The downside of righteous eating

My husband came across this article a few months back and shared it with me after a discussion about food.  It helped me learn a new word. Orthorexia nervosa, the extreme or excessive preoccupation with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy or the fixation on righteous eating.

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To be fair, the author of “Health Food Junkies” Dr. Steve Brautman coined the term, so maybe there was a reason I hadn’t heard of it before.  But I’ve suspected that something like it exists for a while now.  The examples cases of the people given in a few articles about the phenomena seem extreme, but I would be lying if I didn’t see the potential for the quest to rid your body of unhealthy toxins spin out of control.  It makes sense that this disorder stems from a need for control. When you’re feeling not in control of certain part of your life, you can easily try to over control other aspects of your life.  And our food choices matter because you are what you eat.  And healthy food can heal us.

But is food the only thing that heals us?

I first started looking into healthier real food eating as a way to help fix the problems that were present in my cycle, in hopes of helping us conceive when we were dealing with primary infertility. Finding non-invasive solutions to infertility and other diseases aren’t the only things that drive people to perfect diets. Genuine desire to increase the sustainability of food practices, concern of the ethical treatment of animals, and the quest for personal discipline can all be factors as well. None of these things are evil intentions, but how does it affect our interactions with others?

Simply glossing over the impact that sharing food has and the generosity of others. I’ve thought more and more recently as I bring food over to families and friends in need, “I hope they’re not allergic to this” and “I hope they eat this in their diets”. Reading food blogs apparently isn’t all puppies and daisies.  You’re apt to build a complex on the food your generously providing others instead of focusing on the more important thing.  You’re generously providing food and loving and serving others, usually with the intent to help them in a difficult situation.

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The other day a friend who was moving called to ask if I wanted some of the food that was in her freezer.  “I have some beef that is organic, but not grassfed, is that OK? Will you still eat it?”  I answered wholeheartedly that I of course would take it!

Score! I thought.  And then I wondered, Would someone actually refuse this gift? That seemed crazy to me, but the longer I thought about it I knew there was a reason she felt compelled to ask the question.

When we make someone a meal, I believe that the time spent planning, buying, preparing, and offering it to others is a real gift of love. What are we missing out on, when we reject this gift? And how many people get so worried about how their food will be received, that they just don’t bring food? How much less love is in the world because we are paralyzed by fear of rejection and don’t even make the meal in the first place? An opportunity to offer and accept healing from others is lost. In some ways I see parallels with my own concerns about hosting others at my house, and how I used to miss out on the opportunity to serve and commune with others due to my own fears.

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For me, it all really comes down to this, there is nothing more traditional, communal, and healing than sitting down to a meal together:

Ultimately, a rules-based approach to food misses some of the most important things about food: that it is a gift of God to be received with gratitude and pleasure, and that food brings people together. It’s no accident that Jesus gave us a meal by which to participate in being his body and blood: sharing a meal, in every culture, is a sign of community and belonging. Drinking the cup and eating the bread allows us to participate, somehow, in the life of God in Christ, but it also connects us to one another, and that’s a kind of connection that doesn’t happen only around the communion table. It happens every time food is shared.

- Rachel Marie Stone

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Even for a Church who believes in the acts of fasting and abstinence as a reflection of interior conversion and repentance, Canon law very specifically include guests at a meal as those who are excused from fasting or abstinence.

Those who are excused from fast or abstinence Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment,  manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.

Our Church recognizes the overall intention of the meal and the importance of showing love to our neighbor by accepting their gift of love in return as more important that dietary restrictions, even for the highest goal of serving God.

Can food heal us? Yes.  But so can loving others.

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So what do I do?

I know I am responsible for the food purchases and items I bring into our home and I choose them because I believe they offer the most nutritional value and nourishment for all involved.  I do my own research to the best of my ability to help make these decisions wisely. However, I also make a point to accept gifts from others.

