The Prevalence of Fear-Mongering

fear mongering

Everywhere you turn, you see extremism in the diet, health and fitness world. It seems to stem from some morbid combination of the “more is better” mentality and the sensationalism that is so prevalent in the media. It’s painful, and it’s harmful to your body and mind.

For example, let’s consider what I have eaten so far today (it’s almost 11 AM):

Oatmeal with cinnamon, raw sugar, raisins, ghee, and a pinch of salt

Blueberry juice

Coffee with coconut milk and gelatin

Applegate Farms smoked turkey slices

Pink Lady apple

One mellowcreme pumpkin leftover from Halloween

Now, let’s break it down with all of the warnings given by so-called diet “gurus” that are often so typically attributed to eating these foods:

Oatmeal with cinnamon, raw sugar, raisins, ghee, and a pinch of salt (too many carbs will cause diabetes or cognitive impairment! Sugar is as addictive as heroin! Oats have phytic acid! Dairy has pus in it! Raisins are high in sugar and carbs, and sugar is the devil and will cause diabetes!)

Blueberry juice (juice is just pure sugar! Sugar causes diabetes and is addictive!)

Coffee with coconut milk and gelatin (Coffee causes adrenal exhaustion! Coconut milk has saturated fat – we can’t decide if that’s good or bad! Gelatin is an animal product, and eating animal products is cruel or can age you faster, or both!)

Applegate Farms smoked turkey slices (eating animals is cruel! Too much protein can hurt your kidneys!)

Pink Lady apple (fruit is high in sugar, and sugar causes diabetes and is addictive!)

One mellowcreme pumpkin leftover from Halloween (artificial dyes and flavors cause cancer! Sugar is more addictive than heroin! Corn syrup is GMO!)

Wow. That’s enough to make what seemed like a reasonable breakfast and morning snack seem like a death trap. And we didn’t even touch on how I might get “Grain Brain“…and if I happen to eat a sandwich later, I might get a “Wheat Belly“. There’s phytic acid in my nuts, oxalic acid in my kale, and I’m going to have insidious weight gain if my carbs go above 150 grams a day. Suddenly, I’m so filled with fear that I will EAT THE WRONG FOOD that the entire natural, human process of eating becomes a source of great anxiety.

Welcome to orthorexia, folks.

This is where I lived for a few years. Fell down one rabbit hole of diet guru fear-mongering, only to find another hole and fall down it as well. When my digestive system didn’t get better, or when I didn’t see weight loss, surely I was “doing it wrong” and would blame the carbs, the phytic acid, the sugar in my fruit, or perhaps in spite of my never-eat-out, obsessive-compulsive diet, I was still getting hidden gluten that was wreaking havoc on my body.

I was afraid of food.

I can’t put all the blame on the “gurus” out there. After all, I could have very easily dug into the science studies myself. Stayed away from all the crazy claims. But I didn’t. I trusted others to do the hard work for me. Each time I followed something new, it was wrapped in shiny, shout-y, fear-grabbing phrases, such as “hidden things that make you fat”, or “sugar in fruit can prevent weight loss”. I would see testimonials, see before and after pictures and totally believe that the same should happen to me.

News flash: it didn’t.

This type of motivation isn’t positive. It’s detrimental to not only those seeking diet, nutrition, and fitness advice, but it’s harmful to our society as a whole. It puts all of us on the edge about what is/is not the “right” foods to feed ourselves and our children. And this mentality causes us to judge one another and ourselves for eating whatever food is deemed “wrong”. Holding onto negative judgments, whether they are related to food, diet, or anything in life, keeps us from discovering our power to change our lives for the better.

But fear-mongering is everywhere. What can we do to change it?

