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If you like fresh content on a subject I haven’t touched on before, you’re going to love this episode.
That’s because I’m chatting with Joelle Samantha all about orthorexia, which is an eating disorder that focuses on food quality and “purity.” With more people entering the fitness game every year and consumers becoming more conscious of what they put into their bodies, many people are paying more attention to what they eat.
For many people, this is a good thing. But with a greater focus on food quality, tracking food, and clean eating than ever before, and misinformation and fad diets abound, it’s not too surprising that orthorexia and other types of similar eating disorders are on the rise.
So, what causes orthorexia, how does it manifest in daily life, and what can people do about it? Joelle is here to help answer these questions.
In case you’re not familiar with her, Joelle has a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology and is an educator specializing in women’s health, nutrition, and physique development. She’s also a Legion Athlete, and the head coach and CEO of Level TEN, an evidence-based coaching company.
I thought she’d make a great guest to talk about orthorexia because she’s not only helped clients get through it, but it’s something she’s dealt with personally in her own life. Her own struggle with nutritional misinformation led to orthorexia, and is what inspired her to become the educator and coach she is today.
In this interview, Joelle and I talk about . . .
- What orthorexia is and its relationship to control and perfectionism
- How misinformation and an innocent desire to lose weight can spiral into orthorexia
- Over-exercising and working out purely to “burn off” small meals
- How to recover from orthorexia
- And more . . .
So if you want to learn what orthorexia is, how it can develop, and what to do about it if you think you have an eating disorder, listen to this podcast.
13:32 – How did the over exercising manifest?
42:30 – What helped you out during the recovery phase?
Mentioned on the Show:
Legion VIP One-on-One Coaching
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Mike: Hey. Hey, this is Mike Matthews. Welcome to another episode of Muscle For Life. Thank you as always for joining me today to learn about a subject that I haven’t written or spoken about really at all, I think, and that is, Orthorexia, which is an eating disorder that isn’t common in the body composition space, but is certainly the most common eating disorder that I’m aware of Among US fitness freaks.
And that’s because this eating disorder has nothing to do with how much you eat and there aren’t any clearly visible signs of it. You can’t look at somebody and suspect that they are orthorexic like you could expect they are anorexic. So what is Orthorexia? It is an unhealthy focus on food quality.
Purity. People who are struggling with Orthorexia will fixate on the quality of their food. They will insist that it must be organic or farm fresh or whole or raw or vegan or whatever, and they will be very inflexible in their eating regimen. For example, if they are faced with the choice of a food that they.
Do not normally eat a quote unquote unhealthy food or an unclean food, they will often choose to eat nothing instead, even if they’re very hungry. People with orthorexia will become emotional if they do break their rules, whether they are forced to or. They give in and then they feel guilty or they feel shame or even depressed.
Another symptom is cutting out entire food groups like carbs or sugar or gluten, right? The group of foods that contain gluten, meat, dairy, even processed foods, which is hard to do if going to be conscientious, if you’re gonna be really rigorous because many nutritious foods have been process. At least a little bit.
Every form of lean protein has been processed, at least a little bit. Any form of oil, like olive oil, for example, it’s been processed, oatmeal has been mechanically processed. Anyway, you get the idea, and I’ll stop babbling about symptoms because that is something that you are going to learn about in this interview, which I did with Joel Sam.
Who is a legion athlete and she has a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and she’s an educator who specializes in women’s health, nutrition and physique development in particular. And Samantha is also uniquely qualified to talk about Orthorexia because she has not only helped clients beat it, she has beat it herself.
It was something that she once struggled with and she talks about it in the episode and she was pretty extreme about it. She went from that to where she is today. And that ordeal actually is what inspired her to become an educator and a coach. And so that’s what Joelle and I talk about. We talk about what Orthorexia is and how it relates to wanting to maintain control and having a mentality of.
Perfectionism. She talks about over exercising and working out purely to just burn off the rather low amount of calories that she was eating. And of course, she also talks about how to overcome and recover from. Orthorexia also, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my v i p one-on-one coaching service because my team and I have helped people of all ages and all circumstances lose fat, build muscle, and get into the best shape of their life faster.
Than they ever thought possible, and we can do the same for you. We make getting fitter, leaner, and stronger, paint by numbers simple by carefully managing every aspect of your training and your diet for you. Basically, we take out all of the guesswork, so all you have to do is. Follow the plan and watch your body change day after day, week after week and month after month.
What’s more, we’ve found that people are often missing just one or two crucial pieces of the puzzle, and I’d bet a shiny shekel, it’s the same with you. You’re probably doing a lot of things right, but dollars to donuts, there’s something you’re not doing correctly or at. That’s giving you the most grief.
Maybe it’s your calories or your macros. Maybe it’s your exercise selection. Maybe it’s your food choices. Maybe you’re not progressively overloading your muscles or maybe it’s something else, and whatever it is, here’s what’s important. Once you identify those one or two things you’re missing, once you figure it.
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And if you’re not for any reason, we will be able to share resources that’ll point you in the right direction. So again, if you appreciate my work and if you want to see more of it, If you also want to finally stop spinning your wheels and make more progress in the next few months than you did in the last few years, check out my VIP coaching [email protected] legion.com/vip.
Hey, Joelle. Hey, Mike. . Thanks for taking the time to do this. I appreciate it.
Joelle: Yeah, of course. Thanks for having
Mike: me. Yeah. Yeah. I’m excited to talk about something that, it occurred to me when one of the guys who works with me was proposing some of the possible things you and I could talk about, and I chose this because it’s something that is a major issue and it’s something I haven’t spoken maybe.
