Obsessed with Healthy Eating? 9 Things I’ve Learned Since Recovering from Orthorexia

“Sending love to everyone who’s doing their best to heal from things they don’t discuss.” ~Unknown

Healthy eating used to be a major obsession of mine. My entire waking time was spent thinking about food. Which foods should I be eating today? How much sugar is that? When we go out for dinner next week, what will we eat? Should I claim that I’m allergic to gluten?

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was suffering from orthorexia (that is, an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating). Yes, I fully agree that eating nutritious food is good for you—there’s few who would deny that—but when you are thinking about food non-stop, something has definitely gone awry.

The whole thing started innocently. My daughter (who’s my youngest) was about a year old, and I was ready to “get back in shape” and reclaim my pre-pregnancy weight. However, since I was against the idea of fad diets, I was looking for something else.

That “something else” turned out to be wellness culture, and I absorbed it all. Followers of several influential people suggested that we should eat organic, gluten free, dairy-free, or without sugar if we want to achieve optimal health. Many of the influencers relied on pseudoscience in support of their claims, which I completely fell for.

The idea of For optimal health, eat in certain ways My thoughts swirled around my head and I made the decision to try a 30-day healthy eating plan. The goal was to focus on your health and not lose weight. It’s easy enough.

It was impossible to count calories or weigh food. No points. The idea was to eat healthy, nutritious food with a breakfast protein shake. Why would that be harmful?

Well, it was probably the long list of “not allowed” foods that you cut for thirty days (such as sugar, dairy, gluten, and soy)—essentially an elimination diet. You will then be able to reintroduce those foods after 30 days, which is how you can identify food intolerances. See? It’s all for health! Or so I thought…

And, as my “clean eating” regime was underway, I started to get a lot of positive feedback.

You’re so disciplined! You eat healthy! You look amazing.

It was attractive.

It was a slippery slope for me and it led to an unhealthy obsession about food.

After three years, I was living a life that looked like the following: I declared a gluten- and dairy-intolerant and began to experiment with becoming vegan for the betterment of my health. Unfortunately, there’s not much food left to eat on this kind of restrictive diet.

In order to avoid sugar, alcohol, caffeine and soy, I used an elimination diet every few months. I also stopped eating dairy and gluten. I started avoiding social events because the list of “safe foods” was getting so complicated; it often seemed easier to stay home.

All of this in the name of “health.” Except that it wasn’t healthy.

I missed social events, avoided time with friends and my mental health was in decline. My relationship with food was becoming very dysfunctional.

While orthorexia isn’t classified as an eating disorder according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, some healthcare professionals believe that it should be. And, personally speaking, my relationship with food was starting to remind me of the time when I’d suffered from an eating disorder back in my twenties.

After a few aha moments, I realized that my eating behavior and excessive food intake were not healthy.

It was when I started feeling embarrassed going to someone’s house for dinner and sending a long list of foods I couldn’t eat.

It was when I started to notice bingeing behavior: I’d binge on five sweet potato brownies because they were supposedly “healthy.” I’m sure that if I’d just had access to a chocolate brownie, I might have only eaten one

It was when I was doing my elimination diet so frequently, I had to make lots of excuses about why I couldn’t join evenings out.

I eventually realized my eating disorder was now orthorexia.

Thankfully, I had the resources to make a quick recovery, and my relationship with food has done a full 180 turn… In hindsight I can see clearly how very disordered my thinking, feelings, and behavior were.

These are my nine learnings from orthorexia. I hope that you will seek out help if your food habits are being questioned.

1) You don’t have to eliminate certain food groups.

It is not necessary to eliminate certain food groups, unless there are medical reasons (like coeliac illness). Nope, you don’t need to be carb free; in fact, research shows that in the long term, a low-carb diet is actually bad for you.

#2 Flexible eating habits are the best.

You just don’t need overly rigid food rules. I found my food rules too strict and tried to eat right every time. To me, organic food was gluten-free and dairy-free. There was no added sugar. Additionally, fruit that contains sugar is what I stopped eating. For a time, I only ate berries. I was completely against bananas and red apples as well as grapes and tropical fruit.

