Orthorexia: The Red Herring of the Oreo-rexic Internet

Orthorexia.jpg

The woman had a deeply concerned expression on her face as she looked me up and down. She was a fellow swim mom and we'd been friendly for a couple of years, and she'd been watching while I ran around the gym with the kids at a team Christmas party. I was feeling better than I had in a while, smiling and a little winded as I approached the food tables where she was sitting.

I noticed her frown right away and then was knocked flat by her words... 

"Are you okay? I mean... you just don't look well. I'm concerned about you. You're so... thin."

I was thin. And I wasn't particularly well. The only thing my stomach could tolerate was mushy Special K cereal and I was dog tired. My belt was pulled to the tightest notch but I had been feeling okay that day. In fact, I had been feeling pretty good. Until she opened her mouth.

My problem was undiagnosed autoimmune disease but I didn't know... and she didn't know my suffering. On the surface I just looked skinny, I guess.

I had no idea what to say but I felt the back of my eyes start to burn with tears and some mean words threatened to pour forth in a hot second. I wanted to comment on the chocolate-covered Oreo in her hand and her recently expanded girth.

But I didn't. I just... died a little on the inside.

I didn't have anything left. I felt sick, tired, ugly, and hopeless. She won. I don't know what the prize is in that situation but she won it. I was defeated.

Several years later, I experienced a great healing through a dietary transformation. And wouldn't you know it, that woman (or rather her internet counterparts) took right up where she left off... winning the battle over minds with ignorance and phony concern, but for no good purpose.

The new food shaming battle cry? Orthorexia.

Orthorexia is defined as obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet. Welcome to the latest trend in diagnosing the confidence out of every human being we don't know or understand. Several of the common symptoms can be loosely applied to countless mentally healthy people, including myself... but the topic is pay dirt for writers and fodder for the vultures... so it continues.

I can no longer decline a dessert at a gathering without someone questioning my mental health. Awesome.

I looked up the symptoms of Orthorexia as defined by a clinic that deals with eating disorders. While I absolutely believe that there can be a serious mental health disorder defined as orthorexia, I think the internet in general is using the term all wrong. 

Let's look at what criteria I found on a professional mental health website...


"A person with orthorexia will be obsessed with defining and maintaining the perfect diet, rather than an ideal weight."

This one confused me because I wouldn't call myself "obsessed" but I am pretty serious about maintaining the diet that keeps me free of pain and sickness. The alternative is horrible so, I don't know, maybe some professional would call me obsessive? I'd rather go without a meal than eat something that causes my body to attack itself. Call me crazy. And maybe you would. 

I admit that having a great diet feels terrific and I really don't have to worry about my weight at all. It's one of the most freeing experiences to simply not have to worry about cutting off my broccoli intake or feeling like I ate an inflatable brick following a donut binge. If that makes me mentally ill... I'll take it?


"She will fixate on eating foods that give her a feeling of being pure and healthy."

Oh wow... I'm so busted. Totally orthorexic. Let's see... I eat multiple times a day and have to plan for those meals, prep, cook, and eat them, and clean up after them. Plus shopping and snacks. I'm pretty fixated. But probably not as fixated as I used to be on cookies... Oreos in particular. 


"An orthorexic may avoid numerous foods, including those made with: 

  • Artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
  • Pesticides or genetic modification
  • Fat, sugar or salt
  • Animal or dairy products
  • Other ingredients considered to be unhealthy"

Busted again! I avoid all of those things except healthy fats (of which I consume a large amount), salt, and meat. But yes, I avoid unhealthy foods. Is that really one of the criteria for diagnosing mental illness?


"Obsessive concern over the relationship between food choices and health concerns such as asthma, digestive problems, low mood, anxiety or allergies"

I think that word "obsessive" needs to be defined clearly because there are some people who would probably call careful behavior "obsessive" and others who have a totally different picture in mind. Depending on the definition, this could apply to me. If I go by a clinical definition, then no... I'm not obsessive. But if I read this within the very loose context of criteria used by these professionals, then yes, I suppose I come awfully close. 

