Post #40 Orthorexia...Taking Healthy Eating Too Far!
In Podcast Episode #37 Tami tells about Orthorexia - The "Other" Eating Disorder.
Losing Weight and Eating Better are the two New Year’s Resolutions that seem to show up on everybody’s lists, year after year. When fulfilling this resolution becomes an all-consuming passion, it may be orthorexia.
A quick moment about NYR’s:
As you know, I don’t believe in resolutions because close to 80% of all New Year’s Resolutions fail! They’re the only promises we make, that we expect not to keep…and they’re the promises we’ve made to ourselves!!! They often don’t work because we’re starting with the premise that something is wrong with us, that we’ve failed in some area of our lives, and we’d better fix it. So every time you even think of your NYR, or worry if you’re keeping up with it, you feel shame and guilt.
In 2020, the new buzz is on having a “Focus Word” like BREATHE if you’re someone who stresses first-thinks later and some meditation would do you good. Or maybe your word is FAMILY if you’re reminding yourself to unplug the whole family from tech in the evenings. The idea is to go with the positive, super-simple word or phrase that puts you in a good mindset. It makes you WANT TO take the best steps toward your goals.
Now back to today’s topic:
We’re all pretty familiar with the nervosa eating disorders Anorexia and Bulimia.
Anorexia is usually characterized by these basics: Yes, I know there’s much more to it.
• weight loss or lack of proper weight gain in kids due to very controlled eating
• distorted body image
• compulsive exercise
• severe restriction of calories
• deep fear of gaining weight regardless of failing health
• being small-sized or “looking emaciated” is NOT how you tell!!!
Bulimia usually characterized by these basics: Yes, Dear. I know.
• recurring episodes of binge eating/feeling unable to stop eating
• recurring episodes of fixing the binge…vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, excessive exercise, or unhealthy fasting
• these behaviors happen at least once a week for at least 3 months
• distorted body image
• food hoarding & private eating
Orthorexia Is a Little Different
While the term has been around since 1997, (”ortho” just means right or straight), it’s not even considered a stand-alone diagnosis yet. It’s often tied to other disordered eating or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Orthorexia is the unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. And “healthy” can be a very loose term here. Many times orthorexics aren’t even concerned with losing weight! They start with the best of intentions, but a fixation will set in that’s way more than being dedicated, it’s truly pathological.
Jordon Younger is a great example. She’s was The Blonde Vegan, a social media star who’s veganism was not only her brand & career, but it was also ruining her life and health.
So What Are the Signs?
• Food must be perfect and pure. This is about QUALITY, not quantity. The very concept of healthy is twisted and extreme.
• Self-imposed Food Rules, whatever they are, may or may not even be beneficial. Lookin’ at you, Potato Diet! Malnutrition is often the result.
• Food Rules are strictly followed or major anxiety will be triggered…think extreme Paleo, Keto, etc. then followed by a panic attack, rage, or deep depression because a rule was broken.
• Food Rules may change frequently, either jumping from one diet to the next or eliminating whole food groups at a time, even if they were on the “healthy list”. These changes might happen because a new study says a food is bad (mercury, arsenic, inflammation), and consuming that food moderation will never do.
• An irrational level of control of what foods are offered and how they are prepared must be exerted in every situation. For example, they won’t eat or will bring their own food to a restaurant if they can’t ensure all the veggies are organic.
• Every waking thought is about food and it directly affects their mood.
• Taking Supplements becomes a new religion because the restrictive eating is causing malnutrition or digestive issues.
• They cannot get off of their nutritional high-horse. Of course, there’s a sense of pride that comes with doing what you know is healthy for your body. It’s when
I’m not talking about people with severe food allergies here. If someone can have a severe medical reaction to certain foods, then Hell Yeah! be vigilant. This is also not about short-term, aggressive changes to correct a health issue. I’m talking about daily, long-term, obsessive, self-imposed restrictions in the pursuit of health.
Anorexics will often cook, bake, and feed others. And it’s often the most high-sugar, high-fat, crappy-carbs meals you’ve ever seen! They’ll stuff others with the foods they deny themselves. The praise they receive for having such willpower against junk food is like a badge of honor.
Bulimics will often want to binge in private. They may eat some of their foods or what others would consider “unhealthy foods” with people around because their praise reward may be, “I don’t know how you stay looking so fit and you eat all this crap!” If a bulimic has a binge partner, then eating massive quantities of food can be a bonding experience. The purging is usually more private and secretive, especially if praise for looking good is involved.
Orthorexics, however, are often just as obsessed with how other people are eating as they are for themselves. They’ll list the calorie, carb, fat, and protein breakdown of everything on somebody else’s plate. Then back it up with some smug, harsh judgments. They will constantly compare themselves to various influencers and then feel the need to post every shot of their perfect foods and rigidly-maintained bodies. And there’s no joy in this.
So many: malnutrition, anemia, abnormally slow heart rate, digestion problems, electrolyte and hormonal imbalances, metabolic acidosis, hair loss, muscle loss, impaired bone health, guilt, self-loathing, depression, anxiety, cognitive issues, isolation, and compulsive behaviors! Many of these conditions can have long-term, irreversible consequences.
What About Treatment?
Yes, treatment is available, but because it’s a bit harder to identify and treat the disorder, it’s recommended that a team of specialists (doctor, psychologist, and dietitian) be involved. Recovery is basically trying to replace someone deeply held thoughts & feelings about certain foods with real facts. It’s deprogramming a self-directed cult member. Also, there’s not a lot of documentation of which treatments have been the most beneficial. Funding is needed for more research and best treatment protocols.
So, it’s the New Year Year, you’re trying to lose a few pounds, get healthier, and you want to make changes…does that mean you’re an orthorexic? Probably not. The best tip is to take a look at your emotions. If you’re so rigid in your food rules that you cannot dine without being in absolute control, if others hate to eat around you because you constantly criticize what they eat, if you have any of the side effects listed above, or if your thoughts are always about food, consider talking to a health professional. And don’t be easily dismissed just because they aren’t familiar with orthorexia. If you don’t feel good, or you see these signs in someone else, Keep Speaking Up Until You’re Heard!!!!