Can you be too healthy?
Eating well and fueling your body is a wonderful thing. Enjoying food whether it has nutritional value or not is a wonderful thing. Food is not only a perfect and necessary source of life and energy but also a way to build community, friendship, memories, and experiences.
However, food didn't always feel that way for me. Food was something to be tracked, monitored, worked off and portion controlled. Sure, I had some indulgences but I typically felt guilty and frustrated because that meant I had failed on my diet for the day. My mindset around food was not freedom.
BUT by society standards, I was on the right track. I was being "intentional", exhibiting "self-control" and overall just being "healthy". But to be frank...despite how it may have appeared on the outside my mindset was anything but healthy. I was pushing a line that at the time I wasn't even aware existed. I was slowly exhibiting signs of orthorexia and now looking back I can see what a slippery slope it is, but one that very few people ever realize they are on.
That slope is called Orthorexia Nervosa.
Means a “fixation on righteous eating”. Although Orthorexia is not currently recognized clinically as a legitimate eating disorder, many people may be struggling with symptoms as it is currently classified. The term Orthorexia Nervosa was first coined by Steven Bratman, MD in 1996 to help his patients entertain the idea that an attachment and obsessive behavior surrounding healthy food may not be as beneficial as they initially presumed it would be. Though Orthorexia Nervosa does not appear in manuals by the American Psychiatric Association, it is strikingly similar in manifestation, obsession, and disordered thinking as Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa, with the main difference in the focus of the obsession about eating healthily, and not being thin or losing weight. In essence, though not officially recognized, the symptoms are real.
One of the most common symptoms of Orthorexia is the belief that every day, one has a chance to be “right” or be “good” with their diet. Orthorexia Nervosa typically begins with a desire to eat healthily, but eventually the healthy desire morphs into an obsession and becomes so restrictive that mental health, physical health, relationships, and even work begin to suffer. (definition pulled from medium.com)
Signs or Symptoms:
Aggressive thoughts towards others or self, surrounding food
Anxiety surrounding food
Fixation on food quality
Self-punishing behavior over food choices
Self-esteem, Superiority, and validation from food choices and restriction
Identity creation through controlling food
Rigidity in beliefs surrounding the “goodness” or “badness” of food choices
Polarizing judgments about others who do not adhere to the same diet
Questions to ask yourself if you feel like you could be struggling with orthorexia:
Have you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the foods they eat?
Do you identify so strongly with your diet that you will not associate with others who do not eat like you?
Do you feel guilt from straying from your diet?
Do you punish yourself for straying from your diet?
Do you feel self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
Do you thrive on 30 day challenges?
Do you have trouble being around people who eat differently than you do?
Do you binge eat — especially “junk” food — and fast, exercise, or become more strict with your diet afterwards?
Do you avoid foods which have never caused you physical harm?
Do you restrict foods to the point that it makes you physically ill?
What to do if you feel like you might have Orthorexia?
Seek some help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with talking this through with someone, asking questions and figuring out how to break free from this mindset. We all aim to live a healthy and balanced life but do not feel like this focus has to be at the forefront of your mind and life. If I can help in any way please reach out and I am happy to connect you with someone or talk with you!
I think it's hard to imagine that people could be "too" healthy when health is something our culture tries to pride itself on and encourage all individuals to strive for.
A lot of these habits our culture would be proud of! We would hear, "wow you are so dedicated", "wow you are so disciplined", wow I wish I could eat like you to look like you". We build up this idea that restriction and obsession are something to be proud of. That following a diet is like a badge of honor and cutting carbs is the only way to lose the last little bit of fat. This is why eating disorders are on the rise. This is why more and more young girls are struggling with body image issues. This is why we fear food.
Because from a young age, we are taught that the purpose of eating is to be thin and "healthy" and that there are "good" foods and "bad" foods and a diet is the only way to get the body we want. That everyone can be skinny and that will make you happy. That there really is never too healthy.
This is a slippery slope and one I challenge you to be aware of. Please seek help, counsel and guidance if you are struggling with orthorexia or any eating disorder. This is not something to take lightly and there are many wonderful people that will help you along this journey.
Look for a HAES (Health at Every Size) professional in your area to get the help you need, you are worth the effort and investment.