My health conditions can be debilitating and even potentially fatal. I am strongly interested in the relationship of food to my healing process and... 

I really couldn't care less if that bothers an internet therapist.


"Increasing avoidance of foods because of food allergies, without medical advice"

Because if a food makes me sick, I should keep eating it unless a medical professional tells me not to? That's just stupid talk. I'm not even going to get into the 15 years that I was failed by countless medical professionals (including allergists). I sought and paid for tons of medical advice and learned one important thing along the way that they never told me...

If it makes you sick, don't eat it. 


"Noticeable increase in consumption of supplements, herbal remedies or probiotics"

The majority of American adults take supplements regularly. It's a $40 billion dollar industry. So at least we are all in this together. 


"Drastic reduction in opinions of acceptable food choices, such that the sufferer may eventually consume fewer than 10 foods"

This can be tricky, especially at the beginning of a dietary overhaul when a person's body is reacting in an inflammatory way to everything and there is an uncertainty about what is okay to eat and what will bring on symptoms. 

At my sickest point, I was not eating more than 10 foods and it took some time for my stomach to be able to tolerate more. I was not mentally ill but I was very physically ill and the number of foods I was consuming was a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.

It took a while to figure it out and to heal. 

So I don’t agree this is always a helpful assessment of mental illness. Circumstances vary greatly. Show me the average American diet and I will show you countless people who have a very limited palate. Does that make them mentally ill? Probably not... it likely means they have a crappy diet. 


My point is that you cannot make an accurate health assessment of another human being from an internet article, nor should you try. 

I don’t understand the motivation behind some of the hate, although I think I do understand a little based on the articles' contents and comments. People who are deeply interested in outing others as orthorexic usually fall into one of the following categories: 

  • They tried to change their diet but were unable to stick to it
  • Feel defensive about the food they feed their families if it's not very healthy
  • Tried a dietary change for health reasons and found it unhelpful
  • Are afraid that they won’t be able to eat Oreos in public without criticism
  • Can't afford to eat what the real-food experts are peddling.  
  • Know someone who annoys them with their disruptively healthy eating and wants to change them 
  • Have a real concern about someone they love who is exhibiting symptoms of obsessive compulsive behaviors and real mental illness that interferes with health and relationships. 

Using the criteria I shared earlier, you could certainly say that I might be orthorexic. You’d be wrong but the internet has a way of making people experts over other people’s health so...

What I’m waiting for is the list of criteria to internet-diagnose someone with Oreo-rexia; defined as obsessive behavior that interferes with the desire for a healthy diet. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Eating ice cream with a spoon straight from the carton. 
  • Bullying good friends into eating junk food with you even though you know they are on a diet.
  • Eating dessert food (including caramel lattes) more than once a day. 
  • Shaming sick people into giving up their pursuit of healing food by implying that they are mentally ill. 

Of course we know that Oreo-rexia is just a word I made up to make a point. And orthorexia, while apparently a real illness, is often used by armchair mental health professionals to make their own point. But... 

It's a red herring... a distraction from the real issue... which is that the trends toward healthy eating make people uncomfortable and upset. 

"Others eat in a way that I don't understand, agree with, or find necessary in my life... and it's suddenly become very important to me to identify people with a mental illness called orthorexia." 

Either that or those clickbait articles simply pay the bills. 

Do humanity a favor today and encourage someone who is trying to make healthy changes in their life. And don't make it contingent upon your feelings. It would make me feel amazing to be able to eat a bunch of Oreos without thinking about anything other than calories. 

I understand that you don't get it. 
I understand why.
I forgive you for the wounds you unknowingly inflict.
But... I also ask you to stop. 

 

 

The Myth of Moderation: Learning to Say No in a Culture of Indulgence

Everything in moderation! 

For the past six years, I have heard that maxim more times than I can count from people who do not understand or like my dietary choices. I once politely refused a cookie from an angry woman. She insisted that it "just wasn't healthy" not to eat cookies and believed that I must eat "everything in moderation" in order to live a healthy life. It turned into an uncomfortable standoff and... 

