If you’ve paid attention to my Facebook feed over the past few days, you’ve seen posts about Jordan Younger, Chocolate-Covered Katie, and Amy Kubal, R.D.

What do they share in common? Jordan’s abandoning veganism because of her anorexia. Katie’s “come out” as an excessive exerciser. And Amy’s shared that her lifelong struggle with disordered eating has once again reared its head.

Jordan, known as The Blonde Vegan in blogging circles, has added animal products back into her diet in the wake of her recognition that her eating had become problematic:

I started living in a bubble of restriction. Entirely vegan, entirely plant-based, entirely gluten-free, oil-free, refined sugar-free, flour-free, dressing/sauce-free, etc. and lived my life based off of when I could and could not eat and what I could and could not combine. There is nothing wrong with any of those things (many of them are great, actually!!) but my body didn’t feel GOOD & I wasn’t listening to it.

Does that sound crazy to you?

Similarly in her post titled “Coming Out”, Amy Kubal shares:

There were always rules around food – how much, what types, when I could eat – and exercise was mandatory. These behaviors and habits were my safeties, my coping mechanisms, the only things in my life that I could control – I didn’t know what to do without them. 

In the follow-up questions to what I have called a brave and raw interview, Amy shares that, despite being professionally known as a “Paleo dietitian,” she has introduced foods that are typically avoided by Paleo eaters, such as oatmeal, as part of her healing process.

Katie, unlike Amy and Jordan, battled another challenge, which she relates in a post directly addressing rumors that she is anorexic:

Although I don’t have an eating disorder and have always eaten well, I’m finally able to fully admit (to you and to myself) that I did have an unhealthy and excessive relationship with exercise that took a toll on both my appearance and mental health. I can see now that, although genetics played a role, it was definitely unhealthy circumstances that kept me so skinny. While I’d thought I was happy during those years and was technically healthy—with normal labwork, few sick days, and a good relationship with food—the over-exercising was sabotaging my efforts to gain the curves I desired. I wouldn’t allow myself to even entertain the possibility my beloved running routine could be the cause of my inability to gain weight.

I share all of these with you as a backdrop to this post which hit the internet yesterday. It’s from Melissa and Dallas Hartwig of It Starts with Food and Whole 30 fame, and contains this line:

White potatoes are now allowed on the Whole30 program.

Now listen, I am not going to bash Melissa and Dallas. Their work has changed lives. And I have highlighted one friend’s journey with the Whole 30 program on this very blog. I have great respect for what they are trying to accomplish:

Think of it (Whole 30) as a short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.

That is all good.

And, I recognize that for a subset of people, having the kinds of rules and restrictions that Dallas and Melissa outline is absolutely necessary. Some people need the type of structure that the Whole 30 program offers.

However, for another subset of people, “rules,” “restrictions,” and food “permissions” allow disordered eating to emerge or re-emerge under the guise of “health” and well-being.” (See Jordan and Amy, above.)

Consider this, from yesterday’s Whole 30 post:

Eventually, we arrived at a consensus. Potatoes of all varieties are in, but fries and chips are not. (This should not be a surprise. Fries and chips are about as Whole30 as Paleo Pop-Tarts.) We’ve updated all of our Whole30 program rules on the site, and our official Can I Have…? guide with the new rules, and some guidelines about “fries” and “chips.”

I mean, I cut my kids’ sweet potatoes into circles tonight before I roasted them. Would that be “compliant?” (I don’t care as we are not a Whole 30 family … my point is this type of “rule-making” can lead one down a crazy-making path, I think.)

Food “legalese” scares me.

It scares me with Whole 30. It scares me with GAPS, when folks talk about foods being “GAPS legal” or not. It even scares me a little when people refer to their food as “clean,” as if consuming certain foods make one impure which kind of takes on religious overtones.