Touched on it tangentially, but I haven’t recorded a podcast on it. I don’t think I’ve written yet. I haven’t written an article on it. And it’s something that probably the reason is, and this is orthorexia I’ll stop with the buildup probably. I was like, Why haven’t I actually. Dug into this. I’ve read a bit about it and I could probably give a superficial summary of it, and I could talk about some of the symptoms and signs and even some of the solutions that are in the literature that seem to work for some people.
But if I look over the years I’ve heard from and worked virtually with many people. But I can’t say that I’ve ever coached somebody through it. I’ve heard from people, usually women who have told me that they once had a problem with it. Now they don’t. Or I’ve heard from people who had a problem with it.
Came across something of mine, a book, an article, a podcast, and started to. Apply some of the stuff I’m talking about. And then they worked their way through it. And so they gave me some credit for helping, but I can’t say I directly was there to help. I just showed them, better ways to think about food and showed them how to improve the relationship with food and how to improve their relationship with fitness.
But again, I wasn’t there every step of the way and. , that’s why this topic stood out to me. And why I wanted to get you on the show to talk about it cuz you have your own personal experiences and then you have experiences working with others through your work. And so I just wanted to get a more firsthand explanation of what it is and some of the signs and symptoms and how it comes about and how you worked through it and how you’ve prevented.
Backsliding from lapsing back into it and maybe also how that has gone with other people you’ve worked with. Yeah,
Joelle: absolutely. I can definitely speak to my own experience. I will preface this with I am not a mental health counselor. My dad is a therapist, so I didn’t grow up with in, in home therapy, if you will.
But yeah, I mean my orthorexia journey, just to back up here, so Orthorexia. Technically, in a sense, a form of anorexia. So typically when we think of anorexia nervosa, we have people that are obsessed, preoccupied with their bodies, their weight, and typically a preoccupation with food quantity.
What’s a little bit different about Orthorexia is that there’s more so a focus and obsession, a preoccupation on food quality as opposed to food quantity. So I would say yes, most people with Orthorexia are wanting to limit their food and intake in some capacity, but more so what we see with Orthorexia is this obsession, if you will, with clean eating, which is often paired with over exercising.
So for me, this really. Personally didn’t stem from, years and years of body image issues or anything like that. I was always an athlete growing up. I played sports, went away to college my freshman year, gained about 30 pounds my freshman year because dining halls. And so when I went home for summer, I recognize, hey, like my shorts are tight, things aren’t fitting me, haven’t been working out as much.
Let me get back into the groove of things. And you take an 18 year old kid and you start Googling like, how to get abs this summer, things like that. And you’re gonna read all sorts of crap don’t eat fat’s bad for you and don’t eat carbs. Carbs are bad for you and don’t have fruit, there’s too
Mike: much sugar.
Or even vegetables now because of the scary lectins. Yeah. What happens if you. Picked and choose from these fad diets. There would be nothing left to eat. Just drink water until you die.
Joelle: Yeah, Basically. Basically. So this was call it 10 years ago. Okay. So there’s not really much talk of like maintenance phases or reverse diets or anything like that.
So here I am, an 18 year old kid trying to lose. The 30 pounds I gained in my freshman year, no clue. You know how to really do it the right way. Reading, internet articles about don’t eat carbs, don’t eat fat, don’t eat sugar, don’t eat salt, don’t eat egg yolks. And now I’m like, dang, this list is like really dwindling down
And so it started out as this list in, based on what I was reading on my quote unquote research with Dr. Google, the word research, right? Research right. Google search is not research people, but that’s a story for another time. So I, I started creating this list, not like a physical list. I didn’t keep a list sitting out on my desk, but this mental list of what I could have and what I couldn’t have, and that list got smaller.
Smaller and smaller because I thought in order to lose the weight, I couldn’t have carbs and I couldn’t have fats, and I couldn’t have sugar or salt or anything like that. And so this was in my college days. So then it became okay, now I don’t wanna eat at the dining halls because I don’t know what’s in their.
Food. I don’t know what they’re cooking it with. I don’t know how they’re preparing it. Is there extra oil in it that I’m not accounting for? And it’s, so it really became this obsession with this clean eating notion. And then there was absolutely an over exercising portion for me. And so I started to lose that weight and.
It just kept going and going, and it really wasn’t my intention to be skin and bones, like it was not my intention to lose as much weight as humanly possible. I just wanted to lose the weight that I had gained and get back to my athletic self. But there was just so much misinformation on the internet that made me.
Believe that this is what I had to do, this is how I had to eat. And if I wanted to be dedicated and if I wanted to lose the weight, I had to, be obsessed with clean eating, quote unquote clean eating. It just spiraled it got, way worse before it got better. And I think partially, something that we’ve seen with Orthorexia and really with a lot of other eating disorders is that perfectionism and.
Type A personalities tend to go hand in hand with a lot of eating disorders, anxiety, perfectionism, type A personalities, people that are very regimented and things like that. And so that is definitely me, but also me wanting to lose weight. That freshman year of college, or technically going into my sophomore year of college was also paired with a very stressful time in my life.
I wasn’t able to identify this then, but looking back, I was not getting along with my roommate at the time. That was really stressful for me and I couldn’t control it. I was, maxed out. I was doing a double major. Plus a minor. I was maxed out on credits. I was stressed to the max, couldn’t control how much work my, professors were giving me.
I was back at school about four hours away from home. My dad was just diagnosed with cancer at the time. And so there were all these things going on in my life that were very much out of my control. And looking back, I’m like, Oh, so you relied on food and exercise as the two things that you could control in your life.