I didn't eat the cookie.

I didn't eat it because the idea that the way to be healthy is "everything in moderation" simply isn't true. 

There are some things which are always harmful to us even in small quantities.
There are some people who are harmed by things that you aren't.
There are some substances which are not harmful in small quantities but are in "moderate" quantities.

And most significantly...

Moderation means different things to different people.

Moderation is a movable line. Let's take ice cream for example. What is a moderate consumption of ice cream?
Here are various definitions....

Me: One scoop every couple years.

My husband: When the mood strikes every couple months.

My friend: One small scoop three times a week.

My neighbor: A giant banana split once a week.

My family member: Whenever the heck I feel like it. YOLO

My kids: "I will eat ice cream at every possible opportunity whether or not I actually want it and even if I am so full that I might vomit upon consuming!"

"Moderation" sounds scientific and authoritative until we look more closely and discover that the term is often a convenient way to justify our excesses and judge the eating habits of others. We know that it is a movable line but continue to wield it as an iron sword of truth.

True moderation is the application of virtue to all areas of our life. But American cultural moderation is pretty much just do whatever you want to do and call it moderate. We have replaced the word "virtue" with moderation and our collective health (mind, body, and soul) has suffered as a result.

"Sweetheart, you need to have a cookie! Everything in moderation!"

Except dirt. And paint chips. And glue. That goes without saying really. But when it comes to food, one person's "moderate" is another's kryptonite. And It's time we call out the lie and speak the truth:

It's okay to say no to things that aren't necessary. Why are we so afraid to lose our little luxuries?

As someone with autoimmune disease, moderation takes on an entirely different meaning for me. Instead of meaning that I can indulge in anything I want as long as it's in small quantities, it means that I can enjoy reasonable quantities of almost any food I like... as long as it's on my approved list. That list is quite a bit smaller than I'd prefer... 

  • I can't drink alcohol because it adds stress to my vital organs.
  • I can't eat gluten because I hate feeling like I'm dying and I like my small intestine.
  • I don't eat sugar because it is an inflammatory food and I'm battling inflammatory disease.
  • I don't drink coffee because caffeine is also a huge inflammatory. 
  • I don't eat food with additives, colorants, or artificial flavors because... see all of the above.

Technically, I could choose to consume those foods and pay the consequences. I know many people who do that in the name of moderation. Or because they feel their quality of life would suffer without their annual Shamrock shake. It's their choice, of course. But I do not choose sickness over health... not for all the moderate enjoyment this world has to offer. My weaknesses lie in many other areas (many many), but it is relatively easy for me to say no to things which prevent me from enjoying life and serving my family.

There are many other things I don't do (and no one should do) in moderation (like eat paint chips). That list is long, self-evident, and destroys the moderation in "everything" myth instantly.

Then there are donuts and coffee and that fuzzy middle ground.

I admit that it's easier for me because those two comfort foods would make me miserable and mess with my body's ability to to heal and to survive. Sickness is HARD for me. Debilitatingly hard. When I put food to my mouth, I am consciously choosing to live. 

On the other hand, I know diabetics who eat donuts and people on anti-depressants who drink caffeine. I understand that our struggles and physical limits vary and I cannot speak to their choices.

But...

If you eat garbage food multiple times a week and have migraines, IBS, thyroid issues, fatigue, anxiety, depression, weight gain, and a host of other common plagues, you might want to consider doing something beautiful for yourself and throw "everything in moderation" out the window. You may just be surprised by a miracle; not the least of which might be that you can say no to that extra ice cream splurge and live to tell about it. 

When we discard the moderation myth as a way of life, we learn a beautiful secret about ourselves:

We are capable of self-control.
Our needs are simpler than we previously thought.
We spend less on the unnecessary.
We can be free from our cravings.
We can do heroic things even when no one is watching.

If we are Christians, we also learn a beautiful secret about our faith... 

