Nutritional Bypassing

 by: Jennifer DiGennaro

We live in a fast-paced world with so much information coming at us. It is easy to get stuck swirling in it. The number of diet, lifestyle, and spiritual self-help books in existence and being published consistently is staggering. In my experience in working with others who are stuck, researching, and reflecting on my own journey, I want to put a name to what I see emerging that weaves together the concepts of spiritual bypassing and nutritionism.

In defining spiritual bypassing, John Welwood, a psychotherapist and visionary who bridges the relationship between psychotherapy and spiritual practice, explains this bypassing as the "tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks." Spiritual bypassing is a way people stay stuck. 

People also get stuck in nutritionism. I first learned about nutritionism from Dana Sturtevant and Hilary Kinavey, trailblazers and founders of Be Nourished. They explain that nutritionism "causes people to make food decisions solely from the knowledge in their head (put there from so-called “experts,” the media, etc.), while completely ignoring the body’s innate wisdom and the meaning of food."

While taking into account the concept of spiritual bypassing and layering it with the ideas of nutritionism, as I carefully considered what I had seen in myself and others working with intuitive eating and reading case studies, a very potent picture began to take shape in the form of what I am calling nutritional bypassing.

Nutritional bypassing is an attachment to the idea that by eating certain foods, we can reach our highest potential on all levels. From another angle, nutritional bypassing is an attempt to use food and ways of eating to ease deep suffering that ultimately does not have roots in what, or how, someone eats. It is true, in some cases, that eating a certain way or certain foods may alleviate symptoms or support personal health goals that is not the same thing as psychological growth and healing. No amount of eating whole foods or the "right" foods will sort-out unresolved emotions, process trauma, sooth relational wounds, address dysfunctional thinking, or repair developmental deficits.

For some people engaging forms of disordered eating includes an on-going, over-focus on nutritional answers to their pain. There may be a seemingly never-ending search for relief in various ways of eating, or spending great amounts of energy and time experimenting with what foods to eat in an effort to address the dis-ease rooted in, often unconscious, psychological suffering. This is nutritional bypassing in action, which if not addressed could possibly deepen into serious mental disorder, fixation on righteous eating called orthorexia, or life-threatening eating disorders.

I suggest that when we can name and eventually let go of nutritional bypassing when it is occurring; we can set down the quest for certainty in eating and also set down the attachment to food as the thing that will be our gateway or savior from psychological pain.

It is by setting down the focus on food for a while, that we can begin to truly heal our relationship to food and eating. It can feel counter intuitive in a culture that is full of nutritional fear mongering and fatphobia to take the main focus off food. But, unless someone is in the small minority of people who are in the middle of managing a life threatening food allergy or serious medical condition, setting down the focus on food, while they heal on a deeper level, will not do great harm. For some, this may take the help of a team of competent treatment professionals.

Ultimately, when healing begins to unfold, there will emerge a greater ability to listen to the wisdom of the body. As our trust in our body, and our whole self, deepens, we can start to notice an increased ability to know what foods give pleasure, nourish, and fuel our unique bodies from the inside out. There is less struggle and more trust. 

This profound, transformational work can take time. The paradox is when we finally acknowledge and let go of nutritional bypassing, we can pave the road to becoming truly empowered around the ways we chose to nourish ourselves with food based on our own experiences, preferences, knowledge, and authority. 

Are you a woman interested in setting down a focus on nutrition in your life to create more space to embrace your body's wisdom? Get more information about a powerful short-term process group for women to do just that.