It sounds like the antithesis of what it means to be healthy, right? Haven’t we been told that we have to eat more veggies, consume less junk food, and cook more at home? Doesn’t that mean always striving for better nutrition, not embracing the “less than,” substandard fare?
Yes…and no. While eating healthier is great, we can take it too far. There’s a new term on the rise in health circles: Orthorexia. It may sound odd, but it’s a serious issue. It is caused by being overly concerned about healthy eating. And before you scratch your head, let me explain.
The orthorexic person doesn’t just care about eating healthier: they live for it. They consistently try to improve their diet and have anxiety when they are placed in situations that compromise it. They worry about food quality when they eat out, when they visit with friends, and when they are grocery shopping. They suffer from guilt if they aren’t 100% perfect when it comes to their strict eating protocol. Often, they may judge or scold friends and coworkers when they eat foods that don’t adhere to the orthorexic’s view of healthy eating.
It may sound unlikely to happen to you, but if you come to healthier eating with an eating disorder of any kind – yo-yo dieting (disordered eating), bulimia, anorexia, etc. – you may very well develop an orthorexic mindset. We often trade one obsessive pattern for another.
So how do you combat falling into an orthorexic mindset?
First, seek help. If you recognize that you have suffered from disordered eating in the past, getting quality care from a therapist is the first place to start. We live in a culture that promotes perfection, and in so doing, often sends us down a path of dieting, body image dysmorphia, and unhealthy mindsets. Professional psychological counseling can help you work through those pain points and assist you in finding peace.
Second, take small, loving steps. While improving your diet and health is an awesome goal, you also have to live your life! If you find yourself cringing when you are going out to eat or attending a friendly mixer, examine what it is that is really bothering you. Is it fear that you’ll fall back into unhealthy eating patterns? Is it giving up control over the quality of foods you eat? Or is it something more? Do you have a hard time letting yourself enjoy those moments? Whatever it may be, give yourself permission to let go and embrace the time spent with others. You can enjoy the healthiest fare available if you choose, but you can also give yourself a break and simply be – eating delicious food and celebrating with the people you enjoy. The habits you’ve cultivated around making healthy choices will be there in the morning.
Third, embrace imperfection. We are never going to lead the perfect diet 100% of the time. And it is okay! You are doing many great things by choosing to eat whole foods, cook at home, and buy local produce. If a little imperfect food creeps its way into the mix, you are still making amazing changes. If your favorite popcorn is at the movie theater, then enjoy it a few times a month. Are you daydreaming about a Snickers bar? Then go eat one and savor it. The stress caused by worrying over these occasional treats is harder on you and your body than the occasional indulgence.
Orthorexia is quickly becoming a buzzword in healthy circles, but you don’t have to fall into its trap. Stay aware of your mindsets as you start making healthier choices, and remind yourself that imperfection is the goal – perfection is not attainable.
What ways have you witnessed orthorexia in the lives of those around you? Have you dealt with a similar issue? How did you overcome it?