Food sensitivities are real, I know that. But guess what? Eating disorders are real too.
I didn’t know it was happening at the time, but my interest in being healthy and healing my chronic IBS made me fearful of eating gluten and dairy. Looking back, I know this contributed HUGELY to my struggles with orthorexia and binge eating… So, what did I do? Well, let’s just say that after everything I went through… I’m still eating pizza.
Interested? Keep reading!
FOOD SENSITIVITIES VS. RESTRICTIVE DIETING
Should you give up dairy and gluten? Should you be vegan? Should you go paleo? Do you get bloated and constipated? Do you have skin issues? Should you eat more fat? Should you eat fewer carbs? Should you avoid all added sugar?
Being healthy is so freakin’ overwhelming.
It feels like everyone and their mother is avoiding some kind of food these days. We LIVE for labeling ourselves into categories. We like it because it makes things simple. And whether we embrace the fact or not, we also do it because it’s incredibly popular right now.
RESTRICTIVE LABELS ARE EVERYWHERE
If we take a second to scroll through our Instagram, Pinterest, or favorite blog… people are talking about food sensitivities. A LOT. And if you don’t believe me, ask yourself why you started eliminating foods in the first place… I bet in most cases you tried it because you heard about it, not because you were actually feeling major symptoms. We can’t deny it, restrictive healthy eating is TRENDY.
Everywhere you look you’ll find recipes, products, and restaurants that are…
- and on and on and on…
FOOD SENSITIVITY OR EATING DISORDER?
So naturally, we’re curious about how we’ll feel if we hop on the food sensitivity train. If we are passionate about living a healthy lifestyle, it’s normal to want to give these things a try. Let me be clear…
Figuring out if you have food sensitivities is NOT a bad thing. The bad thing is when food sensitivities become a cover-up for disordered eating behaviors.
4 WAYS FOOD SENSITIVITIES BECOME AN EATING DISORDER
There are a few ways for food sensitivities to turn into an eating disorder (or you may fall somewhere in the middle).
- You are already struggling with restrictive eating habits, then you adopt a fear of potential food sensitivities as an excuse to stay restrictive.
- You have food sensitivities, but now the anxiety of avoiding these foods has turned “avoiding your food sensitivities” into an unhealthy obsession.
- You’re not sure if you have food sensitivities, so you experiment on your own and now you’re all confused about what the heck you should even eat anymore to be healthy… and now you can’t stop obsessing over your food choices.
- You try an elimination diet (like the Whole 30) to lose weight or to experiment with your health… and that takes you into a cycle of restriction and binge eating because it’s not sustainable long term.
FIGURING OUT THE RIGHT APPROACH FOR YOU
Clearly, food sensitivities can get out of hand very easily. And I completely understand that avoiding the foods we’re sensitive too can have HUGE impacts on how we look and feel in our bodies.
NEGATIVES OF RESTRICTIVE EATING
Some of the drawbacks of avoiding food sensitivities are that it can potentially…
- Cause an obsession with healthy eating (like orthorexia).
- Make you fearful of eating food groups and macronutrients (like carbohydrates)
- Normalize deprivation in your daily eating habits, which can lead to binge eating.
POSITIVES OF RESTRICTIVE EATING
But on the other hand, if you eliminate your food sensitivities from your diet, it might…
- Reduce the inflammation in your body.
- Aid in healing autoimmune symptoms and flare-ups.
- Result in fewer digestive issues, like bloating, IBS, and leaky gut.
- Help clear acne and other skin symptoms.
WHAT THE HECK SHOULD YOU DO ABOUT FOOD SENSITIVITIES?
You see, food sensitivities are talked about ALL the time, but really, there’s just a TON of confusion around them in general. And in order to heal your relationship with food, we need to know about the things that can sabotage it. So, let’s do a quick breakdown.
FOOD ALLERGIES VS. FOOD SENSITIVITIES
Food allergies are an immune response to a specific food and they are VERY different from the food sensitivities we’re talking about today. Allergies can be life-threatening and even fatal, so these are NOT things to mess around with. The most important distinction between a food allergy and a food sensitivity is that an allergy has an immediate immune system reaction.
