I hope everyone had a happy and safe Memorial Day holiday yesterday! It’s always nice having the day off work to enjoy festivities and BBQ’s but of course it’s important to remember those who gave their lives so we can have the freedom we enjoy today. I admire their bravery and am forever grateful for our fallen soldiers.
We live in Senoia, GA, a town outside of Atlanta and enjoyed the small town festivities there. A parade, lots of really good southern food along with family and friends to celebrate with made it a wonderful afternoon. A traditional southern BBQ was a great way to wrap up the day- full of hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, mixed drinks and ice-cream cake. It’s always nice to let loose a little and enjoy greasy foods and sugary desserts and drinks. I love to eat healthy, but I live for those cheat days! Even though I eat a balanced diet, every now and then that balance goes out the window- just for a day- and then I go back to my normal way of eating.
For some, it’s not so easy to just take a cheat day or to allow themselves to enjoy foods made for them by their loved ones. Being a healthy eater is of course wonderful and can positively impact your life in a number of ways. I think that our nation is finally starting to make a shift away from fast food and soda to a “whole foods” approach. Fast food restaurants are catching on to this trend and offering healthier items on their menus. Soft drink sales are at an all-time low and have been steadily decreasing over the years. More and more people are attempting to eat “clean”- avoiding gluten, artificial sweeteners and flavorings, added sugars and non-organic foods. Veganism is on the rise and diet plans like Paleo and South Beach (Mediterranean-style) have become extremely popular. I don’t necessarily recommend these eating plans although they typically result in the individual making healthier food choices. Of course these shifts usually lead to a positive impact on health and this is a wonderful thing, especially if these changes can be maintained. In some cases the desire to be healthy can be taken to a level of obsession which in turn manifests signs of disordered eating.
Those who have an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy (or “pure”) may be suffering from orthorexia nervosa. Unlike bulimia or anorexia, orthorexia is not currently recognized as a clinical diagnosis and the person suffering from it is not fixated on being thin or losing weight. Orthorexics are focused on food quality and purity to an extent that results in a very rigid way of eating and can ironically cause nutrient deficiencies if the diet becomes too restrictive.
I like this definition given by Dr. Steven Bratman who originated the term orthorexia in 1997, “a disease disguised as a virtue.” Dr. Bratman wrote in his 1997 essay, published in Yoga journal:
“Orthorexia eventually reaches a point where the sufferer spends most of his time planning, purchasing and eating meals. The orthorexic’s inner life becomes dominated by efforts to resist temptation, self-condemnation for lapses, self-praise for success at complying with the self-chosen regime, and feelings of superiority over others less pure in their dietary habits. It is this transference of all life’s value into the act of eating which makes orthorexia a true disorder.”
This does not mean that eating healthy is a bad thing. It only can become a bad thing if it becomes all-consuming and self-esteem becomes wrapped in the purity of your diet. How can you tell if you may have orthorexia? Here are a few of the symptoms and warning signs:
- It’s hard to function in society and you feel socially isolated. This is largely due to having obsessively check and see if a food is prepared by the “pure” standards you’ve put in place. You may avoid going to functions where there is food because the food served doesn’t fit in the rigidness of your eating plan. You may not eat anything other than what you prepare in fear of ingesting an ingredient that is “off-limits.”
- You may think your way of eating is the only right way to eat and feel superior to others because of it
- You spend an excessive amount of time thinking about pure foods and how to make your diet even more “clean.”
- You constantly look for ways that food may be unhealthy for you and constantly cut foods out of your eating plan
- You feel in control when you keep your diet clean
- Love, joy and work take a backseat to eating the perfect diet
- You feel fulfilled from eating “healthy” and lose interest in other activities you once enjoyed
While the term “You are what you eat” is true, food is just one small aspect of life. If your life becomes consumed by eating only healthy foods, you may miss out on building relationships and engaging in activities that bring you joy. Health is multi-dimensional and nutrition is just one part- you can certainly have a healthy diet while enjoying yourself as well!
If you or someone you know is exhibiting the signs of orthorexia, early intervention is crucial to prevent it from turning into a full-blown eating disorder. This can not only save a life, but can prevent years of struggle with disordered eating. Eating disorders are serious and raising awareness is important to recognize the signs, triggers, causes, and treatment. Visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ for more info.