I have been seeing some disturbing rumblings in food news lately and they have to do with one word – Orthorexia. The recent buzz really started with this book => Breaking Vegan. So good or bad, whether you like the book or not, it is bringing out an important discussion.
What is Orthorexia?
Orthorexia Nervosa is a term for an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. According to National Eating Disorder Association, it is not an officially recognized eating disorder but it shares the characteristics of eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.
Anything can be taken to the extreme and healthy eating is no exception. I think a healthy diet is so important and I do think about it a lot because I like to share it with you but there is certainly a point that healthy eating goes too far. Living in fear of eating foods that are “bad for you”, refusing to eat out with family and friends because that will not follow your diet, you punish yourself or feel self-loathing for eating something that is not a part of your diet… these are all products of an unhealthy relationship with food.
I read a story about woman who started out trying to change her diet for health issues and progressed so far as to limit her diet to 6 “safe” foods. In Jordan Younger’s book Breaking Vegan she chronicles taking her vegan eating to super extremes and the toll it took on her body. If you are living off only vegetables and juice, that is not a good sign.
That Cannot Be Me
Unfortunately, the difference between just wanting to live healthy and having an unhealthy obsession with food is a very fine line. Many people do not even realized they have crossed that line until there are serious health problems that cannot be ignored any more.
My dear, dear friend Christine was so honest to share a look at how thin that line can be on her blog Eating for Eliza. What started out as a good experience with the Whole30 program turned into too much worry about bad foods and pant size.
“Maybe you should eat Whole30 permanently. Who cares about birthdays and date nights and treats with the kids? You look awful when you’re not on Whole30. Stay a size 4, that’s what’s really important.”
“Oh no, DON’T eat that chocolate! You’ll never be able to stop and then you’ll break out and have a headache and you’ll look bloated tomorrow!”
I am so glad she recognized this in herself and that she was willing to share it with the rest of us. It just shows how it can sneak up on you until you realize you have gone too far. Now I am not saying that being vegan or doing the Whole30 program will give you an eating disorder. As long as you have a balanced approach those can both be healthy.
Finding the Problem
“Ok I might be a little obsessed so what’s the big deal?” Disordered eating can cause malnutrition, guilt, self-loathing, anxiety, etc. It is a big deal and it is important to get help if you need it. Here are some questions to honestly ask yourself:
- Do you feel in control when you are eating the “right” diet?
- Is the nutritional value of your food more important than you enjoying it?
- Do you spend more than 3 hours/day thinking about your diet?
- Do you always look for ways that food are unhealthy for you?
- Have you given up foods you enjoy to eat the “right” foods?
- Do you feel guilt when you stray from your diet?
- Do you feel like you cannot enjoy 1 meal served by someone else unless you control what is served?
- Has creativity, joy and quality of life decreased as your diet has gotten “healthier”?
If you have answered yes to most of these questions, you should seriously consider talking to a health professional about Orthorexia. The National Eating Disorder Association has a free phone or online chat helpline that can get you started if you do not now where to turn for help.
Healthy eating does not have to run your life. There is a balanced approached to a good diet.