So it just really ties into that major perfectionism. Aspect or that type, a aspect of needing control. And so it’s this chronic kind of fixation on food and exercise because it was like the one thing in my life at the time that I could have control
Mike: over. How did the over exercising manifest?
Joelle: I think partially it started from just wanting to get back into an exercise routine.
I was a cross country runner growing up, so you know, Initial intro to exercise was being a runner, I think like a lot of other people. And so I, when I wanted to start losing that weight, I just started running again, and then it became, I felt guilty for eating food, even if it was healthy food, that I would wanna go exercise every time I.
Eight. And man, I vividly remember I had a stocked, mini fridge in my dorm because at some point I was so afraid to eat dorm food because I wasn’t sure, how it was being cooked, how it was being prepared, how many calories were in it, things like that, that I was eating so much out of my own, dorm room.
With what was stocked in my mini fridge, and so I remember having baby carrots sitting in my mini fridge, and I remember looking up Googling how many jumping jacks and how much I’d have to run in order to burn off X amount of baby carrots. And so I’m literally like eating four baby carrots and then going on a run because there’s carbs in the baby carrots, and now I feel like I did something wrong.
Mike: a bit of a moment, really . Yeah. All right. This is now officially weird
Joelle: and we are at rock bottom . Yeah, so it’s, again, so much of this, you don’t see it when you’re in it. See it looking back and you’re like, Man,
Mike: Or maybe you just don’t wanna see it when you’re in it, right? We can all, I think everyone can relate to that.
Maybe we haven’t gone through that type of situation, but we all have, and unfortunately are still diluting ourselves, in at least little ways, no matter how hard we’re working at trying to deal with reality as it is, not as we wish it were. I
Joelle: also think. I like to think that now if I were in a similar situation, it wouldn’t play out that way.
I think part of the issue that perpetuated it, one was the control factor, but two, like I said before, there was no talk of like maintenance or reversing or anything like that. So the option was you dieted. And then there was no talk about what you did after that. So I think like initially I lost the weight, but then there was no like exit strategy at all that I was aware of at 18, 19 years old.
And so you just at that point had such a fear of regaining the weight that you just stayed doing what you were doing. You just stayed being obsessed. You stayed doing a ton of cardio, you stayed going to the gym twice a day. Stayed undereating and over exercising and only eating, clean foods.
And it, it got to a point where, man, I was probably like only eating protein and like maybe some green vegetables because everything else was terrifying, sadly. And now I like to think we do a much better job of educating people on the importance of maintenance, the importance of reverse diets, the importance of not staying at chronically low calories.
But I was a kid, I was a teenager, I didn’t know any, at the time, so there was no exit plan. You just stayed dieting until it got worse and
Mike: spiraled. And that mindset can be insidious too, because if you look at, I’ve written about this, I’ve spoken about this. If you’re gonna be just brutally honest about, What it takes to get and stay very lean.
Let’s say a guy under 10%, a woman under 20%, a woman in the high teens, right? You can of course, eat foods you like. Sure, and you can have some flexibility with your calories and with your macros, you can get away with intuitively eating so long as. Fairly active. It’s gonna be hard if you’re only doing a few hours of exercise per week.
But if you’re doing, I don’t know, five to eight hours or more of exercise per week, you buy yourself a bit more of a buffer. But you do have to, and I’ve told people because I’ve been staying probably, I don’t know, I’ve probably been on 9% body fatter. So for some time now during the.
I guess the covid, lockdowns, . But remember the two weeks to flatten the curve that turned into, Oh yeah, a year to flatten the economy. I don’t know. But in the beginning of it, I was doing my home workouts and I wasn’t driving to the office or the gym anymore, and I was like, Oh, okay.
I have a little bit extra time. I’ll just start doing some more cardio and I’ll just keep my meal plan the same. And that created enough of a deficit over the months. I lost, I don’t know, maybe eight pounds or so, got pretty lean and I’ve just maintained that. And it’s fairly easy because I don’t really care about variety and food.
I eat the same stuff every meal, every day. And it also is good for my work to look a certain way. So I’m like, Whatever, I’ll just do it. But I have explained to people that it does require a bit. It would appear like there’s a cost obsessiveness or almost o c d to just maybe the outside person who has never done it or who just doesn’t understand energy balance and doesn’t really understand any of the stuff that we do or why we do it.
And that I don’t think I have an eating disorder or any sort of disorder at all, at least there are no obvious symptoms of that. But I have explained to people. I do still have to watch my calories, even though I’m not weighing and measuring everything. Sure. Because I’m just used to the foods I’m eating.
I know what portions are like, and if I am going to overeat for a few days, once you get really lean, you start to see it fairly quickly. No, yeah. You know what I mean? And then that’s fine. If I’m gonna do that, like I was in Los Angeles, unfortunately, one of my. Favorite places on the planet . I was there for a week because my wife and I were building a house in Florida and a lot of the stuff that she wants in the house, the showrooms are there in New York, and we went there because her brother’s there, blah, blah, blah.
And so I was like, All right, we’re gonna go to some restaurants and I’m gonna eat. I wouldn’t normally go to a restaurant every day, five days in a row for dinner and just eat a bunch. But I’m gonna do it for fun knowing. I’m gonna have to cut back if I wanna I’m gonna notice a difference.
Unfortunately, I just will doing that just five days and then I’ll cut back on my food. And so that’s what I did. So this week now, I cut back a little bit and lost a little bit of fat that I gained over that period, and now I’m back to where I need to be. So my point with saying all that is just. To get to a high level of fitness and stay there, it does require some sacrifice.