In any given moment, we might be asked to give up everything for Love. Every time we decline that caramel latte and offer it as a sacrifice of praise, we become a bit more fit for the bigger battles... and more free to be molded for loving service and eternity. 

Thanks be to God!

Transform Your Health Through Diet (8 Steps)

Whether I'm talking to someone who is in need of healing or examining my own life, I always put nutrition first because it must be first. Nutrition is the fuel that runs our bodies, our brains, our hormones... everything. Our bodies are incredible.... AMAZING... beautiful... and we were designed to function optimally with nutritious food; but the typical American diet does not take those needs seriously. Consequently…

We live in a first world country that is plagued with disease... much of which is self-inflicted.

It is common knowledge that much disease (and symptoms of unavoidable disease) can be eliminated or reduced by eating a nutrient-dense, garbage-free diet and living a healthy lifestyle. Modern medicine is marvelous... but no doctor or surgery or medication can replace God's plan for normal, healing nutrition.

(Pause for a second and read my disclaimer HERE. I'm not a substitute for your doctor. Consider me an accountability partner in a life of joy and health.)

If you exercise every day but stuff your body full of garbage, you are setting yourself up for failure. If you exercise daily, eliminate garbage, but do not meet your body's fundamental nutritional needs, you are still setting yourself up for future problems.

The following information contains the skeleton of my personal nutrition plan. When someone asks me how I eat (or ideally eat), this is what I tell them...


TRANSFORMING MY HEALTH THROUGH NUTRITION (8 Steps)

  1. CUT OUT GARBAGE

  2. INCREASE REAL NUTRITION

  3. SHOP THE PERIMETER

  4. THE FEWER INGREDIENTS, THE BETTER

  5. EAT NUTRITIONALLY DENSE FOODS

  6. EMBRACE THE FAT

  7. CAREFUL SUPPLEMENTING

  8. NEVER STOP LEARNING {FIND A GOOD SUPPORT SYSTEM}


1. CUT OUT GARBAGE

The human body is incredible! The balance of hormones and systems is finely tuned and designed to function with seasonal, real food. It is extremely resilient and can survive and thrive for a long time on inferior nutrition or periods of fasting, through days, seasons, and even decades. But if we use garbage "food" to fuel the body on a regular basis, we will eventually damage the beautiful machine.

The good news is that the body also has a remarkable ability to heal. If you're like me and have abused your own body nutritionally for most of your life, then it might take a longer period of hard work... but every small step is worth it! I'm on my 6th year of gluten-free, clean eating and I'm not tempted to go back. I cannot overstate the positive effect that those changes have made on my life.

Once upon a time, I told my husband I thought that I would die if I had another baby and I truly believed it because I was THAT sick. But in between that pregnancy and the next, I changed my diet and consequently, my life. And I didn't die. Not even close.

When I was 35, I told him that I would surely be in a wheelchair by the time I was 40. I am now 39... and thriving.

LET'S BE HONEST... The trial of going without chemically enhanced lattes and Oreo cookies is a first world problem. You don't have to have them. And the obligations of your vocation may be calling you to let them go. If you eat junk regularly and also complain about IBS, fatigue, diabetes, joint pain, headaches, etc... then it may be time to start thinking about the stress you've been putting on your body all these years and the investment you want to make for the future.

The good news is that now is a GREAT time to begin to make changes regardless of the challenges you face in life. There is always a small change you can make toward health.

THINGS TO CONSIDER ELIMINATING IMMEDIATELY:

  • CORN SYRUP. This should not even be used in moderation. It has no nutritional value and wreaks havoc on a body. It's also in almost everything modern Americans eat.
  • WHEAT/GLUTEN. Wheat is not inherently evil... but the way that the majority of flour is produced in the last 50 years renders it a nutritionally empty source of calories, and increasing numbers of people are developing sensitivities. If you do not have an intolerance, you will still benefit nutritionally from replacing most or all of your bread and pasta with vegetables and nutritionally dense carbs. You will eliminate an inflammatory food and you will also eliminate a huge source of extra pounds! The elimination of gluten changed my life.

