December 21, 2010 § 14 Comments

Orthorexia. Have you heard of it?

It’s a term coined by Steven Bratman, an alternative medicine physician who decided to put a label on the un-healthy obsession with healthy eating. Despite sounding quite oxymoronic – can excessive health really be unhealthy? – I thought it was fitting to talk about in a community of healthy living bloggers in the lead up to perhaps the most notoriously indulgent time of the year.

Here is a quote from Bratman’s original article, found here.

“Many of the most unbalanced people I have ever met are those who have devoted themselves to healthy eating. In fact, I believe some of them have actually contracted a novel eating disorder for which I have coined the name “orthorexia nervosa.” The term uses “ortho,” meaning straight, correct, and true, to modify “anorexia nervosa.” Orthorexia nervosa refers to a pathological fixation on eating proper food.

Orthorexia begins, innocently enough, as a desire to overcome chronic illness or to improve general health. But because it requires considerable willpower to adopt a diet that differs radically from the food habits of childhood and the surrounding culture, few accomplish the change gracefully. Most must resort to an iron self-discipline bolstered by a hefty dose of superiority over those who eat junk food. Over time, what to eat, how much, and the consequences of dietary indiscretion come to occupy a greater and greater proportion of the orthorexic’s day.”

Unfortunately, this sounds all too familiar, I won’t lie.

Are you giving yourself the gift of health this Christmas? Or are you paralysed by obsession?

An unfortunate side-effect of spending countless hours researching nutrition, is a shift in the balance away from eating to live, and instead fixating on the notion of living to eat. I myself am guilty of this black and white, good and bad mentality when it comes to food, sparked by my increasing interest in the benefits of a clean diet, veganism and especially raw foodism. Especially since undertaking my raw food experiment last month, I feel I have become altogether too consumed by eating ‘properly’ and more prone to extremes and excess in my diet. With my birthday just passed, and Christmas around the corner, I find myself falling harder if I happen to eat unplanned food, or that which doesn’t fit in to the healthy-eating ideal.

Why am I telling you this? Because I suspect it is a problem for many people out there, and can go unnoticed until it becomes seriously unhealthy and debilitating.

If we are eating for vitality and longevity, I believe the secret is not in the minutiae of what we ingest, or the perfection of our eating plan, rather it is a combination of all aspects of our daily practice – overcoming stress and expressing happiness and gratitude topping that list.

Mealtimes can be a struggle for people with orthorexia.

In fact, in the much-quoted Deepak Chopra book ‘Ageless Body, Timeless Mind’, he delves in to the commonalities between centenarians – those living to 100 and beyond, with surprising results. Did these men and women live lives characterised by strict rules and penitence for culinary wrongdoings? No. Actually, the common link was moderation. These people reported that they ate neither to excess or restriction, enjoyed all food groups moderately, engaged in regular exercise and generally lived average, happy lives.

I personally think that our quality of life rests more on a foundation of mental stability and spiritual contentment than it does on the finer details of our diet. That is not to say I am suddenly dismissing the benefits of clean, unprocessed food. Ohhhh ho ho ho no. I am merely exploring the possibility that allowing yourself a little more grace, as Kate over at Green and Juicy recently put it may be key to living a happier, healthier life.

I admire those people such as my Nan, a fine specimen of youthful vigour at 80+, who embody this philosophy; confident in their choices at all times, allowing themselves dessert and balancing it with an easily maintainable, healthy dietary standard.

Achieving this peaceful balance may seem simple, yet I know I struggle to embrace the spirit of moderation.

