[NOTE that in this post I’m not referring to genuine physical maladies that force a person to be a picky eater, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or food allergies.]
“I’m a vegan. How do I deal with my meat-eating relatives during the holidays?”
“Sugar is evil. We don’t have any at our house. How do I keep my kids from eating cookie, candy and dessert when we go over to relatives’ houses?”
I’m vegan, and I believe sugar was invented by the devil.
Just kidding about the second one. But I am hyper-aware of the dangers of regular consumption of sugary treats.
I also used to be orthorexic. In case you’re unfamiliar with the word, an orthorexic is someone who lives in fear regarding the food that they put in their body. They have learned all these rules about clean eating and follow the rules religiously because they’re afraid that if they don’t, one day they’ll have a heart attack or be diagnosed with cancer.
Orthorexic parents do everything within their power to force their beliefs onto their children.
I denied being an orthorexic when my mom sent me an article about it a few years ago, but you know what they say about the acuity of hindsight. I refused to eat potato chips at gatherings. I got mad when my husband ate dessert at a special meal at someone else’s house. I was convinced that I’d failed as a mother because, despite his pristine diet at home, my son wanted white rolls and sweets at those same special meals. B is repelled by the thought of consuming dead animal flesh, and J believes it’s not humane to do so unless necessary, so at least I have no worries on the vegan side of things. But gluten? Sweets?
A totally different story.
Lately, I’ve realized that I’m no longer orthorexic. I still wish that people would stop using animals for food, especially killing them, and I wish our son would be revolted by baked goods, especially the sweet kind. But I quit getting upset that my ideal world doesn’t exist.
Why being an orthorexic at Christmas sucks
It’s bad enough to be an orthorexic single person with no children. People are always asking you why you brought your own food. And they probably laugh at you about it behind your back. Even if you’re not aware of that happening, you’re generally uncomfortable with being the odd one out.
You’re also creating an unhealthier environment inside your body than you probably would by just chilling out and eating the junk food being passed around. How?
Stress. Because orthorexics are as judgmental as Christians. They think they’re doing what’s right, that their belief system is the right one, and they get continually and constantly frustrated by the sight of other people eating foods that they have deemed to be unhealthy. Don’t they care about their health? Are they complete idiots?
When you judge people, you get upset with them. Which causes an unhealthy stress reaction in your body.
Add children and a spouse into the mix, and your orthorexic self that is desperate not to die early and in pain attains a whole new level of stress. Because now, you have to control not only yourself, but your family, as well.
Your spouse gets mad because, “We only do this a couple times a year, so it won’t make a difference in my health.” Your children get mad because, “Everybody else is eating the good stuff. Why can’t we?”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you don’t coach your children about eating moderately, and not stuffing themselves. And, as I hinted at the beginning, food allergies is another conversation altogether!
But to absolutely forbid your family members from fully participating in a feast because of your fears is not only wrong, but also a truckload of resentment waiting to happen.
Your forced orthorexia could also backfire once your children hit adolescence or adulthood. They might put themselves on a diet of junk food simply because they’ve never been allowed to touch it.
And it’s not only the relationships with your spouse and children that are at risk of becoming strained. How do you suppose the person, or people, who put together the meal are going to feel when you flatly refuse to eat anything they prepared? Or, when you just pick at a couple of items?
Don’t get me started on vegan activism. A family gathering is not the place to preach from your animal rights bible!
Let’s take the issue away from family gatherings. Let’s say that you grew up in a house where one of the holiday traditions was to eat chocolates on Christmas Eve. And let’s say that you really enjoy the tradition, and miss it. But you refuse to buy even a small box of chocolates because that would be against your rules.
So every year, you walk around frustrated because “Why do all the tasty things have to be bad for you?” You feel deprived. You may begin to develop a low-level resentment against yourself.
How healthy is that?
How to put your orthorexia on the shelf during the holidays
First, realize that it’s what you eat most days that matter, not what you eat on special occasions. Food allergies excepted, a handful of this and a bite of this a few times a month will not have a long-term affect on your health.
Second, remember that kids bounce back. I should be dead based on the food I ate through the age of twenty-four (I’m close to 50 as I write these words). If your children “pig out” a few times a year, but most of the rest of the time are eating nutrient-dense, whole foods, they’ll be fine.
Third, leave your spouse alone. He or she is an adult. Let them make their own eating choices. If you care about your marriage, stop trying to control them.
Fourth, if you’re vegan, let the host of a gathering know ahead of time. Request that at least one of the vegetable dishes be free of any kind of dairy or meat. Better yet, offer to bring one or two vegan dishes to share. Make sure they’re tasty, though, so your impact for the cause will be positive. 😉
And while you’re there, ditch your “holier-than-thou” attitude. You are not better than anyone there because you abstain from eating meat and they don’t. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Vegans included.
Next, if you’re like me and have a sensitive digestive system, eat as much as you can of individual foods. For example, if you can’t eat more than a half cup of grain before feeling bloated and gassy, eat a half cup of the savory rice dish. If you have to explain why you’re not eating very much, feel free to explain your sensitivity, but then follow it with an effusive compliment over what you have been able to eat.
Finally, if you don’t usually do so, take a whole-food based multivitamin on “splurge” days. Not because you’ll actually need it, but because it will ease your conscience.
Chill out. Stop obsessing over food. And you’ll have yourself a much merrier Christmas.