  • PACKAGED FOODS. There are exceptions to the this but in general, if a food is packaged, it needs non-food chemicals to keep it from rotting, breaking, separating, or to enhance its denatured flavor. Added up over the course of a day (and a life), the cumulative impact can be significant. 

  • PACKAGED FOODS LABELED 'GLUTEN FREE'. Make no mistake... The majority of packaged gluten free food is junk food. Completely nutritionally empty. Just eat real food instead or find companies that produce nutritionally, garbage free products. Have you ever heard anyone say "I gained weight on a gluten-free diet"? Yep, me too... all the time! Well, that outcome makes sense if they are simply replacing their empty carbs with more empty carbs.

  • ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS. Most simply are not healthy to consume. Use natural sweeteners instead.

  • SUGAR. I know... I know... All things in moderation, right? But the American idea of "moderation" and the body's idea of moderation seem to be at odds. Modern science recognizes that sugar is a source of inflammation in the body, and that inflammation is a common cause of preventable disease. So... consider less damaging alternatives (honey, real maple syrup, coconut sugar) and also making even those splurges rare since they tend to increase more sweet cravings. read more here.

  • ALL SODA . This is a no-brainer. We know this. Regular is terrible for you. Diet may be worse.


2. INCREASE REAL NUTRITION

After cutting out garbage, it can initially seem difficult to find nutritious replacements. We are used to eating from boxes and bags and have been desensitized to the long list of ingredients on labels. The following tips will help you navigate...


3. SHOP THE PERIMETER

Most real foods will be found in the produce and refrigerated sections of a grocery store. Avoiding processed, nutrient-deficient foods generally means eliminating many of the middle aisles. Shop fresh.


4. THE FEWER INGREDIENTS, THE BETTER

One-ingredient foods are the best option. If you're buying chicken, you want chicken... not chicken with a list of hard to spell chemicals listed on the label. If you're buying broccoli, you want broccoli... not broccoli, colorants, and preservatives. When buying from a can or a box, go for the one that has the fewest and most recognizable ingredients. For example, a simple can of kidney beans usually contains some form of sugar. Put back the ones that list corn syrup and chemicals... and keep looking until you find the healthiest, fewest ingredients added to your beans.


5. EAT NUTRITIONALLY DENSE FOODS

Long term health does not count calories but weighs nutrition. The best path to weight loss is a body that has the proper fuel when it needs it. If you overeat regularly, calories will add up, but I've got to tell you... it's a lot harder to gain extra weight when you're doubling up on asparagus than if you're doubling up on the pasta. Make the calories count and your appetite will more likely regulate itself. You will remember what it's like to be truly hungry. There won't be bloating to confuse or guilt you. You can just eat.

Also, not all whole foods are created equal. If you are short on nutrients (almost all of us are), then you might want to make your pile of dark leafy greens significantly larger than your pile of rice.


6. EMBRACE THE FAT

It is time to leave the diet fads and pseudo-science of the 1980's behind. Dump the margarine... Embrace the full-fat grass-fed butter. Why? Because margarine is chemically-laden garbage food and your brain and body NEED healthy fats to stay healthy. Every cell in your body is made up of fats... you have a fundamental biologic need for fat.

I have noticed in my own diet that when I eat more healthy fats, my cravings are reduced, I have more energy, less brain fog, and have no trouble with weight gain. When I skimp on the fats, I end up eating more of everything else and struggling with energy.

WHAT FATTY OILS TO GET RID OF COMPLETELY....

vegetable oil
canola oil
cottonseed oil
Trans fats
soybean oil
hydrogenated oil

MY FAVORITE WAYS TO GET MORE HEALTHY FAT IN MY DIET...

avocados
coconut oil
nuts
full fat coconut milk
organic full fat butter
organic bacon... because... bacon.