We can work to break the spell. Call a spade a spade. Take the power away from the fear and those that would have you remain afraid. Once you realize the signs (extreme claims, claims made that aren’t backed by solid, scientific research, ridiculous testimonials, etc), you can call out the bullshit. Focus on moderation. We can chill out, and make general goals that are positive, such as learning to cook from scratch, moving more (in sustainable, self-loving ways), getting more sleep, spending time with the ones we love – things that are positive for long-term health. We can stop endorsing such insane claims and fear-mongering. Don’t give your money to diet gurus. Don’t share around articles promoting negative diet information. Work to change your mindset to stop the vilification or glorification of foods. There are no “bad” or “good” foods. There’s just food.

And I happen to love food. Don’t you?

Welcome (AKA Why Are We Here?)

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Many of you may know me from my other blog, Tasty Eats At Home, where I share gluten-free and dairy-free recipes and have been doing so for 5 years. Most of my posts are related to (hopefully) mouth-watering dishes that I make for friends, family, and myself, but some of you that have followed that blog for a while may know that I’ve also struggled with ongoing digestive issues even since removing gluten and dairy from my diet, and I’ve worked to find relief from those issues (as well as others). I’ve tried removing FODMAPs. I’ve tried eating grain-free/paleo. I’ve had allergy tests done in an effort to determine what was going on with my body, visited a gastroenterologist and had numerous tests done, and even visited an Integrative Medicine doctor to determine if there was any other way. I wasn’t totally vocal about all of this, as I felt like I couldn’t share completely what I was doing, lest you come to believe I’d found an answer to all of my issues. I hadn’t. My digestive issues have lessened over time, but I have a suspicion that has more to do with time to heal than any of the above.

But I also wasn’t vocal about my simultaneous struggle to stay slim and/or lose weight. This was a goal that started as an on/off goal well before I went gluten-free; but as I became more involved with healthy eating, it became less of a positive goal, and slowly crept its way into every fabric of my being. An obsession. I counted calories. (I still do.) I tracked my fiber intake. I lowered my carbs. I obsessed about protein. I eliminated food groups. I followed a mostly vegan, high-raw diet. I did Whole30s and thought I was gaining a healthier relationship with food, only to fall face-first into a batch of frosting later on. I never missed a morning workout, no matter how tired/sore/sick I might have been. I weighed myself daily, if not more often. I believed that if I just did the next best thing, somehow my body would be perfect and I will have found the miracle.

Instead, I found my way to a truly disordered relationship with food and my body. I still saw myself as…well, not fat, per se, but bigger than I wanted to be. I saw flaws. Cellulite. Squishy parts. Even if I was at my “leaner” weight (which was always heavier than my “goal” weight), I was only one sugar binge away from fat. I also was starting to lose my health. I was wearing my body down with a continuous cycle of insufficient calorie intake, too little rest from exercise, and incredible anxiety about it all.

And then something clicked. When I was getting close to running my first half-marathon earlier this year, I was running out of energy in the middle of long training runs. Five miles in, and I’d hit the wall. Truth is, I wasn’t eating enough. I was still trying to eat mostly paleo, and keeping my daily calorie intake around 1,400 (I might get to 2,000 on long run days). I wasn’t recovering quickly, I was losing strength (I lost my ability to do full push-ups during that time, even though I was doing them on a regular basis previously and never stopped.) and even more insane – I was gaining weight. It was during this time that I was wondering if something was wrong with me. I started to research about carbs and fueling for endurance, and started allowing more into my diet as a necessity. Shortly thereafter I found a little Facebook support group for people tired of diets and looking for balanced/healthy approach to eating. My world then shifted on its axis.

Since then, I’ve been EATING. Recovering. Becoming healthy. And more importantly, I’m working to let go. Let go of the anxiety. The body shaming. The obsession and struggle to be thinner, fitter, more perfect. I’m forgiving myself for only wanting perfection, and learning to be happy and in love with me. I’m hoping through this blog to not only share my personal stories, but also help break down the body-shaming, the dietary dogmas, and the misinformation that is so prevalent throughout the media, the diet industry, and into everyday life. It’s a journey, but it’s one well worth the time. Won’t you join me?