“Should I eat this? Is this organic? Crap it isn’t. Well that isn’t the healthiest then. I’ll just wait until I can find something more raw, clean and organic. That’s the best way to eat for optimal health. Yeah, I will just wait then. Even though I am hungry, I have to eat what is best for my body.”

In light of February being the month of love, as well as, a month dedicated to Eating Disorder Awareness, I wanted to take this opportunity to share a bit more information about something I briefly mentioned in last week’s blog – Orthorexia. 

Orthorexia is an Eating Disorder, coined in 1997 by Steven Bratman, MD, that is defined as an obsession with “healthy or righteous eating.” 

It often begins with someone’s simple and genuine desire to live a healthy lifestyle.

In today’s day and age, with health consciousness being at the forefront of numerous people’s lives and businesses, Orthorexia is not only a lot more prominent then we believe, but more so unidentified as being a real issue. 

Let me assure you IT IS and you probably know someone, if you yourself, are not affected by it!

I know for myself when I first studied nutrition, I developed this way of thinking/feeling on a small scale for a few months, but was able to quickly recognize that this way of being was just as unhealthy as the way I used to think when I was dealing with Bulimia.

Though the intention is not to become skinny, but rather be healthy, individuals dealing with Orthorexia will spend just as much time and energy thinking about food as someone dealing with Anorexia and Bulimia. 

too healthy

With this in mind, I HIGHLY suggest that you continue to read below.

I have shared 10 important questions to ask yourself, originally from a quiz written by Steven Bratman, MD, which will help you see if your healthy lifestyle choices could actually be harming you.  

1. Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about food?

If you do, consider this might not actually be a healthy thing for you. 

2. Are you already planning tomorrow’s healthy food menu?

Individuals with Orthorexic tend to focus a lot of their mental energy about upcoming meals. “Today I will eat steamed spinach, while tomorrow I will boil broccoli. The next day I’ll make brown rice with lentils.” Do you get a sense of enormous pleasure deciding what a healthy menu should be for the week? There could be something wrong with your real intention of planning meals. 

3. Do you care more about the benefit of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about loving the food that you are eating and making healthy choices, but things are different for individuals dealing with Orthorexia. The idea of the food they are eating, in which it is seen as “good” “bad” “healthy” “nourishing” is what gives them the pleasure, rather then actually being present and enjoying the taste of the food itself.

4. Do you keep getting stricter with yourself?

Like anything else that has an addictive behavior associated to it, individuals dealing with Orthorexia tend to view their nutritional choices today not as good as they can be tomorrow. As a result, the rules they create around healthy eating escalate and continue getting more rigid as time passes. In time, foods are no longer “allowed” because of their health benefits, and a sense of pleasure takes over from these increased rules and restrictions – ultimately an increased sense of control.

5) Do you feel an increased sense of self-esteem/self-worth when you are eating “right” and/or look down on others whose nutritional choices are not “healthy” or even “bad” in your eyes?

In today’s world, healthy eating is praised everywhere you go. With this in mind, Orthorexia certainly has a seductive aspect to it, as it can allow individuals to feel better or superior than others. Just like good work habits, eating “right” allows individuals with Orthorexia to feel great pride because of their lifestyle choices, compared to individuals dealing with Bulimia and Anorexia, who are ashamed of their habits.

6) Do you feel a sense of guilt, self loathing or hate yourself when you stray away from your diet?

Like any other Eating Disorder, individuals with Orthorexia experience a sense of guilt and shame when they stray away from what their mind has convinced them to be “right” and “acceptable”. This takes place because their self-esteem/self-worth is highly linked to their food choices, where which choosing unacceptable foods almost feels like a sin. As a result of this forbidden food decision that an individual has made, they attempt to gain their self-respect back by recommitting themselves to an even-stricter nutritional plan.

7)When you eat the “good” foods, do you feel a peaceful sense of total control?

Again, like any Eating Disorder attempting to achieve a sense of control is one of the founding issues associated with it’s appearance. Life is often unpredictable, even for the most avid planners, where which if it doesn’t go according to their plan, they may be left feeling out of control. For many people dealing with an Eating Disorder, they attempt to gain back this lack of control in life by controlling what they eat. For individuals with Orthorexia this desire to control is no different. By controlling their food choices to fit under the category of “healthy” they may, unconsciously of course, feel a sense of relief from their lack of control in their life.

8)Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat away from home?

I am all about good old home cooked meals, but if you find it difficult to eat away from your own kitchen, your nutritional choices may not be serving you (and your overall lifestyle) the way you truly desire.

9)Are you becoming socially isolated?

Related to the question above, the rigidity that is expected by an individual dealing with Orthorexia makes it quite difficult to eat anywhere outside of their home. Going over to eat at a friends or family members’ house, or hitting up a restaurant, often fails to provide the “right” foods. Even if these foods are available, they are often not prepared the “correct” way.

Some individuals with Orthorexia will bring their own food in separate containers, while their mind runs around the room looking over everyone’s else “garbage” food choices. Some will decline the invitation all together and as a result stay home as a way to keep their food rules intact.

10) Do you often skip foods you enjoy just to eat the “right” food?

Do you sacrifice experiences you once enjoyed to eat the food you believe is right? Like many of these other questions above, your underlying unconscious reason for making these choices may not be actually serving your best interests. 

I hope these questions have sparked some interest and curiosity into your own eating habits. If you feel that you may be a bit “too healthy” for your own good, I invite you to reach out to a professional, whether that be myself (info@paulagalli.com) or someone else, to help you ensure your healthy lifestyle doesn’t lead to a harmful one. 

Your comments, questions, concerns are highly encouraged. So tell me what you think!