It’s gonna require a different level of difference. Exactly. Like you can forget about going out to eat and just having a great time several times per week. It’s just not gonna work. You can forget about quite a few different foods that. Sure you could work them into your meal plan, but it’s gonna take up a lot of your calories and a lot of your carbs and fat and it’s gonna be very imbalanced.
You’re probably gonna be hungry. You’re, it’s, you’re gonna fall into with, I’m sure that this is I think this is actually one of the, one of the symptoms or signs there. Maybe not that somebody has orthorexia, but there may be an issue of obsessively saving up calories. Starving all day just so you can have your one big meal kind of thing.
And maybe trying to call it intermittent fasting . And so anyway, it’s just the behaviors that are needed to be and stay very fit if taken too far, it sounds can turn into
Joelle: this. Yeah, absolutely. I think it, it can just start out very innocently, like mind. It was never like, I’m gonna start starving myself to death until I become skin and bones.
Let’s just see how it goes. There’s no,
Mike: just call it a, Oh, it’s an N one experiment. Give it a scientific kind of flavor. Just experimenting.
Joelle: Just an experiment. ,
Mike: maybe I’ll cut off my head next and see what happens. I’ll
Joelle: definitely lose some weight if I do that.
Mike: This is clown rule.
After all, who knows . It did.
Joelle: It started out so innocently, it was never like, Oh, wow, I hate my body. I’m gonna start starving myself. I wasn’t so immersed in diet culture at that time. This was like very beginning. Instagram. We didn’t have Instagram the way we have it now.
You had Pinterest and ab workouts on Pinterest and stuff like that. This was like
Mike: the days of shreds, remember?
Joelle: Yeah. . Oh, I remember shreds,
Mike: Yes. The shreds phase of
Joelle: Instagram. Oh. Yes, The shreds phase, the shreds takeover. I don’t even know if they’re still around anymore, are they? Do you know? I don’t know.
Mike: I’ll try their website while you’re talking.
Joelle: Yeah, give it a go. I’m curious. But yeah, it started out so innocently I just wanna start getting in shape again. I’m gonna start running again. I started using my colleges. Weight lifting, just like the weightlift section of the gym started introducing myself to resistance training.
And before I knew it, I was working out twice a day. I was doing a lifting session, then I was doing a cardio session, and then every time I ate, I was going for a walk after because there was this, guilt about eating. And then, you know what really also started to manifest, I would say some anxiety, which is not something that I’m.
I chronically deal with, but man, food anxiety and social anxiety during that sort of point of orthorexia was major like, did not want to be with friends, did not want to go to any social gatherings, didn’t wanna go anywhere that I was gonna have to. Eat food that I didn’t prepare or have to explain to anyone.
So then it was going places and being like I already ate and then, being questioned about it. And so I really pulled back from a lot of friends, a lot of social gatherings. And it got to a point, like my second year of college, I moved out from my roommate into a single room. Started completely socially isolating because I just wanted to be able to control my food without being questioned.
And so again, looking back, I don’t think at the time I knew that I was like, Subconsciously socially isolating myself, but looking back, I’m like, Man, you stopped going out. You stopped seeing friends, you stopped going to the dining halls. Like I just wanted to be by myself and I could control my food and I could control my workouts and.
No one could say anything about it. And I don’t think anyone realized how bad it got until I’d go home for a spring break and my boyfriend at the time, who’s now my husband and my parents would see me and I’m, gaunt at that point, down the 30 pounds. And then some probably, in the eighties or nineties in terms of, weight and.
I go home, I’m lean as hell, I’m six pack shredded. So to me I’m like, this is great. Your ribs are pretty
Mike: shredded too,
Joelle: . Yeah. And was the other thing, like I, looking back at pictures, I’ll have to find you a picture of this, but looking back at pictures, it wasn’t like your typical.
I don’t know, anorexia a picture of like skin and bones. It was like a really lean, skinny bodybuilder that just did not have enough muscle density, like there was muscle on me. I had an eight pack, probably , but I was really lean. I had very little body fat, sick. I’d come home for break.
And my parents would be like, You’re too skinny. You’re not eating enough. And I’d be like, Who are you to judge what I’m eating when I’m the one with the six pack? And you don’t have a six pack. Yeah. Yeah. You like there was
Joelle: You sound mad, bro. On my shoulder. Yeah. There was this chip on my shoulder, like I’m the one with the six pack.
So clearly you’re the one doing something wrong with your food habits. I think I’m pretty okay. Like that’s how far gone I was. It’s wild. Yeah. It’s wild to look back at. And honestly, I know I mentioned before, Misinformation is for sure what perpetuated some of this, the fad diets and the restriction, but I think largely it was also a mis grave misunderstanding of like CCO calories in calories out, not really understanding even what a calorie was, or having any concept of energy balance at all.
There was a turning point when macros started circulating, if it fits. Your macros started circulating. I started working with a coach. And he was like picking up on my eating habits and my eating patterns and he was like, if you eat a Pop Tart, which was like a what, to at the time, that’s how it felt to me.
He’d be like, If you eat a Pop Tart and it still falls within the calories that you need per day, you’re not able to gain weight. And I was like, What? What have I been doing this wrong my whole life? So it was actually when I started working with a coach that introduced me to macros. Was I actually able to improve that relationship with food?
Which sounds a little bit counterproductive because I don’t necessarily think that tracking macros is a, is an instant fix to an eating disorder. But it just really helped shift my. Set of wait a
Mike: minute. Yeah. It was the reframe that helped
Joelle: you. It was just a massive reframe.
Okay, if I know I need 2000 calories per day and I could fit a scoop of ice cream into that, I won’t gain weight. Cool. Got it. And that was like, All right, so I can start to reintroduce some of these foods that I was so afraid to eat, because as much as we wanna say it’s an obsession with healthy, For me at least.
