Let Go of Negative Food Messages

Negative food messages are everywhere! If you spend time looking for health information, you cannot avoid them - internet articles, chat groups, health professionals, etc. Over time, these messages will change your perception of food, and your body will go into fight-or-flight when you eat or think about food. Letting go of these negative food messages can make your food reintroduction journey much easier. It can be a long process, especially if you have been absorbing these messages for a long time. 

Most internet and media stories are written to attract your attention, not provide balanced information. Consider the following headlines – “10 Foods that will kill you” or “10 foods that you should reduce in your diet”. We are naturally drawn to the first title because it is sensational. Dire consequences of eating common foods are listed, to justify the headline.  In addition to foods you should never eat, articles often list “super foods” with exaggerated health benefits. Unfortunately, these extreme articles can significantly affect our perception of food and create a fear of eating. Even though I know it is sensational information, I still become a little suspicious when I spend too much time on the internet. Pictures and video are especially difficult to forget. After seeing a photograph of a terrible chicken farm, I could not eat chicken for several months. The logical part of my brain knew that the picture did not reflect what was happening at my local chicken farms, but the emotional part could not forget the tragic image. Messages that are repeated on many websites may sound legitimate, but that’s not always the case. For example, I researched the low histamine diet for my master's thesis in the early 1990s. Every article referred to histamine-releasing foods, so I assumed it was a proven fact.  When I looked further, there were no research studies to support this claim. These claims are like rumors. Everyone believes they are true because they are continually repeated. The media and health care professionals often “jump on the band wagon” with each new trend. Negative information creates suspicion that our food supply is toxic. If you did a thorough internet search, you could find something wrong with every food! Research about temporary health difficulties can lead to long-term concerns about food. The fear may continue, long after the original symptoms have improved.

Orthorexia nervosa has recently been included in the list of eating disorders (along with anorexia nervosa, bulimia, etc.).  Individuals that suffer from this condition experience anxiety when they deviate from their strict healthy eating rules. Orthorexia can be mild or extreme.

If your “healthy eating rules” makes it difficult to enjoy life, try relaxing them.

It’s important to consider how much stress an extremely healthy diet brings to the family and the person preparing the meals. I have an underlying expectation of myself that everything must be home made and healthy. I strive to achieve this, and then wonder why I’m up until midnight, every night! It’s been hard to ease up and incorporate a few processed, ready –to –eat foods (sometimes with very little nutrition). However, it has saved time and reduced stress. My family is not getting quite as many nutrients, but everyone’s a lot happier.

If a food restriction is necessary (e.g. medically diagnosed or based on objective observation), then the benefits of restriction out weigh the negatives. However, if you are restricting because you believe that certain foods are unhealthy, the restriction may be doing more harm than good (i.e. avoiding grains, because of a belief they are inflammatory).

When deciding what to eat, choose foods that nourish your body and your spirit.

When you have food sensitivities, decisions about what to eat are often made based on tolerance and potential health benefits. Enjoyment becomes secondary. A client told me about combining a bunch of “super foods” into a salad. When I asked her how it tasted, she laughed and said, “not that good.” The super food salad nourished her body, but not her spirit.

It’s natural to be enticed by diet plans and restriction lists. “Rules” bring structure when you are feeling out of control (which is common when you have mysterious symptoms). Following a diet plan can give a sense of control and hope (because the diet plan might be the answer you are searching for).

The diet plans (e.g. API, GAPs, SCD etc.) and restrictions lists (e.g. low histamine, salicylate, oxalate, etc.) sound scientific, but they are theories and educated guesses. They can be helpful guidelines, but they are not exact diet plans. If you want to explore this further, please read The Problem with Diet Restriction Lists from the public section of my website.

Unfortunately, clients sometimes avoid certain foods just because they are on a “bad foods list.” Listening to your body and basing your diet on how you tolerate food is a better approach.

Letting go of these lists and diets can be scary, and you may initially feel increased uncertainty without them.

Many health care professionals think dietary restrictions are a natural, safe treatment. Unfortunately, they rarely ask clients about their current diet before making recommendations. If a client is already restricted, it is inappropriate to recommend further restrictions. Additionally, most professionals don’t appreciate the potentially devastating consequences of these recommendations, because they don’t talk with clients about the impact on their life. One client was struggling to follow her physician’s suggestion of a low FODMAP, vegan diet. The physician must not have realized that it is nearly impossible to get enough protein with both restrictions. To make matters worse, clients often get different “bad foods lists” from several professionals and end up being on a limited diet and afraid to eat.

Food sensitivity testing is very appealing because it gives clients an exact list of foods to avoid, and with that, a sense of control and hope. Professionals like these tests, because they can give their patients quick, definitive answers. Unfortunately, each test gives a different “foods to avoid” list. IgG blood tests are the most common.  A few years ago, I was doing some research for a presentation at the Dietitians of Canada conference. I talked with the chief chemist at a large lab that ran combined IgE/IgG blood testing. I was expecting an argument when I said that this test does not make sense, but the chemist agreed with me and said that they have been using the same technology for over 40 years! Antibody testing has progressed over the last few decades. Forty-year-old technology is no longer valid. When I asked why they are still selling this test, she responded with, “It is very popular with practitioners.” In other words, they’re making money. See Food Sensitivity Testing for more details.