I thought it may be helpful to list some personal motivations for healthy living, with strategies for implementing more balanced behaviour:

  • I want to eat my ideal diet (free from most animal products, processed foods and chemicals) because it prevents chronic illness, promotes vitality and FEEELS AMAZING!
  • Eating consciously and taking time to examine the sources of my food helps support local farmers, enhances it’s energy and nutritional value and promotes compassion towards other living things.
  • Superfoods help me achieve new goals in health & fitness and meet my daily requirements for vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They kick the asses of free-radicals and give me that warm, beta-carotene glow.
  • I want to enjoy food made with time and care – if that means eating a large portion of my Grandma’s sponge cake, so be it.
  • I want to set an example for others – healthy food is delicious, satisfying and exciting.
  • I also want to make sure that I allow myself to eat what it is I truly crave – eating smaller amounts of foods shunned by health extremists, more frequently, is better than out-of-control gorging on cookies because I’ve become overly restrictive. Similarly, I don’t want to eat junk ‘just because’ – most of the time I would infinitely prefer one of my own vegan concoctions. Force of habit?
  • Lastly, I don’t want what I eat to rule my life. Having a food blog may be an issue in this case, but I am determined to focus on balance, not perfection. Being a perfectionist may also be an issue in this case :P.

Personal posts are always hard to publish, and I hope that by being open about my own crazy foibles, I can help people understand that there is no ‘perfect’ way to eat or live; there is merely a constant evolution of our principles and motivations on the road to achieving balance and contentment.

Oh, and because it lacked some, please find attached <humour>. 😀

What are your thoughts? Do you think food bloggers and healthy-living enthusiasts are in danger of suffering from orthorexia? What are your motivations and strategies for living a healthy, balanced life?


§ 14 Responses to Ortho-what?

  • Jacci says:

    Sounds pretty familiar. Though my “healthy living” plans are usually thwarted by the BF, who keeps me in check and bribes me with some hot buttery garlic bread from pizza hut. Whenever I eat it I remember it never tastes as good as i thought it would..but it never stops me from reaching for that second (third, fourth) piece!

    • bonne_santé says:

      Hahaha men and their pizza. Pretty sure it’s considered a primary food group for my boyf!
      So true about the taste – it’s never as delicious as you’d hoped, yet it holds a strange allure. I try and use these times to remind myself that healthy food ACTUALLY tastes better, and makes your gut happy too 🙂

  • Lindsay says:

    I’m really glad you posted this, as it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot lately — how to eat in this new-to-me healthy way that feels *so* good, and fit in the unplanned without feeling *BAD* or guilty that I did something I shouldn’t do.

    Thanks for your open & honest post. Love it.

  • Jjaci says:

    Interesting, news to me but it makes sense…I feel so conflicted, either way it’s almost wrong to be on a side. I know it’s wrong to eat mostly bad foods, but it’s also bad to eat all healthy and then judge the people who eat mcnuggets everyday. Moderation was never my forte, especially considering my perfectionism tendencies. I need to be all in, or not, and the little things aren’t enough to get me by.

    Knowing there is now another form of eating disorder out there for what I always assumed to be the healthier people…it just makes me feel dizzy!

  • Thanks for posting this Katie. I can relate on so many levels! I am SUCH a sucker for all or nothing (perhaps because I certainly used to fall into the ‘nothing’ camp far too often). Moderation is definitely not my forte. I think you’ve got the right approach my friend, and admire you for sharing 🙂
    PS I so agree about the never tasting all that good anyway…I swear I am badly addicted to cakes and cookies! Ugh. A pox on you refined sugar.

    • bonne_santé says:

      If I am ‘all’ and you are ‘nothing’ then perhaps we could combine to make one balanced human being?
      Sugar has a magical hold over me too. Ugh. Must visit dentist to remove irritating sweet tooth.

      • I used to be ‘nothing’, now I’m most definitely ‘all’. So together we’d be two ‘alls’ – probably not good!
        oops sorry for spelling your name wrong before, that’s how I used to spell mine

  • Yep it does sound too familiar, I try to do my best at moderation. I do go through periods were I am obsessed over eating healthy, but I honestly think I rather worry about that than something else. Although it still is best to keep things light and fun, especially around food 🙂

  • paijery says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I can definitely relate in so many ways. I LOVED reading your motivations. 🙂

  • bonne_santé says:

    Thanks girl! I think its great that we can all sympathise & help each other out 🙂

  • aubrey says:

    This post is amazingly true for me thank you for posting!

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