It wasn’t just that Oh, I wanted to put as healthy of foods in my body as possible. It was like I thought that only healthy foods could make me skinny and only unhealthy foods could make me fat, kind of thing. So it really was about reframing and educating myself. I like, how does the body actually work in terms of weight gain and weight loss?
Look, my whole Instagram started because I started sharing this journey. I started sharing my workouts, my food, and going through this journey and then working with a coach and everything that I learned, the more I learned in terms of like exercise science, which is now what my master’s is in more I learned about sports, nutrition, exercise, science, all of that.
The more I was like, Oh my gosh, like I felt this need to share it with the world because I felt like the internet did me so dirty that I was like, I just wanna share what I’m learning with everyone so that if I can prevent anyone from spiraling the way I. I wanna be able to do that, and that’s what Instagram became for me.
It just became this outlet to share education and knowledge about health and fitness and nutrition and all of that, because I just didn’t wanna see people spiral the way I did from misinformation on the
Mike: internet. Yes. Similar impetus for why I wrote Bigger Than or Stronger back in 2012. Yeah. That’s how it started for me.
I didn’t have any sort of compelling story like that. It was more just, Hey, I wasted my time doing a lot. These things that you read in body building magazines and here on the internet, and sure, I got a little bit out of it, but seven years took me from here to here. Not very impressive. Yeah. Then I learned about energy balance and I learned about macronutrients and I learned how micronutrients play into the picture as well.
Of course, food quality does matter, just not for the reason that a lot of quacks will say, oh, and I learned about progressive overload and I learned about compound exercise and blah, blah, blah, and here I’ll just put this together into a simple. System, and I’m not asking for a big leap of faith, just try this for a month and I think you’re gonna be happy with what for a month and probably should just continue with it at that point.
So I can totally relate to that. And with Orthorexia, So what I’m hearing basically is like of course eating healthy and. If we’re talking about flexible dieting, for example, getting the majority of your calories from relatively unprocessed, nutritious foods, there’s nothing wrong with that. And of course you had mentioned that perfectionism was a part of this, and perfectionism has no place in fitness.
I’m sure you’ve talked about that. I’ve talked about that a lot. It doesn’t have a place in most things in life, like sure, if you are engineering a bridge, Perfectionism. That’s what we need, . Yes, it matters. Yeah, it matters, right? But this game, the fitness game has a lot more leeway, a lot more wiggle room.
The consequences of slipping up here and there are just nil. They’re just negligible. So who cares, right? You just have to be mostly right. Most of the time. Mostly consistent. Yeah. Yeah. and just understand that there are going to be times when you eat a bit more than you wanted to, or maybe even a bit less than you wanted to, or you didn’t get in the gym like you wanted to, or you had a bad workout.
It happens to everyone. It’s totally normal and you just keep going. And so healthy eating is a good thing for. Saying that if we define healthy eating again as just eating a lot of nutritious foods, and that of course includes carbs, it includes whole grains, it includes foods with sugar, natural sugar, certainly like fruit added sugar.
Yeah, sure. Some foods with added sugar also have nutritional value. The nutritional value tends to go down there, of course, but it’s not a. An either or type of thing, but when it becomes a fixation, is what I’m hearing, that starts to negatively impact your life and it starts to dictate how you live your life.
That’s when it becomes more of a disorder type situation.
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Joelle: The level of fixation and like you said it’s almost like for me, I could almost compare it to an addiction. Not that I’ve ever had an addiction issue, but I think about, I used to teach health, so I’m pretty up to speed with teaching about addiction and things like that to high school health students.
Something that we talk about with addiction is, at what point does it become an addiction? And one of the things that we learned, have learned about addiction is that when it is negatively impacting other areas of your life, like that’s a big sign. And so I think you hit the nail on the head there, Mike, that with myself it was.
Avoiding social gatherings, refusing to ever eat out. When there’s other things looking back like I was always freezing cold and my hair was falling out and I lost a menstrual cycle entirely.
Mike: Yeah. Maintaining an unhealthily low level of body fat. I’ve talked about that too. Some people have asked, why don’t I.
Stay super shredded. Yeah. And you’re like,
Joelle: if you wanna destroy your thyroid and your fertility and everything else. Sure. Yeah.
Mike: The only way to do that to, as a guy just year round, be five, six, 7% body fat, a real five, six, 7%, which is almost stay to be on PDs. Yeah, exactly. Is to take drugs. And so if you don’t take drugs, you’re gonna be miserable all of the time.
Anybody who wants to hear a bit about that experience. I don’t remember the title of it. It’s gonna be something about Natural Body Building prep. I interviewed Eric Helms some time ago, who I actually do believe is natural for a number of reasons. Not just because he says he is, but I’ve been friends with him for a while and just looking at his, Progress with his physique and I actually do believe that he is natural and he has discussed here on the podcast what contest prep as a natural bodybuilder is really and absolutely awful.
Toward the end he was saying that the only time he felt good and. You could say all physically, but no, it’s also psychologically, emotionally. So the only time he felt good was, I think he said for maybe about an hour after he got to eat food. That’s it. . Otherwise no energy, so bad. He said that sometimes the idea of getting off the couch.
It was just almost like daunting. Yeah. Yeah. Almost like overwhelming. That’s how bad it was toward the end. And yeah, he got super shredded and, strided glutes and stuff. And it’s cool for what it is. If you’re into that,
Joelle: you’re like, cool for a plastic trophy. Awesome.
Mike: And hey, I have some respect for people who are willing to suffer that much for something that actually is objectively meaningless.