Allergies can cause disruptive digestive symptoms, but also symptoms like hives, anaphylaxis, dizziness, trouble breathing, and even death. The symptoms can be immediate or delayed, depending on the allergy and your immune system. The most common allergens are called the “Big 8”. These include wheat, milk, eggs, soybeans, peanuts, shellfish, fish, and tree nuts. You should absolutely see a doctor if you think you might have an allergy.
WHAT ARE FOOD SENSITIVITIES?
So, we know allergies are serious, but what about the foods that don’t cause an allergic reaction? That leaves us with food sensitivities and food intolerances. I know that before I looked into these terms, I was really confused.
- What are they really?
- Are they the same thing?
- Are they completely different?
It was pretty hard to understand because everyone seemed to use the terms allergy, sensitivity, and intolerance interchangeably. But the term “food sensitivities” is actually the big umbrella that’s broken down into 2 parts: intolerances and allergies. An allergy, as we discussed, is caused by a food that triggers an immune system reaction. An intolerance (or what people refer to most commonly as a sensitivity) is not an immune system reaction.
In fact, non-allergy related food reactions are not very well understood, which is why so many people are confused about their own issues with food!
- The most understood reaction is lactose-intolerance.
- But what about an intolerance to gluten (the protein in wheat)?
- An intolerance to casein (the protein in dairy)?
- Or an intolerance to any other food?
Yup, those are potential food intolerances. The symptoms are most commonly gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and nausea, but they may vary. Intolerances can also cause issues with skin, mood, inflammation and other non-digestive symptoms. Honestly, this is where that “listening to your body” thing comes in handy.
WHEN DOES RESTRICTION BECOME AN EATING DISORDER?
So I get it, we hear all of this information about food sensitivities and we’re interested. We quickly trade the bread for the cauliflower, reach for grain free and dairy free treats, and put strict labels on our diet because we want to be healthy. We THINK that avoiding what we think are our food intolerances will be best for us.
But here’s the deal: Avoiding food intolerances can easily be taken wayyyyyyyy too far. They can also give you food fear, which makes it difficult to “just eat” without wondering how a food is going to affect you.
Food intolerances make you question EVERYTHING you ever thought about food and that’s NOT okay. NOT when you need to focus on healing your relationship with food.
HOW DO YOU STOP FOOD SENSITIVITIES FROM BECOMING AN ED?
STEP 1: STOP PAYING ATTENTION TO SOCIAL MEDIA TRENDS
It feels like all of Instagram is talking about how they got rid of dairy, gluten, sugar, and on and on and on… It’s on blogs, it’s in the news. People are talking about autoimmune diseases, gluten and dairy free products are EVERYWHERE, and sensitivity testing kits are being promoted by all your favorite wellness Instagrammers.
Maybe you’ve actually struggled with some bloating, constipation, diarrhea, skin issues, hormonal imbalances, or other serious issues and then you looked into sensitivities for an answer. Maybe you’re just curious about what all this hype is about and being healthy. Either way…
Ask yourself this: where did you learn about sensitivities? Was it because you felt something was wrong in your body or because you heard that you “should” be avoiding “unhealthy” foods? Think about it.
STEP 2: GET CLEAR ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
You need to really ask yourself what it is that you want. After you thought about avoiding certain foods, why did you REALLY start avoiding them?
- Was it to lose weight?
- Was it to get rid of “bloating” that maybe isn’t really there?
- Was it to be on a “diet” because that’s the only way you know how to eat?
Then you really need to check your habits to make sure you’re not falling into disordered eating.
- Are you afraid of eating a potential food intolerance?
- Is this restriction causing you to binge?
- Are you obsessing over food (is it on your mind all day long)?
STEP 3: FIGURE OUT YOUR UNIQUE FOOD INTOLERANCES (IF YOU HAVE ANY)
Sometimes, we REALLY DO have an intolerance. So to figure it out, you have a few options. Your doctor can perform allergy tests, you can do an “elimination diet” (which can be the Whole 30), or you can order an online allergy testing kit to find out more conclusive information on food allergies and intolerances.
