Break the Rules: Freedom from Healthy Eating (Orthorexia)

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Written By

Lauryn

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Orthorexia 1080X675 1 | Break The Rules: Freedom From Healthy Eating (Orthorexia)

75% of people are disordered eaters—at least according to a survey conducted by Self magazine and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in 2008.

There’s no telling what the numbers say today, but with the continued focus on weight loss, Instagram food and diet porn, and conflicting information out there (ex. beans, butter, rice, eggs: good vs. bad), I reckon this statistic still remains accurate.

Notice I did not say: “75% of people have diagnosed eating disorders.”

Rather they have a fuzzy relationship with food—and rules.

  • Binge episodes

  • Frequent purge techniques (vomiting, overexercise, laxitives)

  • Feeling guilty for eating grains, dairy, FODMAPs, or some other food they “shouldn’t” eat

  • Avoid fats or carbs

  • Counting calories or weighing and measuring food obsessively

  • Sticking to rigid food schedules and times

  • Constantly seeking to “feel light” and cleansed

Sticking to a ‘healthy lifestyle’ can be tricky (and conflicting).

Especially when there are sooooo many varying philosophies out there.

What do you listen to? How do you know what ‘true health’ is?

  • Your vegans keep it raw.

  • Your paleo-friends are walking billboards for the “It’s Bacon!” commercials.

  • The vegetarians tout feeling whole through whole grains, dairy, meat-substitutes, nuts and seeds, fruits and veggies.

  • The body builders and gym rats stick to “egg whites only”, chicken, broccoli and whey protein powder for breakfast, lunch and dinner—with a touch of splenda for flavor.

  • The runners down the baby-food gel packs, rice bowls, and bananas for carb-sourced fuel.

  • The ketogenic adherents slug back organic coffee beans stirred with grassfed butter and MCT oil for breakfast, followed by greens and steak, chicken, or eggs for lunch and dinner.

  • Your intermittent fasters abstain from eating until noon most days, reporting they’ve never felt better in their life—like a euphoric high of amazing digestion!

  • Your low-fat chronic dieters try to make Weight Watchers, or Jenny Craig, or calorie-counting, work for them; living off of Lean Cuisines, baby carrots, low-fat diet products, bars, shakes, and small portions—time and time again…with no long-term success.

  • And your real-foodies eat, well, real food. Nothing packaged, processed, refined or contaminated with unnatural ingredients.

With soooooo many ‘healthy ways’ of eating, it’s no wonder we’re all confused with the ‘right way’ for taking the best care of ourselves.

So what do you do?

  • Step 1: You try out a diet or eating-philosophy.

  • Step 2: And you jump on the bandwagon.

  • Step 3: You become a believer. You seek out community in your experience; You find ‘your people’ —reading blogs, writing blogs, joining a group support team or finding an accountability partner.

  • Step 4: And you’re ‘all in.’

But what happens when you go ‘all in’—and over the edge with healthy eating?

Orthorexia.

EATING TOO HEALTHY

Orthorexia is a buzzword that’s gained more awareness in mainstream media lately.

Essentially: an ‘eating disorder characterized by the obsession with  eating foods one considers healthy.’

In and of itself, healthy eating is NOT a bad thing—after all, that’s a topic many of my blogs and nutrition therapy practice is all about (empowering others to lead healthier lifestyles).

However…when does ‘healthy eating’ go overboard?

And how do you walk the fine line between ‘obsessive’ and ‘self care’?

 Answer: Being anywhere you aren’t 100-percent happy and engaged is not good for the soul.

ONLY YOU KNOW

Only YOU really know where your heart and head lie when it comes to food, your body and fitness.

NO ONE else can really determine what is a “healthy” choice for you or an “unhealthy” choice.

