply

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