7. CONSIDER CAREFUL SUPPLEMENTING

Before saying another word about supplements, I must reiterate:

A NOURISHING DIET IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANY SUPPLEMENT.  PILLS WILL NOT SAVE YOU FROM BAD FOOD CHOICES. Supplements only become a need when our diet is inadequate. Having said that…

I am a supplement convert. I never "believed" in the idea and thought that I could just get what I needed through food. I was wrong. Countless years of nutrient deprivation from poor eating, malabsorption, and ignorance left me seriously depleted of nutrients. And unfortunately (due to chronic issues and perhaps age), it isn't just correcting itself by eating a steak and a hearty salad periodically. My age and body abuse have left me struggling, and for the first time, I'm leaning on good supplements to get through my days.

It is VERY important to note that the vitamin and supplement industry is unregulated. That means that your Walmart multi-vitamins could very well contain Chinese sawdust... and mold. When testing has been done on OTC supplements, they have regularly been found to falsely advertise content and quantities and harbor such horrid ingredients as I’ve listed above. Additionally, most supplements provide synthetic nutrients and science is still uncertain about if that even benefits our bodies. What to do?

Do your research. Pay more money for supplements that you can source. Don't pop a pill just because it's cheap. You'll pay out the nose for medications to treat disease... why would you skimp on your preventative care? (And because someone always asks, I buy my supplements from doTERRA. Contact me and I'll be happy to share more info.)


8. NEVER STOP LEARNING {FIND GOOD SUPPORT}

I receive many questions from this post since so many details simply won't fit! I will do my best to get to those as I am able and integrate answers in other posts. In the meantime, I will leave you will some of my favorite resources for recipes and wellness. Wondering how to cook a meal with real food? These recipe resources are a great place to start and have helped me out more times than I can count.

And don't forget...

Listen to your body. This is a journey of wellness NOT perfection. Every good choice is a victory. Remember your purpose... Thanks be to God!

The Best Clean Eating Snack On the Go (Sweetpotato Awesome)

{This post contains affiliate links. More info Here.} 

Anyone who is on a restricted diet for any reason, knows the challenges of eating well while living an active and free lifestyle. This is primarily because most commercial food providers don’t deviate from the standard American diet and customers don’t demand it.

So the challenge is finding sources that provide beautiful food in every respect; to keep the joy in eating as well as help the consumer stay on a healthy path in life.

I have been a gluten-free clean eater for five years and Sweetpotato Awesome products are still my hands down favorite. Absolutely no question about it. It has been over a year since I first reviewed these delicious treats and they still holds the number one status on my growing list of resources. I would eat Sweetpotato Awesome just as often as I have it in my hands. I would be happy to receive it as a gift on my birthday. Yes... it's that good. 

  • Super crunch that we gluten-free peeps so often miss.

  • Exceptional flavor

  • Nutrient dense

  • Clean, organic ingredients that can be counted in the single digits.

On top of all that, Sweetpotato Awesome was created by entrepreneur, Joshua Kingdon, who is a man of true integrity and excellence. If there's one thing I love more than food (??), it's supporting small business and the hearts and souls behind a product.

What is my favorite flavor?

I'm sorry... I cannot choose. Each one I tried became my new favorite and then, after I finished the last one, I'm pretty sure I missed them all equally. I may have a slight preference for the flavored because I love the beneficial and taste qualities of herbs and feel like I’m eating my way to good health!

  • Dill and Garlic

  • Sea Salt

  • Cinnamon

  • Dill ,Garlic and Chipotle

  • Sea Salt Fries

  • Sea Salt Bits

Remember, these are not chips, they are SLICES... of organic freeze dried sweetpotatoes goodness prepared with organic, nutrient dense ingredients. There are so many ways to eat them... check out the website for ideas. 

Don't balk at the price. It reflects the quality and goodness of what is in these bags! It also reflects the blood, sweat, tears, and regulatory hoops that entrepreneurs must jump through in order to be awesome. 

I used to feed my toddlers fish crackers. Now that we are gluten free, I don't intend to replace processed junk with gluten free processed junk from Walmart. Junk is junk.

But Sweetpotato Awesome?

Baby loves these. Mama is happy. Please visit the Sweetpotato Awesome site to get your own... (and put another bag in the cart for me).