09 Oct Orthorexia: The “Healthy” Eating Disorder
It starts with white bread, chips and pasta. Then it’s sugar, red meat and dairy. Pretty soon it’s meat, alcohol, salt, and then all forms of carbohydrates — even the wholewheat, low GI ones. You start living on fruit, nuts, legumes and veggies, which is all good and well, but then you read something about how fruit is high in sugar, so you cut out fruit. Someone at yoga mentions that beans are high in carbs so you cut that out too. You read the label of your favourite “raw, organic” nut butter and see the high fat content so you stop eating nuts too.
The new eating disorder not yet greatly known because it’s disguised as “healthy eating”.
I see it all the time in girls I know, even in myself — becoming vegetarian, vegan, or cutting out refined sugars and carbohydrates. We put food into “good” and “bad” categories. And because we live in an age where information is only a decent Wi-Fi connection away, we’re all certified dietitians. As a result, we’re all exposed to the latest nutrition theory or “discovery”, which quickly becomes the latest trend everyone adopts and documents via a precocious Instagram post #eatclean #traindirty. Women especially are susceptible to this kind of messaging; we feel like failures if we’re not on the latest “high protein, low carb, fat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free” diet.
But when does healthy become unhealthy?
When you’re depriving your body of essential nutrients. When you’re becoming obsessive about checking food labels and ingredient lists. When you turn down social events for fear of being presented with a meal that has a “bad” ingredient you’ve banished from your diet.
When, like the popular New York blogger Jordan Younger, your periods stop. Or when, like the TV presenter Carrie Armstrong, all you’re eating is organic melon and your hair is falling out. When you become physically terrified of eating the “wrong” thing. That’s when your desire to be healthy is damaging your health.
Of course it’s best to avoid MSG, try not to eat too much pizza, and pass on sauces and dressings laced with sugar and salt. But, it’s important not to let “healthy living” rule your entire existence. The occasional cheeseburger is fine. If something isn’t “oil-free” that’s okay too. Because, as I always tell my best friend when she confesses to me that she ate an “evil” chocolate cookie or a bit of cheesecake, you have to live your life. And living that life means eating the odd “bad” thing (which in actual fact is not that bad).
And while some people have to adopt a restrictive diet because of a religious or medical reason, it’s important not to let the planning and purchasing of the “right” meals take up too much of your time and thought.
While it’s not yet formally recognised, Orthorexia is an eating disorder with serious repercussions, and thus should be treated as such. Let’s not let the desire to lead a healthy life rule our lives.
Like Armstrong says, “I had to find something to fill my time that loved me back. Food doesn’t do that.”