The problem with rigid rules is that all the fun things in life become stressful, like holidays, eating out, and going to a friend’s house, so flexibility is key.

#3 If you get overly upset when food rules are broken, something’s wrong.

My food rules were so important to me that I was compelled to keep them. I could feel upset, emotional and distraught if they were broken. As if my efforts had been futile. I remember once crying in a French supermarket on holiday because I couldn’t buy the organic and gluten-free versions of food I wanted. It’s kind of missing the point of a holiday, isn’t it?

#4 Food IS NOT fuel.

Have you heard the quote “food is fuel”? It’s bandied around everywhere in the wellness and fitness spheres. But food isn’t just fuel. It’s about so much more, and this kind of thinking limits our potential to enjoy food to its fullest potential.

It can provide comfort and allow you to share your feelings with family members. It’s nourishing for our bodies, and also nourishing for our souls; it can be nostalgic or related to our culture. You can think back to your grandmother with just a cup of tea or a cookie, and your mother can send you home with one meal.

#5 There are many foods that can be included in a healthy diet.

You can eat sweets, chocolate and pastries. It’s totally unsustainable to cut out “bad” foods for the rest of your life. I’ve also found that you’re more likely to crave these “bad” foods if you tell yourself you can never eat them again. Once all food items fit together, ice cream is freed from the pedestal so you can keep it at home. It’s a Total revelation.

#6 It’s worse for your health to stress about sugar in food than to actually eat a damn cookie.

Sugar in foods was something I worried about. Every food label was read by me. I used to calculate the amount of sugar contained in foods like raisins. Green apples were my preferred choice, and I wouldn’t eat any red ones (I think too much sugar). Yup, I was one of those mums who cooked gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free cakes for the kids’ birthdays. Yuk! Poor children.

I’ve learned the stress of worrying about food is way worse than just eating the food itself. Relax and have fun with that cookie.

#7 “Health” is more than just the food we eat.

Health is not just about what we eat; it’s way more than that. It’s about your genetics and your access to nutritious food and decent healthcare, which means it’s associated with your income level.

Also, what you consider “healthy” is different to what I consider “healthy.” Maybe my “health” is about being able to run around after my kids without feeling breathless, or improving my flexibility to keep my body feeling supple.

You might focus on improving your stamina or strength for a marathon run, or sleeping 7 to 8 hours each night.

#8 Social events shouldn’t be awkward.

Actually, the reverse is true. Events should be enjoyable, relaxing, and fun. It shouldn’t be stressful or fraught. I had many an awkward conversation with hosts about things that I couldn’t eat.

If I did my cleanse, I’d avoid certain activities or arrange things for the following months. And if I did venture out, I would endlessly worry about what I’d eat, sometimes calling the restaurant ahead to see what they had on the menu to fit my rigid rules. Oder I would declare allergies to find the best gluten-free and dairy free options. #awkward

And finally, if you are a parent…

#9 They are watching.

Sometimes you might not be able to say what you want ToYour children are not watching, but you. Your actions, the labels you put on your food, how you speak about it, are all things they notice. They can see when you don’t make the most of your favorite meals and cook something for yourself. They can see when you’re not happy with yourself or your body.

They’re watching. Everything.

If I’m truly honest, this was the biggest driver for me to heal my relationship with food. My disordered eating was the last thing that I wanted for my family.

It was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. It is no longer a stressful experience to eat in restaurants or abroad. No longer is eating stressful. I love food for all the things the eating experience gives us—connection, chats, family, and friends. You should, too.

Lara Zibarras:

Lara Zibarras (UK) is a psychologist, and a food freedom coach. Her goal is to help her clients develop a positive and healthy relationship with food. You can find out more about her approach to food freedom by registering for this free masterclass here https://drlarazib.com/masterclass

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Obsessed With Healthy Eating? 9 Things I’ve Learned Since Recovering from Orthorexia appeared first on Tiny Buddha.

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