On our Radar: Orthorexia

Gena over at Choosing Raw has been doing a tremendous job of writing thought-provoking, life-changing posts during NEDAwareness Week 2014.  Here are some tips from her latest article, about orthorexia.

1. Remember that your body may be more resilient than you think it is.

My experience of orthorexia included a sensation of fragility, a certainty that if I ate one wrong thing, my body would be instantly compromised. As someone who lives with a digestive illness, it’s true that I have to be a bit more mindful of what and how I eat than others. But it has been a delight to realize that I can eat all sorts of foods, not all of them roughage or quinoa, and feel perfectly fine; that I can savor my morning coffee; that I can enjoy a glass of wine if I feel like it; and that I can travel, eat out, eat foods that might be a little richer than what I make at home, and feel tip top. We all have an instinctive sense of what feels right for our bodies, and I’d never suggest you eat foods that will make you feel unwell. But there is a good chance that your body is actually stronger and more resilient than you think it is.

2. Be discerning with what you read.

I often tell nutrient clients that they only “detox” they need is a detox of health and wellness reading material! Spend a day perusing any mind/body health website and you’re likely to be bombarded with articles to the tune of “why sugar/bread/wheat is the devil,” “could ________ be destroying your health?!” or “ten foods you should never eat.” There is a point to these articles, which is to help folks identify ingredients that don’t help them to thrive. But that point can be taken much too far, and if you ask me, “everything in moderation” has far more science and research behind it than this kind of cheap alarmism.

3. Variety is healthy.

Orthorexia can often manifest as a very narrow (and ever narrowing) range of acceptable/safe foods. While this can seem like the “healthy” choice, remember that dietary variety will help you to get a wider array of macro and micronutrients, which will in turn help to keep you better nourished. Know, too, that dietary variety also helps to help bolster digestive strength—a fact I’ve witnessed firsthand working for a GI doctor.

4. “Heatlhy” goes beyond nutrition.

Another lesson I’ve learned working in a physician’s office, as well as through my own experience, is that “healthfulness” is not only a matter of eating certain nutritious foods, or avoiding foods that are less nutritious. Pleasure and stress reduction also contribute enormously to good health, which is why I believe firmly that savoring something indulgent is far healthier than constant stressing out about maintaining a rigidly “healthy” diet.

5. Eating healthily is not a black or white affair.

My friend Laura left a comment on Monday’s post that stuck with me. She said, “it’s not either-or. Not either thin or happy. Not food or self-esteem. Not all the food or none of the food. Not good-weight bad-weight. I’m still working on this one, but enjoying the challenge of uncovering how I construct and maintain those equations myself, and can write new ones with some effort.”

I would add that it’s not either/or when it comes to health. It’s not necessary to choose between leafy greens, whole grains, and legumes and lovingly prepared comfort food, exciting or unusual restaurant meals, local delicacies, and rich desserts. It’s not necessary to choose between establishing a routine with movement you love (yoga, dance, running, whatever) and focusing on rest and relaxation. Eithor/or thinking was for me, as it seems to have been for Laura, a major part of the disorder. My tendency toward extremes remains a part of who I am, and at times, it’s a part that I love. But recognizing that I don’t have to operate exclusively in dichotomies has been a vital part of my recovery process.

Read the full article here.

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