Did you even know that such a thing as orthorexia exists? Or that you can be so much into leading a healthy lifestyle that it actually starts to become unhealthy? I honestly had no idea about it until the time my therapist taught me this word. And the fact that my problem has gotten bad enough for me to turn to a therapist should tell you just how much of an issue this wickedly-named condition can be.
So, let’s start at the beginning. Orthorexia is an eating disorder, although it’s not yet recognized as such by the World Health Organization. I’m saying “yet” because, judging by how many cases similar to mine I’ve seen, it will receive official recognition soon. Unlike bulimia or anorexia, orthorexia seems like it shouldn’t be a disorder at all, because it is actually focused on eating healthy food in healthy amounts.
Sounds good, right? I mean, there are millions of people who are working extremely hard to start eating healthy and stick to this habit. And I applaud these people! If you are one of them you should feel proud of the work you have put in towards achieving this goal, because healthy eating can literally save your life.
However, as the saying goes, too much of a good thing isn’t good at all. Think of it in terms of how exercising too much can cause an injury, or how eating too much healthy food still gives you an excess of calories and therefore leads to weight gain.
Orthorexia is similar in principle, yet different at the same time because this condition is obsessive. And like any obsession, it can take over your life and ruin it just as surely as any addiction to unhealthy things.
That’s what it did to me, and let me tell you that becoming obsessive over the healthiness of your sandwich is anything but fun. For me, it got so bad that I lost all my social connections and turned into a veritable hermit. I couldn’t bring myself to eat out and meet up with friends for a meal or drinks. In the rare instances in which I did go out to eat I continually pestered the waiting staff about the precise content of every dish and the origin of every ingredient.
Thinking back on it now, it’s a miracle I wasn’t banned from eating places in my city. But the people I went to those places with d who had to sit through my obsessive inquests about food sure never looked at me the same again.
So as you can see, orthorexia is not merely an eating disorder. In its worst cases it comes with a side-serving of obsessive-compulsive behaviors. And for what it’s worth, I hope you never get to discover how that feels.
In order not to let your situation to deteriorate this far, it might be helpful to check out what the early signs of orthorexia are:
- You check the ingredients list on everything. Obsessively. Googling every word you don’t know.
- You catch yourself obsessing over how healthy the aforementioned ingredients are.
- Your, by this point, unhealthy interest in food and nutrition is affecting other people and you start to pester them with speeches about how good or bad what they eat is.
- You completely stop eating anything that you don’t deem “healthy”.
- You start to obsessively study healthy diet guides and follow bloggers who promote this lifestyle.
- You are exercising like mad and you count your calories with the same fanaticism.
I was shocked to learn that the so-called “fitness addiction” might be a result of orthorexia.
But fear not, my friends, orthorexia can be beaten!
Now, I’d like to remind you again that orthorexia is an eating disorder. And that is a good thing in that it means that it can be treated successfully. Granted, it’s not easy and the echoes of obsession do occasionally rear their ugly heads. But, overall, my life now is much healthier and more normal.
And this is how I did it:
1. First of all, I started exercising.
My healthy food obsession started when I was trying to lose weight and got too deeply into dieting. But exercise was something I never did. So, bound to my home as I was by that time, I set up a training area and started to channel my obsessive energy into a healthier way of losing weight. For me, this was an excellent way to release some frustrations and to help calm my mind. However, I warn you again that it is entirely possible to develop an obsession with fitness to go along with your unhealthy attachment to healthy foods. To avoid this, I strongly recommend being monitored by a therapist or at least a personal coach who understands your problem.
2. I took up meditating for anxiety.
The worst thing about this condition for me was anxiety. Therefore, taking control of it was the most important element of its successful treatment. Meditation for anxiety helped me tremendously, as did simple breathing exercises and yoga.
3. I got into therapy.
Whilst it doesn’t have official status as a mental health condition, this is exactly what orthorexia is. Therefore, therapy is the most important element of treatment. I implore you to seek the help of a certified practitioner if completing this questionnaire shows that you might have this disorder.
To think that eating healthily can become unhealthy seems bizarre, but it is possible and the consequences of this condition can be devastating. It causes you to become so focused on the healthiness of foods that you lose track of why exactly you should be eating healthily in the first place.
And in some cases, it may even lead to nutritional deficiencies as you could be limiting your food intake only to what you consider healthy. Even if the food in question fits this characteristic, having your obsession with it dictate your life and cause changes in your routine and social life is definitely unhealthy.
With the increasing mania for leading a healthy lifestyle which expresses itself through blogs, Instagram, Twitter, advertisements, gyms and eco foods which seem to be everywhere, I fear that this debilitating obsession with healthiness will become much more common in the future.
And it’s so incredibly sad if it does, because eventually it will bring about a backlash with everyone and their brother condemning the healthy lifestyle entirely. This might cause people to turn the opposite way and start purposefully ruining their bodies with unhealthy choices.
Agatha Singer, is a work-from-home mom of two little nuggets. Her interests range from the latest business management trends to healthy living and adventurous traveling. Agatha always stays open to new ideas and expertise to make her writings handy and captivating for you. She’ll be happy to see you on her blog: http://www.agsinger.com!
Image courtesy of Maddi Bazzocco.