I for one could relate to having struggled with that ‘healthy’ diet mentality in my past and this is what it looked like for me:

  • Packing my food in my suitcase (sweet potatoes, cans of tuna, frozen turkey burgers even!) when I would travel

  • Overthinking how every single thing I ate made me feel

  • Working off any calories I consumed in order to have a fit and healthy ‘balanced’ lifestyle

  • Associating my own morals and virtues with my food choices (good vs. bad)

  • Never feeling completely satisfied or fulfilled after meals

  • Finding a sense of accomplishment or achievement in my diet

  • Feeling ‘stronger’ than others for sticking to a clean diet

  • Obsessing over my grocery list

  • Food was the ‘center’ of my thoughts and agenda around my daily schedule

  • Not allowing myself to eat anything other than what I had planned

  • Bringing my own food to restaurants, and having the waiter plate it for me

  • Calling restaurants ahead of time to ask if they could prepare my food a certain way

  • Studying restaurant menus to figure out my meal before I got there if I was going out to eat with friends

  • Making excuses to avoid eating out

  • Becoming extremely anxious before meeting a friend or date before eating at a restaurant

  • Reading recipe blogs and blogs about food for hours on end

  • Thinking (and obsessing) about my next meal and meal plan day in and day out

  • Feeling extreme guilt if I so much as tasted a bite of something not approved by my clean eating regime

  • Getting overly excited for each and every meal throughout my day—my time of nourishment

In other words: Eating was a chore, as well as a mind and time suck (lots of thinking and planning involved; lots of rules).

ORTHOREXIA VS. HEALTHY EATING

The DIFFERENCE in fueling your body with whole foods, eating for health and orthorexia is the BALANCED mindset.

As a general practice, it means aiming for a nutrient-dense balanced meals, including proteins, veggies, fruits, a variety of fat fats, water, and some starch throughout the day…but if it is NOT PERFECT, you don’t freak out.

GETTING OVER IT

If you can relate to any of these thoughts or behaviors…you are not alone.

Orthorexia is a highly socially acceptable “diagnosis” this day in age where health consciousness is the holy grail and oxymoron of the other end of the spectrum (diabetes epidemic, obesity, etc.).

How to get over that hump?

First…Breathe.

Food is not a game of perfect—nor should it be.

Two—Remind yourself: a little dirt never hurt (more so for your mentality more than anything).

Three—In order to get over all those RULES, RULES, RULES in my head…I instead began to shift my thoughts to positive-minded thinking: asking, “What would healthy me do in this situation”?

  • Avoid the party? Or go and at least nibble on something you could feel comfortable eating?

  • Call the restaurant ahead of time, or simply show up?—knowing there are going to be options!

Isolate myself to eat my meals…or engage with others around meal times, at least a handful of times throughout the week?

What would truly ‘healthy’ (i.e. balanced) you (and me) would do in almost any situation?

EVEN if you don’t think you are depriving yourself of anything (you probably are not craving Big Macs and Frosty’s when you are in this mentality)…ease up on yourself for those moments when…

  • The hotbar food at Whole Foods just so happens to be cooked in a bit of canola oil

  • Or, the organic strawberries at the market are not as fresh looking as the non-organic

  • You don’t really know if you can trust the ‘organic’ chicken on the menu or not

  • You order a steak at the restaurant, not listed as “grass-fed”

  • You can’t afford organic everything

  • You eat some popcorn or a few chips and salsa at the football watching party

  • You decide to ‘stray’ from the rules or guidelines of a particular dietary philosophy you’ve adhered to religiously (for instance: on paleo, you decide, for you, some oats, yogurt, a protein shake, or beans, can fit into your diet…or if you’ve been a vegetarian for years, you decide that fish and eggs perhaps can be a part of your diet after all)

  • You have no idea what’s going to be served at Aunt Ida’s for Thanksgiving, but you decide to just go with the flow—perhaps bring a dish or two you know you love, but you don’t have to bring the whole spread

  • You’re in the grocery store—debating whether cashews are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for you (are they more like peanuts and legumes or nuts?) and basing your decision on what Google says more so than what you really want (i.e. just buy the darned cashews)

You get the picture.

STOP THE NOISE

Want to stop the noise, but don’t know how?!

That was me too. And today, I work with clients both in Austin and via distance 1:1 sessions to stop the “healthy eating” confusion and get on living your life—no diets or overthinking needed.

I meet you right where you are…and help you get to where you want to be.

Book a free consult today to find out how, or schedule your initial appointment

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