Real Talk: The unhealthiest thing we’re doing is constantly worrying about food

I knew the menu words to look for—creamy, heavy, fried—and how to avoid them. I didn’t want to order a salad at EVERY meal; it was too obvious. And I didn’t want to always order from the “Lite” (or whatever diet fad word was popular at the time) menu. Again, too obvious. I wanted to choose something healthy, but also seem normal, I guess?

To be clear, the “I” here is the ol’ eating disorder ego. It’s loud and demanding. 

What also would have been nice is a chance to sit down and look at a menu simply to order food, not to overanalyze it and worry about how “unhealthy” it all sounded.

The eating disorder voice is tricky and convincing.

It’s manipulative and conniving. “Don’t let anyone in on our little secrets,” it says. It’s sure that only YOU truly know how to eat healthy. It picks up on behaviors around you, to make sure you’re eating healthier than anyone else. It feels very morally superior to your fellow diners, or party-goers. It’s only satisfied when you listen closely, and follow ALL the rules.

It is also convinced that your worrying about all these so-called unhealthy foods is the healthiest way to eat. But it doesn’t want you to appear worried. “Stay cool,” it says.

One of my favorite orders was the grilled chicken salad with fries.

Is this a Pennsylvania thing? I haven’t seen much of it since. And to be honest, I would still order that, because it’s a glorious combination. It was one of my few saving graces in the State College dining scene. My body got a dose of fat, but just enough for my eating disorder voice to “prove” it wasn’t too healthy—just the right amount of healthy—and that obviously I wasn’t worrying about food because look, I’m eating fries!

Late-night pizza and the caramel-apple cup at the Friday Farmer’s Market are also high on that list of saving (food) graces. Things that my eating disorder voice allowed—or, probably more accurate, it couldn’t resist. They sounded too good to worry about.

With my clients now, we talk a lot about recognizing that eating disorder voice, and food worry.

It pops up often—for some, all day every day, on repeat—and wants to make sure you stick to the rules. It thinks it knows best, and will be sure to tell you when something is V UNHEALTHY and you must not have it.

In Orthorexia, the eating disorder voice has memorized the diet culture script.

It is sure of how many calories are in that sandwich you ordered, with a quick tally of the ingredients. It is sure that the cheese on that slice of pizza has too much saturated fat. It is not going to be convinced that it’s OK to eat the whole egg. “Whites only, please!” it will say, because that’s healthier. It practices food worry, and stresses about these choices, all day.

The eating disorder voice claims it only wants what’s best for your HEALTH.

It puts every food decision goes through a series of filters: Good or bad? Saturated or unsaturated? Raw or cooked? Fried or pan-seared? White or red sauce? Cream or broth-based? Butter or oil? Whole or non-fat milk? No added sugars, RIGHT? Allergen-friendly (in the absence of any diagnosed allergens)?

Eating too “healthy” becomes unhealthy. 

Obsessing over the health of your food choices all day, every day, will backfire. The eating disorder voice never truly has your best interests at heart. (It doesn’t want you to know that.) It is simply playing the diet culture script on repeat. It is constantly worried about what might happen if something unhealthy slips in.

In my case, this obsession with eating “healthy” led to an unhealthy weight loss, the loss of my period (for almost six years), and loss of muscle mass. My hair was thin, my calves cramped at night, and I could never have enough layers on in the middle of those Pennsylvania winters.

It would have been healthier for me to order the burger and fries.

I have this conversation with clients often–about what’s actually “healthy”, and what might happen if we eat so-called “unhealthy” foods. The truth is that these fried, creamy, fatty, salty foods can have a place in our diets.

Learn how to incorporate these Intuitive Eating principles to Eating Disorder recovery, with RD experts Julie Duffy Dillon, Sumner Brooks, and Tracy Brown

One week of pizza won’t result in heart disease. (And after that week, you may not want pizza for a while.) Having a routine burger every Friday night won’t clog your arteries all on its own. A sandwich for lunch won’t spike your insulin so much that you’re now at risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Real talk: food isn’t immune to the law of diminishing returns.

When you allow yourself to eat what you like, and what makes you feel good, you’ll experience satisfaction. You can let go of all that food worry, and look at a menu with ease.

If you need proof, have pizza for every meal, every day, for one week. (Or two, or three—however long it takes!) You will eventually get bored with pizza, I promise. You actually may not want pizza for quite some time after that. And in that week (or month), it is highly unlikely that you’ll become “unhealthy” solely as the result of eating pizza.

pizza and food worry

We have a history of food worry, and stressing over these choices.

As Robyn Nohling, known as The Real Life RD, put it on our “Anti-Diet Approach” webinar for RDs: “Stressing about the pizza will probably kill you before the pizza will.” And in the book, Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch note that a food psychology study done in the late 90s shows that Americans “worry the most” about food, yet have worse health outcomes than countries like France–where butter, cream, wine, bread, and cheese are food staples.

Purchase the webinar: “How to Practice the Anti-Diet Approach to Nutrition” for RDs and RDs-to-be

This worrying, and obsessing—this age of nutrition information overload—has done nothing for our public state of health. If anything, it has backfired and produced an unhealthy population of dieters and disordered eaters.

The next time you catch a voice in your head saying “This is unhealthy!” please challenge it.

Unhealthy for whom? In what context? Think of your diet- or eating disorder-voice as the spokesperson for diet culture. It is trying REAL HARD to befriend you, to convince you to join its tribe. “Listen to me,” it says, “and you’ll be healthier!” It’s not right. Poke it—eat the pizza, if you want, and don’t worry or stress about it.


  1. November 10, 2017

    Great article!! I truly love food and nutrition and culture, but I definitely wouldn’t want that to be everyone’s only focus. There is more to life!

    Also, I listened to your podcast with Rachael Hartley and I went through a “rebrand” June of 2016. My website went from Monutrica (my name + nutrition, haha ) to Mind on Nutrition because I felt like hey, this [my love for nutrition] isn’t going away anytime soon and I feel like there is a lot about nutrition I can say!

    Thanks for podcasting & blogging :)!

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