It’s just to see if they can do it. And so I do actually. I admire that a little bit, but that’s what we’re talking about now. That’s probably more like 4% body fat, but you get a shade of that. You start to, you are certainly like underwater. You haven’t fallen into the Mariana Trench yet, but you’re sinking when you’re da.
Joelle: or so. Yeah. I find it tends to be even worse in women just from a fertility standpoint. I don’t know. I’ve just seen so many times in clients, like the bounce back from men being super lean typically is a lot faster than the bounce back from women being super lean in terms of like menstrual health and fertility and things like that.
Interesting. But yeah honestly, client. We reverse diet, probably 99% of the women that come to our company because we find most women are coming to us drastically undereating. And we’re like, Do you recognize that this is like your, P C O S or your hormones or your hypothyroid, or you’re missing a menstrual cycle, like we gotta feed you.
But we have just like perpetually pushed.
Mike: I’ve seen very cyclical dieting where the problem is undereating. It’s almost like a binge and purge it. It’s a little bit different. It’s a little bit more structured. Where you basically starve yourself all week. I’ve seen this with not just women, but oh, and then the weekend binges to earn a restaurant meal or two, which really isn’t even necessarily a binge.
It’s okay, you had an appetizer and you had a protein and vegetable entree, not even a. Cheesy pasta or something, and then you had a small dessert that you begrudgingly almost ate. And this was your, that was your big sheet meal that you starved yourself all week for. And so that scenario can result in a net calorie deficit or even a net, even though almost it’s like a dysfunctional kind of maintenance if it’s played out over time.
Because in my experience, I’ve seen this where people have done that and. They’ve lost weight. Lost weight, and then they’ve counterbalanced that with something that looks a bit more like a binge weekend, and then the, okay, so their weight comes back up. But those couple of days of additional calories per week, let’s just say that’s what someone’s doing, five or six days of a pretty significant deficit, one or two days of slight surplus.
And it maybe is balancing out. Sometimes one week it’s a net deficit. The next week it’s a net surplus, and so it’s again, like a dysfunctional maintenance. Unfortunately, that’s still like 80% in diet mode. That’s not enough to reverse the negative effects associated with regular calorie restriction if it were the other way around, I’ve actually done that and I’ve recommended that.
Intermediate and advanced weightlifters who want to try a kind of quote unquote lean gaining approach, or they call it main gaining or something. Oh yeah. I think I just came across what it’s like main gaining. I was like, Oh, okay, whatever. But the point is, yeah, the point is a slight surplus five days a week on your training days, and then a normal deficit on the two weekend days to try to lose a little bit of the fat.
I’ve done that myself for some. I feel like
Joelle: usually you’d see it the other way around with a matador approach of five low days, two refeeds, or two weeks on, two weeks off kind of thing with your deficits and maintenance phases.
Mike: But totally, no, I’m not even saying that’s the best way of going about it.
It’s just one way of going about it. Yeah. That it’s not stupid on its face. It’s not just clearly a bad way of going about it. I think it’s probably a point of personal preference, but anyways, I just wanted to mention that I’ve seen it where it looks. More like a Oh, so you’re cycling your calories, but not really.
Again, it’s gotten to a point where it is getting in the way of your health, getting in the way of your workouts, of your social life, because it’s okay, Monday through Friday I see nobody and I just obsess over my. Little rabbit food meals, and I’m googling how many calories are in the celery so I can go for a run.
And then on the weekend weekend I’m gonna go to the restaurant and then my friends are gonna see me order the appetizer and the entree and the dessert, and they’re going, Wow, look how much he or she is eating. And they’re so lean. Oh wow. What the how,
Joelle: yeah. You don’t know what’s happening behind
Exactly. Something else you mentioned that I just want to quickly comment on is there’s the weight body comp obsession, and I’ve also seen the health obsession as well though, where somebody is talking about the pesticides and on the hormones and the preserving Yeah, on the fruit. Exactly. Exactly. Or they think they have all these food sensitivities or even allergies, so they have to avoid the eggs and whatever, or the
Joelle: peas and no eggs, no dairy, no gluten, no eggs, Exactly.
Mike: Nothing inflammatory, obsessing over how the food is prepared, like in a restaurant saying, Oh, can you make sure they just spray the oil on it? I just don’t want oil. Those, I’ve seen those kinds of things because the vegetable oil, it’s inflammatory. There’s so much bad information in that way as well.
It has nothing to do with body comp. It’s just. Health wise. Yeah.
Joelle: And I think I certainly don’t wanna come on here and demonize healthy eating. Yes. When we’re talking about orthorexia, we’re talking about this preoccupation with healthy eating. And we’re not gonna sit here and say healthy eating is bad for you.
Like we should all be shooting for diets that are majority, nutrient dense diets. But there’s a fine line, there’s a line between what’s healthy, avoidance and what’s like moderation. Balanced approach to avoiding non nutrient dense things, or inflammatory foods. So I think, it’s hard to dictate what that fine line is.
I think it’s different for different
Mike: people. A simple test, I think, for foods and what I tell people is, I talk about, I can address. The common myths of the pesticide myths. And I actually, I mostly eat organic foods because I think they usually taste better. That’s actually the primary reason, particularly fruits and vegetables.
Like I actually notice a difference usually, but I also don’t mind reducing my exposure to certain chemicals. I don’t mind paying more money to do that. I’m not concerned if I have to eat conventional food, but I don’t think that’s a bad idea. And the hormones in dairy, A myth period. And I’ve written and spoken about that and a lot of the food sensitivity stuff and food allergy stuff out there is mostly a myth.
