Five years ago I was in a very different place with food; one that was characterized by rules, and feelings of guilt and shame if I didn’t follow them.
Eating clean is one of the best things we can choose to do for our health. But, when it morphs into an obsession, it becomes a disordered relationship that takes from our health instead of giving to it.
What is Orthorexia?
Literally translated to mean, “fixation on righteous eating”, orthorexia is a term that was coined by Dr. Steven Bateman to describe his own experience with an obsession around healthy heating. Although it’s not officially recognized as an eating disorder, it mirrors them in that it’s motivated by control, escape from fears, wanting to be thin, or poor self-esteem.
How Does it Start?
Orthorexia typically starts out innocently as an attempt to get a healthier, eat better, or lose a bit of weight. Somewhere though, this way of eating becomes a point of fixation, and a constant struggle for more control, to be better, or to deal with “failures” by way of internal punishment.
What are Some of the Signs of Orthorexia?
Those that are suffering from orthorexia are fixated on the purity of the food consumed. They feel a sense of control when they stick to their “correct diet”. When food is consumed that is perceived to be inferior in quality, an orthorexic will experience feelings of guilt, self-loathing, or a lack of control, setting the stage for forms of internal punishment, or binge eating. Thoughts on food take up the majority of an orthorexics time, and they may often avoid situations, like drinks with friends or dinner at a restaurant, leaving them feeling isolated or alone.
But isn’t Eating Healthy a Good Thing?
Yes! Eating healthy is one of the best ways to support your health and avoid disease, but for an orthorexic, their diet often becomes so restrictive that it’s impossible to maintain, and leaves them constantly teetering on the edge of control. Due to their fixation on food quality, social relationships begin to suffer. Thoughts on food become all consuming, to the point where it is often difficult for the person to gauge hunger on a physiological level.
How Can Someone Get Help?
The first step to getting help is for the person suffering to admit there is a problem; that their relationship with food has become more than just eating healthy but rather has taken on a disordered element. There are many motivations behind orthorexia (control, body image, poor self-esteem). So, the best course of action from there is to talk to a trained professional. Someone who can help identify, and understand the root cause, and give the person strategies to begin to heal.
Being on the Other Side
Recovering for orthorexia doesn’t mean living an unhealthy lifestyle or giving up on healthy foods, but rather having a different relationship with what you put in your body. Thoughts around food become less consuming. Additionally, there is more of an appreciation for what your body needs versus rules. Self-esteem improves, and there’s no longer the need for avoidance strategies, or social isolation.
Maintaining a healthy diet becomes a piece of who you are, not the entirety.