Have you ever called off a restaurant date because you were afraid they didn’t serve diet friendly or “healthy” options?
Do you consciously abstain from eating the foods you like because you don’t consider them healthy?
Are you always on the outlook for new diet “hacks”?
Do you find yourself regularly obsessing over the foods you eat?
If you went over these questions nodding, this article is for you.
The search for the “perfect diet” is leading more and more people down the path of dietary extremism. Restrictive diets are enjoying cult-like followings these days (ever argued with a vegan or a paleo proponent about their eating habits?). But despite paying more attention to the foods we eat than ever before, we’re still struggling with chronic weight fluctuations and nagging health isses. Naturally, people go looking for the next best thing.
First introduced by the American physician Steven Bratman in 1997, the term orthorexia nervosa (from the Greek “ortho”= right and “orexis”= appetite) defines the obsessive desire to eat “healthy” foods, where the individual’s obsession with eating “clean” takes over his life, culminating in compulsive eating behaviors, social isolation, anxiety and, paradoxically, severe malnutrition.
This eating disorder often goes hand in hand with excessive exercising and other compulsive behaviors, creating the perfect storm for nutrient imbalances, hormonal roller-coasters and the loss of perspective.
Searching for the perfect diet
“What should I be eating?”
There’s no such thing as a perfect diet for everyone. Your perfect diet might greatly differ from mine. The right diet for you is the one that respects your current state and requirements.
Eat according to your body’s natural preferences and tendencies. If you lean towards sweet and carb-rich meals you might do better on a higher carb, lower fat program. If you lust for steak, eggs and dairy all day, you’re probably better off eating a higher fat/ lower carb diet.
Whatever road you choose, you need to enjoy the foods you eat. Don’t force yourself to eat so-called “healthy” foods, just because you’re trying to lose weight or because you’re trying to rid yourself of nagging health issues. If we take processed junk out of the picture, there’s no such thing as healthy or unhealthy foods.
If it provides YOUR body with what it needs at the given time, it’s healthy for YOU. That can be a steak with veggies, a pasta dish or even a burger with fries (come at me internet food police).
What works for you?
Do you feel better eating a vegetarian diet? Or do you prefer an animal based diet? Do you feel better after high fat or high carbohydrate meals? Monitor how your body responds to different foods and make educated decisions based on those reactions. Again, there’s no one diet to fit all needs.
“I want to eat pizza all day.”
Your body has cravings for a reason. We are not slaves to our cravings the way media and the fitness industry have us believe. They’re being portrayed as this unholy force within us driving people to eat bad foods and stray off their diets. The reality, however, is they are your body’s way of telling you what it needs.
Cravings can result from hormonal imbalances, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and other metabolic conditions. So if you’re lusting for sugar all day, there’s a definite underlying issue you need to address. Steer clear of sugary products, refined carbohydrates and base your nutrition on whole foods until your desire to binge subsides.
Learn to listen and respond to cravings and innate food preferences. When you crave a certain food, eat it. Simple as that. I love greasy hamburgers, chocolate, peanut butter and other high fat foods. You know what I do? I eat them (crazy, I know). In moderation and within my caloric boundaries, of course.
Remember calories? Eating too many calories of “healthy” foods is worse for your body than eating junk foods while staying in a caloric deficit. I’m not even talking about your appearance here. Focus on the quantity not just the quality of your nutrition.
Overabundance is the number 1 killer in the industrialized world. It’s not sugar, it’s not cholesterol, it’s not wheat (seriously? wheat?). Too much of everything is what’s making people sick. The constant eating and snacking, the endless fountains of sugar water people are gulping down. We are consuming more and more energy, while expending less and less.
On top of that, we’re focusing on specific food items and isolated environmental factors, while nobody’s looking at the big picture.
The problem is not carbs, fat, sugar or gluten
There’s no denying that more people today suffer from food sensitivities, intolerances and allergies than ever before. Naturally, we go looking for the offender(s), thinking that if we eliminate certain “triggers” we’ll go back to our happy existence.
That was me a couple years ago. Suffering from a host of digestive issues (post meal fatigue and brain fog were my daily companions), I was constantly eliminating food items to find the supposed “bad guy”. After experimenting with different diets (I tried every shitty diet out there) and getting extensive medical testing, I can tell you this:
Unless you’re allergic to a certain food, your problem doesn’t lie within the particular food itself. Your problem lies within your metabolic system.
“What is this guy even talking about?”
This might heavily contradict mainstream thinking, but bear with me. A healthy body should be able to digest and assimilate most foods without any apparent adverse effects. Don’t focus so much on the foods you eat. Focus on yourself instead. What is your current status?
Snap out of it!
If you’re exercising frequently and vigorously, don’t eat a low-carb, low-fat diet based on supposed health foods. If you’re sedentary and your only physical activity is walking from your couch to the kitchen, chances are, you shouldn’t be eating a carbohydrate based diet. Feeling bloated and sluggish after eating that healthy vegan chickpea salad? Ask yourself if that food is really doing you any good.
Respect what is happening to you and adjust your diet accordingly. Feed your body what it needs and stop thinking in terms of healthy and un-healthy foods. As long as you make sure the majority of your meals are whole food based, you’re good to go. But don’t obsess about it.
Once you start enjoying your diet, you’ll get into a natural rhythm. You won’t be inclined to cheat (why cheat when you can eat everything in moderation?) and you’ll be more likely to follow through with your program.
Enjoy yourself a little. It’s ok to indulge every once in a while. Don’t let food dictate your life. If you’re not making money as a model or fitness competitor there is absolutely no reason to stress over food as much as we do.
Stop trying to do the right thing and start eating according to your instincts again. Try different approaches (but don’t ever become an extremist), take notes, learn, adapt, overcome. Your personal experience is invaluable in this journey.
Regaining control of your diet:
- Eat when you’re hungry.
- Eat at regular mealtimes (no snacking!).
- Eat the foods you like and crave (in the amounts right for you).
- Avoid situations, habits and people known to trigger new episodes of compulsive eating.
- Be mindful when eating. Focus on your meal and savor it.
- Learn to enjoy “unclean” foods again. They’re not the problem, trust me.
- Make eating a social event. Have dinner with the family, lunch with friends etc.
- Stop looking for new dietary “hacks” and stop trying to eat the perfect diet.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Only you know what’s right for you.
Orthorexia is a modern phenomenon created by our society, where looks are more important than health, happiness and sanity. This is a highly complex issue and I’m by no means implying it can be solved overnight. It will take time and effort to reestablish your relationship with food. But it can be done and it is worth fighting for.
Thank you for reading