When Healthy Food Becomes Unhealthy
Earlier this year my family was staying with our good friend for a few weeks while we were in the process of closing on our new home. It's always been kind of a joke as to my friend's love of junk food and as I stared one day into the cupboard for something to eat, it struck me as funny that I was looking at a shelf FULL of food, yet I couldn't find anything to eat. I laughed to myself as I waded through candy bars, gluten in more forms than I knew was possible, artificial coloring in a rainbow of beauty, and many ingredients I couldn't even pronounce (and I got an A in organic chem!).
I settled on a can of tuna and found some celery (non-organic) while mentally blocking out the voice in my head yelling "after 75 days half the mercury in the can will still be in your body and how can you put metals and pesticides into you when your baby is still nursing, you horrible mother?!".
Celery and tuna. I was beating myself up in my head for eating celery and tuna. Wow. Reality check.
It's a real condition and it's actually quite common.
With this condition people become obsessed with healthy food to the point where they have mental anguish at the thought of eating something that isn't healthy. They will often choose to go hungry instead of "adulterating" their body with less-than-optimal food choices. The anxiety it can cause can affect many aspects of life. Imagine being in a relationship with someone who makes you a beautiful and romantic dinner but you can't bring yourself to eat it because it doesn't fit in to the dietary guidelines of "healthy" that you have set for yourself. Imagine pretty much any kind of party. Yes, there may be a veggie and dip platter but if you refuse to eat non-organic foods then even that is out. Socially awkward, to say the least, if you are sitting in a corner eating your local kale salad out of your mason jar and your alkaline water while everyone else is all nachos and red cups.
Don't get me wrong- I can totally relate, as I explained above. I use to be much more strict with my diet. It was easy when I was in a place where pretty much everyone around me thought the same way and parties were FULL of those local kale salads and people were generally wearing t-shirts that said "eat more kale" (yay naturopathic medical school). When becoming a mother I completely became "that" parent sending her child to daycare with a variety of whole organic gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free meals in cute little stainless steel and glass containers with her cute little stainless steel sippy cup. Because super crunchy mom of the year.
Orthorexia is the extreme. It is NOT just "I eat a healthy diet but a burger out with friends now and then- no big deal". It is a mental prison that often requires counseling. It comes in a range of severity and is more of a sliding scale, but it is real and it can affect lives in many negative ways. Anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand with it. People feel trapped and, quite frankly, in today's world it's easy to rationalize why things are bad for you way more easily than how they can help your body. Pesticides. Heavy metals. Inflammatory foods. Gut permeability. Auto-immune disease. Cancer. Even OXYGEN has been shown to cause cancer in large quantities.
I often talk about the A+ diet and that if you eat 95% healthy whole foods with mainly vegetables then just enjoy that other 5% for your soul. People with orthorexia have no 5%. It's 100% or nothing. There is no wiggle room.
If you feel like you you might be struggling with unhealthy thoughts about healthy food it's a good idea to talk to your healthcare practitioner. Eating wholesome foods is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle but when it starts to affect your mental status, it's time to find someone who can help you regain the balance that is so necessary in the big picture of an optimal life.
Hi, I'm Dr Sarah Strong. I'm a naturopathic physician and I live in Hawaii with my husband and our two little girls. We are all big fans of delicious healthy food but also enjoy the occasional treat with enthusiasm. For healthy recipes, feel free to join my newsletter at http://bit.ly/1MnYrT0 .