Healthy body is impossible without healthy mind. Healthy eating doesn’t mean healthy relationship with food. Without healthy relationship with food you cannot have healthy mind and healthy body. It’s almost as simple as 1+1, yet some of us get 0 instead of 2.
In my previous post I shared my experience of (mild?) orthorexia. It wasn’t as bad as some of us get and the damage wasn’t something too hard to fix. Yet it took quite some time to reverse and took much more time to heal my mind and rid it of unhealthy thoughts. It’s interesting now to look back and analyse everything. When I first heard the term orthorexia nervosa a couple of years ago I laughed and then growled with anger. I thought it was just another attack aimed at people who are so dedicated to their health from those who do not have the will power and feel threatened by ‘us’. Now I see that I simply was in denial. Somewhere deep down I knew that the description of orthorexia resonated with me and I fought that feeling because the feeling of superiority and self-righteousness was much better.
Where do you stand?
In 2016 Dr Thom Dunn and Steven Bratman have defined orthorexia in the journal ‘Eating Behaviours’ by the following criteria:
- Compulsive behaviour/mental preoccuption regarding affirming and restrictive dietary practices believed by the individual to promote the optimum health (including use of food supplements and regarding exercise and fit body image as an indicator of health).
- Violation of self-imposed dietary rules causes exaggerated fear of disease, sense of personal impurity and/or negative physical sensations, accompanied by anxiety and shame.
- Dietary restriction increases over time and may come to include elimination of food groups and cleanses. Weight loss commonly occurs but the desire to lose weight is not the focus.
Additionally, the following symptoms may be present:
- Malnutrition, severe weight loss, or other medical consequences from restricted diet;
- Intrapersonal distress or impairment of social, academic or occupational functioning due to beliefs or behaviors about healthy diet;
- Self-worth, identity, and body image unduly dependent on compliance with “healthy” diet.
Did I have any of those? I am asking myself even now while writing this. I wish I could look back and honestly say no. But the answer is yes. Every single one of them. I didn’t end up with malnutrition, but low calorie intake and obsession with exercise led me to a very low weight (which had been already low, thanks to my genetic predisposition) and some fertility issues. Was it all worth it? No.
Some other symptoms of orthorexia nervosa may include obsessive focus on food choice and planning, regarding food as a source of health rather than pleasure, distress or disgust when in proximity to prohibited foods, moral judgment of others based on dietary choices, persistent belief that dietary practices are health-promoting despite evidence of malnutrition.
I had many of them, too, and I am especially not proud of judging others based on their dietary choices. I think I was so blind that people for me were all divided in two, according to their body size – ‘junk food’ and ‘healthy’. This is something that I find very hard to confess, because in my nature I am a very compassionate person who does not like to judge people and wants to help everybody. How did I get to that point? I don’t know. I am just glad that it’s over and I am back to my caring self.
You may be more prone to developing orthorexia if you fall into any of the following categories:
- Adoption of a highly restrictive dietary theory
- Parents who place undue importance on healthy food
- Childhood illness involving diet and/or digestive issues
- Medical problems that can’t be addressed by medical science
- Traits of perfectionism, OCD, and extremism
- Fear of disease
If you have any of the risk factors then you should be extra careful. It is unbelievable how disordered thinking weaves into your life and impairs your common sense and rational thinking.
A couple of years ago I would say that people undergoing cancer treatment were crazy to accept it when there are clearly holistic ways to treat cancer and even avoid it in the first place. But getting my mind back and going deeper into health studies I now understand that these holistic ways can be a complimentary therapy to support the body through the treatment and help it bounce back. They CANNOT and SHOULD NOT be substituted for cancer treatments. One must be crazy to think that something so largely unfounded could work better than something that has been proven to work. Of course neither we nor researchers know everything, but all of the conspiracy theories of the big pharma and such are formed on the basis of fear of incurable disease and our general lack of knowledge. And the current health industry is ready to support it, especially in order to promote dietary supplements. This is just one example of how it messes with your mind. Believe me, there are tons more.
Although it’s not that pleasant to admit that I have fallen victim to an eating disorder, especially when I believed I was doing the right thing and could not understand how people with anorexia or bulimia nervosa got to that point, I feel that this is a piece of personal information that should be shared. We need to raise awareness further, and if this post helps at least one person realise that they are going the wrong way, then my mission is fulfilled.
Take good care of yourself and your mind.