We finally understand that diets don’t work.
Dieting retrains our brain to make food harder to resist. It creates an environment where emotional eating challenges us. It messes with our body’s natural hunger signals leaving us confused about how to best nourish our bodies and give her the fuel she needs to perform at her best.
As this new understanding emerged, the diet industry recognized they needed to change their messaging if they were to survive. It’s a pretty lucrative industry, one worth more than $7 Billion. They had a lot to lose.
So, the message about weight loss shifted to one of becoming more healthy and fit.
Now, I’m certainly all in for being healthy. And I know it’s important to eat a variety of foods (eat the rainbow) to nourish and energize my body. I do know what my body needs – hydration, healthy food, fresh air and movement and good, restorative sleep. I’ve cracked a book or 2 along my journey to good health and it’s been worthwhile for me to become educated about it, especially as I get older.
Suddenly, they’re selling health and wellness, not diets
They can’t fool us though!
If a company or an app sells any kind of prepackaged food plan that keeps you on a structured amount daily calories or points based on height, weight, daily activity level, then guess what? It’s a diet!
During my own dieting experience, I did it all!
I counted points, calories, carbs and fat grams. I cut out sugar and carbs. I ate cabbage soup until I couldn't look at cabbage again. I survived the Scarsdale Diet. I experimented with a version of Keto. Fat went out of fashion, while vegetarian fare became popular. And then, I even experimented with fasting and intermittent fasting, and so much more.
It was exhausting.
When “healthy eating” arrived on the dieting scene, I breathed a momentary sigh of relief. Did it mean the diet industry got the memo and was finally changing their tune?
Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed. Healthy eating became code for just another diet plan. Basic nutritional principles, such as:
eat a variety of foods,
balance your plate with carbs, protein, and fats
eat enough calories to support your body’s needs
were replaced with 1200 calories a day and 10,000 steps. Counting points didn’t go the way of the dinosaurs either. Now we’re to use colours to decide which foods to eat.
This condition describes someone who has an unhealthy obsession with healthy food. It hasn't been added to the DSM5 or described as an eating disorder yet. It is, however, a condition that can lead to both disordered eating and eating disorders.
The following continuum gives you an idea of where Orthorexia begins and ends.
Orthorexia often starts off innocently with the desire to "become more healthy."
Unsure how to get started? Search "healthy eating" and Google offers you about 1,300,000,000 websites to support your mission. Recipes, food lists, diets and weight loss plans guide you to create the perfect diet with foods you "can" eat.
Soon, you find yourself going down a path that may include:
Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels
An increase in concern about the health of ingredients
Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat, all animal products)
An inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’
Unusual interest in the health of what others are eating
Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events
Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available
Obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ blogs on Twitter and Instagram
Body image concerns may or may not be present
I subscribed to so many of the above behaviours when I was dieting, as did many of my friends. It seemed normal to check labels, to scour restaurant menus before going out, to read as much as I could about how to lose weight while also eating healthy foods.
The desire to be healthy is a good thing unless it’s motivated by issues such as:
Fear (of ill health or food)
A need to be in control
An desire to lose weight at all costs, possibly even to the point of obsession
Or a way to create an identity
If you find yourself using the above behaviours or recognize yourself on the continuum illustrated in the chart, there is reason to be concerned.
The obsessive nature of orthorexia can lead to significant health risks, including digestive issues, cardiovascular concerns, neurological challenges, endocrine or hormone imbalances, and malnutrition.
It doesn’t stop there either. As affected people withdraw from social events and feel the effects emotionally, psychologically and soulfully, they often hide their problem and end up isolating themselves further. They become more distanced from the people who care about them and could lend support through their health challenges.
3 Steps to Healing Your Relationship with Food
If Orthorexia has taken over your life or if you’re on the path to developing an unhealthy relationship with food, and you’ve stepped over the line into anxiety and maybe even obsession, here’s what to do.
In your journal, identify what’s fueling your obsession to be healthy. Where did it start? Did it begin with a health challenge, a desire to lose weight, a diet, a friend who was trying a new eating plan, experimenting with a new identify (vegetarian, intermittent fasting, etc)?
In your journal, write down all your feelings and thoughts as you navigate your way through this obsession. Answer the following questions:
What are you feeling? (Stressed, anxious, depressed, lonely, angry…)
What belief about yourself is being triggered? Do you believe you’re inadequate in some way – feel you need to be stronger, healthier, more attractive, more confident?
What can you do to replace restrictive behaviours so you can begin to relax around food again?
What can you do to relax your body and allow you to step away from stress and anxiety?
3. Seek counselling or therapeutic coaching support.
There is no need to untangle yourself from Orthorexia alone when there’s help available. Let trusted friends and family know of your struggle and seek support.
Healing from Orthorexia is possible. You can create a peaceful relationship with food and your body when you step away from dieting and learn to connect with your body’s wisdom and learn to trust yourself.
If you’d like some help navigating the tumultuous waters of Orthorexia or cultivating a healthy relationship with food and your body, I’d be delighted to chat.
Connect with me to book your complimentary Love Your Body-Love Yourself Strategy Call. There is no reason to go through something so difficult on your own.