I don’t think Whole 30, Paleo, veganism, raw foodism, 100% carnivorism or any other restrictive diet will convert a person into an anorexic. But I do think that people who struggle with disordered eating very often seek out rules and restrictions as a way to exert “control” over their diet and so a lot of people who are tending towards dysfunction find a place to hide in these eating systems. They find support, a tribe and a justification.

I was a sorority girl in Texas in the early 1990s … I feel like I could have earned an advanced degree in disordered eating after what I witnessed in college. What I know, as a result, is that disordered eating is a complex, thorny, extremely serious issue. Accordingly, I take great, great care every single time I post on this blog or to social media. I would never want my messages to be used in support of dysfunctional eating or exercising.

I think dialogue around this issue is so, so crucial and that everyone in the fitness, nutrition, and wellness industries would be well-served by reading what Jordan, Amy, and Katie have to say.

What are your thoughts? Do food “rules” help you achieve your goals of eating the way you want to eat? Or, do they make you neurotic, nervous, or unduly restrictive?

(The irony in this post? As some of you may recall, I avoid eating white potatoes. As a member of the nightshade family, they cause me excruciating joint pain. N=1, folks. N=1.)

5 Responses to “Rules, Regulations & White Potatoes”

  1. on 18 Jul 2014 at 2:16 pmKate K

    I’ve struggled with all of this for a long time… The yo-yo of “eating right” and “cheating” and my emotions and self-worth somehow being tangled up in how well I thought I was following my own rules. I went fat free 20 years ago, and I was totally dedicated. I imagine I’m still trying to detox some of those fat free kraft singles that I ate daily and proudly, thinking I was the healthiest gal in town. I’m slowly discovering that if I focus more on how I feel than how I look, I actually make much better decisions about my food.

    I think it’s interesting that the Blonde Vegan actually knew exactly what she needed to heal herself – the salmon. It was the permission to eat it that was the hurdle.

  2. on 18 Jul 2014 at 2:39 pmKristine Rudolph

    I thought that was interesting, too, on many levels. It recalled a conversation I had with a law professor whose wife was pregnant. I don’t remember what we were discussing but he said she was vegetarian, except since she got pregnant she really wanted chicken. So she ate it. I remember thinking that I hoped I was as capable as she was to listening to those cues and honoring them.

  3. on 18 Jul 2014 at 2:39 pmKristine Rudolph

    Oh, and I see your Kraft singles and raise you some Entenmann’s snack cakes. FAT FREE, baby!

  4. on 18 Jul 2014 at 7:58 pmSarah Morford

    I completely agree – I hate the terms, (and always have) “legal”, “clean” – etc. People cling to these ideas of what is good and what is bad, and it doesn’t allow you to live, or even experiment or be flexible. Another huge pet peeve of mine are the “paleo treats” – a treat is a treat. “Treats” take the place of other more nutritionally dense foods on your plate. That doesn’t make them bad, but them being paleo doesn’t make them good either. You need to balance treats with all of the other stuff.

    The white potato thing kind of shocked me — but then again, we ate sweet potato fries all through our Whole30 despite it being termed “sex with your pants on” — we love the texture of roasted sweet potatoes; I personally don’t see the difference between recreating pad thai with spaghetti squash and cutting a sweet potato into a fry shape.

    Anyway, I was fascinated with the news. And thought- wow, that argentinian beef I made for the world cup and then later fried up in a few tbsp of grass fed butter with a diced yukon gold is now “legal” – phew!

    Thanks for the post!

  5. on 26 Jul 2014 at 10:40 pmKristine Rudolph

    I love your comparison with the “pad thai.” If you pour marinara on spaghetti squash, will that make you beeline to the nearest Italian joint?

    And therein lies my biggest beef with this whole, “You can’t make it LOOK like a pancake (or fry) because then you will want to drown yourself in carbs” line of reasoning. If eating a sweet potato in the shape of a fry, or bananas and egg in the shape of a pancake really DOES set someone off and make them go mad for junk food, then that’s an issue that needs addressing. That’s an issue much larger than “clean eating” is going to solve.

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