Sure it’s a thing, but not as common. Just like how gluten-free zealots will tell everybody that gluten is messing them up. No, it’s not true. Some people, yes, some people know, but a simple test is if you eat a food, I don’t care what it is. And you physically feel bad now. Not morally, not Oh, I’m a bad person because I ate a bad food.
But you get lethargic or you just don’t feel good. Than just stop eating that food. And if you don’t look into it any further than that’s totally fine. If you’re not inclined to spend your time trying to figure out why eggs make you feel bad, then don’t. Just don’t eat them. And that’s, I think that’s a perfectly reasonable way to tailor your diet if we’re talking about which foods are quote unquote good for you and not, I think it’s
Joelle: also important to note that, in reference to the gut health and elimination diet side of things, if you did notice something like, Eggs seem to really bother me.
They’re not sitting well, digestively or I feel really lethargic after something like that. And you say cut out eggs. When we talk about elimination diets, this is just like a totally different topic that we don’t have to dive into, but they’re supposed to be a reintroduction phase. You are not supposed to eliminate those foods and keep them out for the rest of your life.
Mike: about this in the context of the carnivore diet. This is a great elimination diet. Meat is well tolerated by most people. So you are getting rid of everything that could possibly cause problems, but then you’re not supposed to stay
Joelle: there. You have to bring them back in at some point. And especially when you think about something like the carnivore diet, where like they don’t want you having any fruits.
They don’t want you having any vegetables. It’s
Mike: Yeah. I just, I’ve written about it. I’ve spoken. It’s so nonsensical. That is It just does, it
Joelle: doesn’t even sound healthy to me.
Mike: And to use a trendy term, it’s anti-science. But it actually is, there is a tremendous amount of evidence that if you want to be healthy, if you want to be vital, if you want to, and you live a long life, you want a variety of foods.
Yeah. You want to eat a lot of plant foods, like that’s it. There’s just no way. It’s non-negotiable. It’s like energy balance. It’s
Joelle: non-negotiable. I think we’re seeing that with like gut health trends too. Gut health is like a huge thing right now and I’ve had my own kind of issues with gut health in the past.
But we know that a healthy gut is a gut that is getting a variety of food sources. Tons of fiber, minimally processed food, and our gut health makes up I think, a lot more of our health than people realize. But yeah we have to be having diverse diets. We want nutrient dense diets. We want psychologically to have the balance of Hey, go out to ice cream with your family and your kiddos one day.
Like it’s not gonna kill you. But it’s so important to have that balance. And I almost hate to say the word balance because. Think it looks different for everyone. Sometimes balance is, making the smoothie and or having the salad and sometimes balance is having the cookie, so it’s definitely a nuanced word, but I think it’s so important for people to find that level of moderation between nutrient density and, psychological freedom of food.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah, I agree. And so now let’s shift the discussion toward the recovery from this unhealthy obsession you shared. What has worked or what did work for you. Is there anything else that is worth talking about in your experience? Having worked with a lot of people, because you had mentioned, and for example, that learning to count macros may or may not.
It. And for you it was more about understanding. Has that been the theme among the people that you’ve helped through the same issue?
Joelle: I think so. I think so for sure. I think anytime we see someone you know that does not have a great relationship with food, first of all, your relationship with food is not gonna get better in a deficit.
Pretty much ever . So something that we often encourage is if your relationship with food sucks, it’s probably time to take a little bit of a diet break because no one’s relationship gets better with food, the stricter they get with their diet. It’s just, it’s literal. Opposite, these work inversely with each other.
So I think something that when we see like a preoccupation with food like that, sometimes we have to have that person stop tracking macros because that’s where some of their preoccupation is coming from. But I think education plays a huge role. I know that it did for me. I know that it has for, lots of clients that we’ve worked with in just, in terms of bettering their relationship with food and exercise is if we can help people to.
Stand, how to make a logical educational decision as opposed to an emotional decision when it comes with, to their food choices. And of course, easier said than done, but if we can explain to someone, the topic of energy balance or the topic of calories in versus calories out, or maintenance, or the negative consequences associated with long term dieting and the cost of, getting ultra lean.
For me it was a. Education component. That was a part of my recovery. And then I think, I’m always a huge fan of therapy. My dad is a therapist and a social worker, and so I , I grew up with a lot of free therapy and I think that therapy is always, counseling and therapy is always really great for people.
I think everyone should be in counseling, but I think that played a big role as well because it, it was my dad who started to point out to me the things like, this is a control thing for you, part of your type A stuff, this is a control factor for you. You had all these things going on in your life that you couldn’t control and food and exercise became things that you could control and could clinging onto for a sense of control in your life.
And I don’t think without kind of a counseling brain or therapy brain working alongside me, I don’t. Think that I would’ve recognized those patterns and those behaviors in the same way. So I think education is a really big component. I think possibly stepping back from dieting is a really important component and slowly, one at a time, Reintroducing foods that you once feared.
Typically in eating disorder community, these are called fear foods. And you’re encouraged to reintroduce, call it once a week or once a month, or however much you can tolerate reintroducing a food that you are once too afraid to eat. And I remember like reintroducing a Pop tart for the first time, reintroducing ice cream for the first time and being like, Oh my God.
I forgot what I was missing. .
Mike: I had a moment like that when I was eating low calorie ice cream for a while. Cause I was like, Oh, I want to eat the whole pint and that’s cool. It’s 500 calories. It’s not that bad. Whatever it, I can deal with it. There were one or two I found that I would still say now are okay.
