For individuals who appear to be the epitome of healthy eating, there may be more than meets the eye. Here’s some food for thought if you might be wondering: “Have I gone too far?”
For years, most people had a very narrow image of what an eating disorder looks like: a skeletal young woman, wasting away without food.
Not a bubbly, happy, healthy and athletic appearing, or even larger-bodied woman who gleefully shared pictures of her salads and green juice for the world to see. But behind the filters, she had restricted her food to vegetables, fruits, green juices and occasionally whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
The obsession wasn’t with getting thin, it was about getting pure.
It has long been recognized among eating disorder specialists and dietitians that people, men and women, are suffering from more eating issues than just anorexia and bulimia. Some have names, like binge eating disorder, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, and orthorexia. Others struggle with combinations of emotional eating, obsessive calorie and macronutrient counting, and chronic dieting. These struggles may sound less severe because they aren’t starving in a hospital, but they are still in pain.
One of the challenges in helping people who are struggling with disordered eating get the treatment they need is the fact that disordered eating is so common. In fact, one study found 75% of women have disordered eating behaviors.
In our society, it has become totally normal to talk about dieting, good vs. bad foods, extreme exercise and body hatred like you would talk about the weather! But just because disordered eating is common, doesn’t mean it should be considered benign.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating healthfully or making a conscious effort to eat more healthy food. The problem comes when those efforts are detracting from your overall physical and mental health, and quality of life.
Not sure if your health-conscious eating or exercising is verging into disordered eating territory? Take this 10-question quiz, developed by Dr. Steven Bratman, who coined the phrase orthorexia, to find out.
1. DO YOU SPEND 3 OR MORE HOURS A DAY THINKING (OR TALKING) ABOUT FOOD?
Thinking about food is normal. Obsessing about food is a problem.
2. DO YOU PLAN YOUR MEALS IN ADVANCE?
There’s nothing wrong with meal planning or prep. The problem is when planning comes from a place of control and turns into an exercise in crafting the “perfect” diet.
3. IS THE NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF YOUR MEAL MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE PLEASURE YOU RECEIVE FROM EATING IT?
Nutrition should play a role in your food decision making, but taste and pleasure should be the main factors.
4. HAS THE QUALITY OF YOUR LIFE DECREASED AS THE QUALITY OF YOUR DIET HAS INCREASED?
When you’re obsessed with your food nourishment, it’s hard to have energy or make time for the other things in life that nourish you – friends, relationships, self care, sleep, hobbies.
5. HAVE YOU BECOME STRICTER WITH YOURSELF LATELY?
First it was sugar, then dairy, then white flour. As you layer on more food rules, fewer foods are considered healthy to eat until your diet gets to the point where it is nutritionally inadequate.
6. DOES YOUR SELF ESTEEM GET A BOOST FROM EATING HEALTHFULLY?
Do you feel morally superior because of healthy eating? Being a healthy eater is considered a positive trait in our society, but your self esteem may take a hit the second you veer off track.
7. HAVE YOU GIVEN UP FOOD YOU USED TO ENJOY IN ORDER TO EAT THE FOOD YOU THINK IS RIGHT?
We all have foods we love that might not be health-promoting, but are nourishing in other ways through provoking pleasure, nostalgia, or social connections.
8. DOES YOUR DIET MAKE IT DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO EAT OUT, LEADING TO ISOLATION FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY?
Would you cancel plans with someone if they picked a restaurant that couldn’t cater to your nutrition needs? If the thought of breaking your food rules is more distressing than missing social events, then there’s a problem.
9. DO YOU FEEL GUILTY WHEN YOU STRAY FROM YOUR DIET?
When your self esteem is linked to the purity of your diet, the guilt and shame experienced by any deviation can feel overwhelming. But in reality, eating a cupcake is pretty low on the scale of moral lapses. I mean, unless you stole said cupcake, there’s nothing to feel guilty about.
10. DO YOU FEEL AT PEACE WITH YOURSELF AND IN TOTAL CONTROL WHEN YOU EAT HEALTHFULLY?
Having complete control over what’s on your plate gives the false illusion of having complete control in life. But life is messy, complicated, joyous, painful, challenging, serendipitous and absolutely, positively, impossible to control.
Adapted from the original article.
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Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE is a private practice dietitian, food enthusiast, and nutrition expert based in Columbia, SC. By guiding others to rediscover the joy of nourishment rather than deprivation, Rachael helps men and women alike improve their health and well-being with delicious whole food recipes and practical advice through intuitive eating.