I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for a while now! So here it is! Orthorexia Nervosa. What is it and how you can avoid it.
“Orthorexia nervosa is not currently recognized as a clinical diagnosis in the DSM-5, but many people struggle with symptoms associated with this term.
Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.” An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.
Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating. Eventually, the obsession with healthy eating can crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships, and become physically dangerous.” By Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LD/N via National Eating Disorder
“Orthorexia is an emotionally disturbed, self-punishing relationship with food that involves a progressively shrinking universe of foods deemed acceptable. A gradual constriction of many other dimensions of life occurs so that thinking about healthy food can become the central theme of almost every moment of the day, the sword and shield against every kind of anxiety, and the primary source of self-esteem, value and meaning. This may result in social isolation, psychological disturbance and even, possibly, physical harm.” To put it another way, the search for healthy eating has become unhealthy.” Steven Bratman, MD, MPH via Orthorexia.com
When you first begin your health journey you will go through a little bit of it, it’s only natural. You Learn about GMO’s and vow to NEVER eat out again! You turn your nose up at anything that isn’t organic. You search for only the best of the best of the best food there is on the market. Pasture raised. Raw. organic. non gmo. Unprocessed. These are some of the labels us health conscious people know all too well. It’s normal to begin to scrutinize every label and wonder what is lurking in our food. While I am a firm supporter in healthy living, supporting organic farming and eating great quality unprocessed food, I do believe it can consume many people’s lives to the point of being unhealthy.
“Do you have orthorexia? Ask yourselves these questions: Do you turn to healthy food as a primary source of happiness and meaning, even spirituality? Does your diet make you feel better than other people? Does it interfere with relationships or work, friends or family? Do you use pure foods as a sword and shield to ward off anxiety, not just about health problems but about everything that makes you insecure? Do foods help you feel in control more than really makes sense? Do you have to carry your diet to further and further extremes to provide the same kick? If you stray even minimally from your chosen diet, do you feel a compulsive need to cleanse? Has your interest in healthy food expanded past reasonable boundaries to become a kind of brain parasite, controlling your life rather than furthering your goals?” via Orthorexia.com
My approach is a holistic one, in that it is not JUST the food you put into your body that can affect your health. SHOCKER!? WHAT!? It’s true. While I do believe we need to fuel our bodies with great quality whole food it should not consume your life to the point it is ALL you think about and it overtakes and becomes an obsession. What you are eating should not cause you stress and anxiety, which is not good for your body at all! You can learn more about the mind/body connection and your health here. Keep Calm and Eat On! I love food. I always have and always will. I love GOOD food. I also enjoy having a treat every once in a while too. I NEVER restrict myself of any food. I eat it all as long as the food doesn’t bother me. But I do have to say that I wouldn’t sit there and eat an entire box of cookies, or gallon of ice cream or bag of candy, or whatever it is. That is also not good for you. SELF CONTROL & BALANCE! That is very important. I will gladly eat a bowl of ice cream without guilt if I truly wanted it. And I will enjoy every bite of it and savor the flavors. While some of you may need to avoid eating certain foods due to health reasons or maybe you don’t feel good eating a certain food, or maybe you are sensitive or allergic to a particular food, that is a different matter. I applaud you for listening to your body and allowing food to be your medicine and sticking to it! You are a true inspiration. Keep up the great work! For the rest of us I say, Keep Calm an Eat On! Listen to your body and feed yourself real whole food. Any kind that you like. Without guilt, stress or fear.
There are so many different dietary theories out there it can become consuming going through each one trying to figure out “THE RIGHT WAY” to eat. This usually causes people to yo-yo diet and become super extreme and create a poor relationship with food. What you really need to do is figure out what food is right FOR YOU, which is where a whole foods elimination diet for a small period of time can come in handy. Stop looking at what the latest trends are. Go back to the basics, listen to your body and enjoy the REAL food that God created for us, enjoy a treat on occasion and have a healthy relationship with food.
Now, if you have health issues or a weight loss goal in mind then you do need to be more conscious of the foods that enter your body, but not super commando style to where it may turn into an issue (aka orthorexia nervosa, or even another eating disorder). Your goal should be to create a healthy lifestyle that you can stick with for life. Not just do a crazy diet to fit into your bikini for the Summer and then balloon back up during the Winter. Not just say you are going to cut out ALL “unhealthy” foods for LIFE and then binge on a box of donuts one day because you are craving them. What should you do instead? Simply begin incorporating real, whole food that YOUR body feels good eating and begin crowding out the processed junk and ease your way into a healthier lifestyle. Eat a treat if you feel like it, just not every day. And be gentle on yourself.
Now does this mean to go out right now and eat an entire box of cookies just because I said to enjoy a treat?! That’s not what I am saying at all. lol But you should not be afraid to eat a few cookies every once in a while (as long as you feel ok eating them) and want some. Just don’t eat them ALL THE TIME! And don’t feel guilty for eating them either. And PLEASE don’t call it a “cheat day.” While I am not advocating you eat cookies everyday, I want you to have such a good relationship with food, that you treat you body well most of the time and feel ok if you want to splurge sometimes. Make it a lifestyle. Not a “diet.” Maybe it’s not cookies you are craving. Maybe it’s french fries, ice cream, candy, or some other thing many people view as “unhealthy.” Whatever it is, the story behind it is the same. Have some if you’d like, just don’t eat it ALL THE TIME! And again if your body cannot handle these treats or you really would rather not eat them then by all means you should not eat them!
While some people may view me as a health nut and I may still bring my own kids healthy snacks places and pack lunches it does not mean I will NEVER give them non organic food or treats. There is a balance and that is what I want to teach my kids. A healthy lifestyle. Not a “diet” and I definitely don’t want them to get an eating disorder. There is a time for celebratory food and there is a time for good real food. Finding that balance is key. And teaching it to our children is even more important then ever. I am a huge advocate of teaching others to make healthy choices, to eat real food and keep the treats for special occasions. But Orthorexia Nervosa? It’s not something you want to have.
“So let’s keep a sense of proportion: If you prefer to eat mostly organic, preservative- chemical- and antiobiotic-free foods (as I do!) and think that many overly processed foods are not foods at all (as I do!) it still doesn’t mean you have to follow those principles 100% of the time. That’s just perfectionism, obsession, orthorexia.
Trying to be perfect will make you crazy, in diet as elsewhere in life.
Lighten up a little. Be gentler with yourself. Food, no matter how pure, cannot fill the space in your soul that longs for love and spiritual experience. If you are trying to use it for this purpose, you may have gone astray on your journey. “ –Steven Bratman MD (He wrote a great post about it and I couldn’t have said it better myself). Learn More about Orthorexia Nervosa HERE on his website.
How about you? Have you experienced this in your life?