They’re not anywhere close to the real thing, but they’re okay. So I was eating those local calorie. I didn’t like the Arctic at all. I couldn’t find any of those that I liked. I think there were one or two Halo tops or enlightened that I found. And then eventually I was like, Eh, all right, I’m gonna, I’m gonna see what I’ve been missing here.
I’m gonna see how desensitized I’ve become. And so then I had, I think it’s Jenny’s is the brand and. Wow. I learned my lesson there. So now if I’m gonna eat ice cream, it’s gonna be the real thing. And maybe I won’t eat the whole pint. Maybe I will. Depends on, , what am I doing and how I feel the next day.
Yeah, exactly. But , , that’s my silly version of that. Yeah.
Joelle: Look, if there’s anyone that’s listening that, you feel like there is an underlying eating disorder, I mean something, a place that I would always refer people to is, National Eating Disorder Awareness website, Nita and E d a, I think it’s dot com, it might be.org.
And they actually have an eating disorder screening test on their website. And that’s something that I often refer people to if they feel like, is this me? Is this an underlying eating disorder? Does this apply to me? I definitely recommend checking out, that site and even taking this sort of eating disorder screening and seeing if this, is a perpetual issue for you in terms of coaching.
We can’t coach people with active eating disorders. It would be illegal, and immoral for us to take people. We refer out in situations like this, which on one hand feels so heartbreaking because it’s I wanna be able to help you and you hate turning people away, but an eating disorder is a mental.
Like depression, like ocd, like bipolar disorder, anxiety. These are mental illnesses. Eating disorder has less to do with the food and more to do with a psychological issue. It’s a mental illness. It’s a diagnosed mental illness. So if you are someone that is struggling with this, I greatly encourage you to find a therapist, specifically one.
Does specialize in eating disorders because that would be a huge step in the right direction. I think people’s first, response when they hear something like this is to hire a health and fitness coach. But probably what would do a lot more good is finding a therapist
Yeah, no, that makes sense. Whatever. You don’t go to shreds. Which still exists, by the way. Their deals of the day are, it looks like it’s the same. Oh, for men and a test booster. Yes. There’s the test booster for men. Yeah. There we go. Fat burner. And there’s the BCAAs, Fat Burners and glutamine. That’s one of the most useless proprietary blends I could think of, actually.
Joelle: Glad to see they’re still at the top. .
Mike: I love capitalism. Still pushing quality products. Exactly. But yeah, no, that’s good advice. And I would add to anybody, maybe if they don’t have the money to hire a coach of any kind right now, or maybe that there’s just a lot of resistance there. Coming back to this point of education, I would suspect that there’s a lot of good educational material out there specifically for this.
Like I think of how your dad helped you and Yeah, theoretical. You could have read that in a book or listened to that in a podcast. It just depends on who is speaking to you and how willing are you to let them in and listen to them. And because it was your dad, he was able to influence you.
Whereas if it were somebody. Else, maybe you would’ve just brushed them off.
Joelle: You do, You hear it differently from different people, so you know, hearing something from a therapist versus your mom versus your friend versus your significant other, versus a book, you might hear it differently from everyone.
Mike: ways, the messenger is the message or is inextricably tied up with the
Joelle: message? Unfortunately, yeah. It’s hard. You don’t hear it when you’re in it and it’s really easy to feel mis. Stood when you’re in it, cuz you’re like, No one gets me. Everyone thinks I’m like so obsessed, but I’m just healthy.
It’s so easy to get defensive until you get one little, like one little shred of an outside perspective that you actually catch yourself and you’re like, Oh, that doesn’t seem, that doesn’t seem healthy. That seems a little disordered. The jumping jacks after the carrots, one ray
Mike: of sunlight and comes through.
Joelle: it’s kinda good that, those rock bottom moments. I’ll never forget, my mom will never let me live this down. Her mother passed, if this was many years ago, but, In the prime of my eating disorder. And I walked into the funeral, my mom’s doing the eulogy and I’m sitting there eating out of a Tupperware, my whatever, prepped food because I had to eat every three hours.
It had to be from my own Tupperware and my own prepared meal. And there I am sitting at my grandmother’s funeral. My mom is doing the eulogy, eating out of. Fucking Tupperware. That’s and I will just, that’s
Mike: one of those just forever cringe moments. And I understand I can think of forever cringe moments when I was young and thought I had everything figured out as well.
I don’t try to avoid them per se, but whenever I think about them, it’s, I just cringe a little bit every
Joelle: time. I I hear that. There is hope. That’s the good news, . There is hope, reach out. Reach out and find help wherever you think you’ll get it best. Whether that’s from a therapist or a book or confiding in someone.
I definitely encourage people to seek that continuation of balance and moderation in their life because it’s, you can’t live like that forever. It’s
Mike: torture. This was a great discussion. Thanks again for taking the time and let’s just wrap up with her. People can find you and find your work and reach out if they would like help with maybe just improving their body composition.
Joelle: absolutely. My Instagram is Joel Samantha, first name and middle name. Don’t DM me and say, Hey Samantha, I will just block you, man. It kills me when people do that. Why’d you skip the Joel?
Mike: I get Hey, Matthew.
Joelle: Sometimes this good. Oh, it’s so odd to me. Anyway, Joel, Samantha on Instagram and a coaching company that I own is called Level 10 Coaching.
T e n, not the number. T n is an acronym for training, education and Nutrition. There you go. So level 10 coaching.co is our website or at level 10 coaching on Instagram is our company Instagram page. So yeah, you can find me there. Mostly where I am right now until I start diving into my own podcast and YouTube and whatnot.
But for now, mostly Instagram is where I am. Great. Awesome.
Mike: Thanks again, Joel.
Joelle: Yeah, thanks so much for having me,
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