This fall I’ve been saying that I’ve gone “gluten-lite”, meaning my home and the food I tend to cook is gluten-free, but when I’m outside of it, all rules are off. If there is a gluten-free option I will choose it, but if not, I will eat what’s available. If I had a severe allergic reaction or couldn’t breathe when eating a certain food, obviously I would change this, but I’m fortunate enough not to have this issue. I’m unfortunate enough to be trying to self-diagnose.

The tricky part about this is that, if I know a friend has an allergy, I do my best to prepare food that they can consume. Funny enough, it is when these gifts of specially prepared, diet-criteria fitting foods are rejected that I feel the most dejected.

However, all this is a little bit ironic to write about at this moment. Yesterday my husband and I started an elimination diet with the goal of flushing out our systems, allowing our stomachs to heal, and to hopefully properly diagnosis allergies/autoimmune issues to specific foods by reintroducing them slowly instead of just randomly eliminating them, as I and many others have done in the past. I write this to help me remember to not become over legalistic in what we consume. I actually started this diet several weeks after a few other people I know looking into other health issues (we all shared a bulk purchase of beef bones to make broth – look at that, weird diets bringing people together!) since we were invited to two parties this past weekend and I didn’t want want to have to reject the invitations or not participate fully because of this experimental, temporary diet change.The next two weeks are clear right now so it seemed like a good time to start. I don’t know what I’ll do right now if that changes.

I know this topic touches on the brink of individual rights and responsibilities, informed consumerism, and group think, but I think the quote by Rachel Marie Stone really sums it up for me.

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3 thoughts on “The downside of righteous eating

  1. Such a good reflection. I will say, as someone who cannot risk eating gluten, I feel incredibly loved when someone makes me a dish that is gluten-free!! Far too often I am left out of gatherings because people either don’t think of it or assume that I won’t mind standing in the corner chewing on lettuce instead of joining in on the main dishes (okay, “standing in the corner” sounds a bit extreme, but you really hit on something with community and sharing a meal). I don’t expect others to have to eat gluten-free or for every single dish to accommodate me, but I am often surprised at how many folks just assume I am okay with not eating and how bummed out I am (as much as I don’t want to be a “pain” either… it is a real bummer).

    That said, I *totally* agree that we need to make the effort to really reach out and be in community with each other and to offer grace as well as not let our dietary rules that are more optional/preferences get in the way of enjoying fellowship together! Eating really can become almost like a mini-god in today’s culture, and it’s not healthy to go to that extreme especially if it’s affecting spiritual, emotional (or yes, even physical) health negatively.

  2. Oh I had this righteous eating down like a pro about 3yrs ago! Lol. It really was righteous and I didn’t like the way it made me!
    So I quit and never looked back! Righteous is the absolute perfect word for it too!!
    I have issues shopping at whole foods for my weekly meals and not feeling righteous. So now, I go there for only the things I need and can’t get else where with our food intolerances. I pick the best options that I can find that are close to me and reasonable.
    I can’t stress myself out running all over town for good anymore.
    I did but gf meat when I was trying to get b iron up though! And those burgers are the best I’ve ever had-so in the summer I splurge! Lol
    One of my local girlfriends makes these ccf pumpkin chocolate chip muffins everytime I come to her house. It’s seriously the kindest sweetest thing ever!! Even when their are gluten folks there! So sweet!
    You can cook whatever you want for me at any time! I’d gladly accept it!! Lol

  3. So many good points here! I struggle with this very thing. Usually I won’t worry about it when I’m eating with someone, because I’m not allergic either, but just feel better without it. I will say, though, that when I went and visited friends and they made sure to have stuff for me so I wouldn’t have to eat gluten and dairy all weekend, it meant SO much! The biggest problem for me is I sometimes look at the crap other people are eating, and I have to figure out how to not get judge-y about it. Not because I’m offended by it, but because I know how badly I feel when I eat that, and I don’t want them to be stuck feeling that way (I’m specifically talking fast food). But it’s usually not loving to point things like that out when they’re not ready to hear it. Anyway. Eating healthy food is good, but using it as a reason in any number of different ways to not give or receive love from others is bad. And loving others should take priority. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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