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The Health Food Mommy Wars Were Making Me Insane, So I Stopped Playing

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When I checked out my copy of Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest cookbook It’s All Good last year, I had no idea the slippery road I’d be heading down. As I wrote from the beginning, the procurement of her book was done more out of mocking curiosity than anything else. I even created the Instagram account to document all my fumblings with trying to cook healthier, and in the beginning it was all very funny and tongue-in-cheek. I don’t think many took me seriously, let alone myself, and it’s actually what people enjoyed most about my musings on living a healthier lifestyle; I was real and honest and freely admitted to despising gluten-free everything and I didn’t really understand the value in buying organic anything.

Fast-forward six months into eating better and my knowledge in all areas of health food — from free-range eggs to grass-fed beef, conventional versus organic, and GMO versus non-GMO — is more vast than I ever thought it would be. Gradually, as I learned the true value in eating better, the tongue-in-cheek mocking jokes disappeared, and I could tell my family I was serving them vegan quinoa kale burgers with a straight face. But as my reach into the health food world grew by following more and more healthy living columns and people on social media channels, and through a wider reach of this column and my Instagram page, I started noticing a growing theme in this arena: It seemed one could never really be healthy enough. Residing in Los Angeles, we often joke that you can never have enough money in this town, and I was coming to realize that when it came to feeding your family healthy eats, you could never truly be “healthy enough.”

There was always another person consuming a wider range of organic produce than you. If you balk at the ingredients in a package of tortillas or pasta or crackers, there were always plenty of people in line to encourage you to just make them yourself. Because that’s a completely realistic chore to do every week. You share with a friend that you recently started purchasing healthier meat, all grass-fed, but she questions whether the meat is also grass-finished. Because if it isn’t, well then it’s pretty much just a waste of time. And if you’re stupid enough to proudly show off the contents of your grocery cart, brimming with healthy produce, well be prepared for some questions about the source of said produce. And those baby carrots you tossed in there to save yourself five minutes of peeling and dicing time in the morning? Well, they’re “soaked” in chlorine, so you may as well be drinking pool water. Stroll through the Internets long enough and you’ll soon realize that your strides in eating healthy may never be good enough.

For a while I became unnecessarily obsessed with finding the best, purest forms of foods I could find. While I often wasted plenty of time and money trying to get the best of the best, running around to five different stores on wild goose chases looking for certain items, thankfully I never crossed the territory into unhealthy obsession. Turns out, becoming overly obsessed with eating the purest, most healthy forms of food you can find is considered an eating disorder in itself. Termed orthorexia nervosa, it literally means a fixation on righteous eating. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), those suffering from orthorexia develop an unhealthy relationship with healthy eating:

“Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.” An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.”

Few who are dedicated to eating as healthfully as possible suffer from orthorexia, rather they may just suffer from a little bit of sanctimonious preaching. Whatever the cause may be though, this overarching cloud of judgment left me feeling self-conscious of my own choices and decisions to feed my family, and often left me questioning whether I was doing an inadequate job of feeding my family well. I also became overly concerned about what others thought of me, and at times found myself apologizing to total strangers who I met in public. One day, while shopping with my toddler in tow, I gave him a row of Pez candies as a treat and to allow me a few minutes to make my purchases. A reader recognized us and walked up to say hi. I was irrationally embarrassed that she had seen me feed my 2-year-old candy and attempted to make a nonchalant joke about it. I realized then that I needed to take a step back and reassess my motives and insecurities, or else I would truly go insane worrying about every little thing my kids and I ate. I thought I had left the mommy wars behind when I finally gained some peace with my decision to leave my full-time job. Little did I know I had entered a new kind of mommy wars when I joined the organic and crunchy healthy-eating crowd. Of course not everyone casts such a strong shadow of judgment, and most are nothing but encouraging and supportive. But there’s just enough zealots who will rain on your parade and make you question each and every item you throw into your grocery cart.

In order to save my sanity and continue along my own path to healthy eating, I needed to first and foremost stop worrying about what others thought. Beyond that super important point, I also needed to stop making comparisons and continue to focus on my own family and our own individual health goals. Lastly, I often remind myself that I am striving for better, not perfection. Considering where we were just a year ago, we have made huge progress which I’m proud of. Our goal was always and continues to be to improve our eating habits, not perfect them.

Perhaps it’s just our nature, but it seems that as mothers, we will always find a new war to fight over. In many ways, I believe it comes from a good place, as we strive to do what we feel is best for our family and seek validation from others that what we’re doing is “the best.” But where it goes awry is when we forget that what may be best for our family isn’t necessarily best for everyone. That’s where the feelings of judgment and insecurity come into play. On the topic of safety, by all means it should be a community effort. But when it comes to such personal things as what we feed our family, judgment, opinions, and unsolicited advice would best be left unspoken, don’t you think? So for now, I’m calling a truce on the healthy eating mommy wars.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

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