But don’t feel pressured to do this right now, especially if you feel like it might increase your struggles with restriction.
Because really, since food intolerances aren’t an allergic reaction, you can figure them out at your own pace. If you even have any at all!! You have a unique body, so no one else is going to be exactly the same as you. You have to do what works best for your digestive system in order to heal from the symptoms of food sensitivities/intolerances… IF you have them.
STEP 4: STOP FOLLOWING STRICT DIET RULES
Carbs used to be such a big deal to me! I was super strict paleo, low carb, gluten free, grain free, and even dabbled with keto. But the truth is, all that interest in “nutrition” made me scared of eating carbs. I thought that eating them would instantly make me gain weight and that they would be toxic to my body.
I turned an interest in healthy eating into a fear of eating rice, potatoes, sugar, grains, beans, fruit, and starchy vegetables. And the more I think about it, the more I realize a few things about carbs:
- Avoiding carbs was a huge factor in my battle with orthorexia, which also made my 10 year battle with binge eating worse.
- CARBS ARE DELICIOUS. I like eating them and I enjoy my food so much more when there’s some sort of carbohydrate on my plate.
- Focusing on limiting carbs in my diet made even a little bit of carbs seem like a TON. A half a scoop of rice would equal instant guilt. That’s just ridiculous.
- My female hormones ENJOY carbohydrates… and eating more carbohydrates helped me get my period back.
- I’m happiest when I don’t focus on carbs… meaning, I eat them in my meals and treat them as FOOD. If a meal doesn’t have them, whatever. If it does and I want them, I eat them.
The moral: If I want the pizza, pasta, or cookie… I EAT IT! Trust me, if you keep restricting you’ll keep struggling with orthorexia and binge eating. Stop restricting and you’ll actually HEAL your relationship with food 🙂
STEP 5: CREATE YOUR OWN BALANCE (+ WHY I STILL EAT PIZZA)
You’re allowed to “stop caring” one day and then “focus on your health” the next day. (I’m using both sayings loosely.) There’s no need to choose. I’ve been following a pretty healthy diet and lifestyle lately, and then yesterday I ate pizza + donuts + chocolates all in the same day.
Do I feel guilty? Do I “regret it”? HECK NO BRO! It felt amazing to indulge yesterday. It was unplanned, delicious and totally satisfying. And then tomorrow I’ll do whatever feels good too… without punishing myself for LIVING my life.
The basic idea of balance isn’t really a thing. There’s just finding that sweet spot right between health and happiness that allows you to live your best life mentally, emotionally, AND physically. To me, sometimes it means pizza and donuts + sometimes it means bulletproof coffee and avocados.
What’s your balance? How do you find it? And how do you stop feeling guilty for breaking restriction and ditch the fear of binge eating and overindulging?
TAKEAWAY: CHANGE YOUR BELIEFS ABOUT FOOD
Finding a balance between avoiding food intolerances and avoiding an eating disorder is tricky… and I would never tell you it wasn’t. But that’s exactly why I had to change my beliefs about food. I had to PRIORITIZE healing my relationship with food so that I could stop binge eating and stop struggling with orthorexia. I learned that I had a LOT more control over my food than I thought, and that sent me on a path of Food Freedom!
- Believing I couldn’t eat pizza.
- Being afraid of sugar.
- Feeling guilty for eating fruit.
- Binging on ice cream.
- Hating the fat on my belly.
- Thinking “I’d be happier if I could only”…
- Denying myself bread.
- Hoping for a different body type.
- Focusing on calories and macros.
- Caring about measuring my portions perfectly.
- Obsessing about my body in the mirror.
- Needing to second guess my food choices.
- Doing the things that held me back from living my best life.
- Living in this messy relationship with food.
Did you learn something today? You might be interested in finding Food Freedom! Using the 3 strategies in this food freedom ebook to learn how I healed my relationship with food. I’m sharing my best tips for healing your relationship with food (including lessons from my experience with orthorexia, binge eating, over-exercising, body image, weight gain, weight loss, and restrictive dieting). In this super special 30 day program, you’ll learn how to create a sustainable Food Freedom action plan that works for YOU.