You know what I notice? The positive health effects of superfoods are not scientifically proven and yet the popularity among women in particular is growing enormously. A breakfast consisting of oatmeal, a green smoothie of banana, milk, spinach and chia seeds for lunch and a quinoa salad with walnuts for dinner.
Searching through internet sites on which health freaks put their tasty, and often healthy, recipes online has become a daily ritual for many people. But is a healthy lifestyle really that healthy? Or is the danger of a change in ‘healthy eating’ quickly lurking? Of course, paying attention to your health is good, but the focus on superfood can become so compulsive that it harms your health.
Being compulsorily engaged in healthy eating
You know this: orthorexia nervosa? People who suffer from orthorexia nervosa are compulsorily, and often sickly, engaged in ‘healthy eating’. Some striking features are:
A one-sided diet
Eating a lot of raw (organic) fruit and vegetables
Possible weight loss
Having to suffer from loneliness and experiencing guilt
More and more own rules
In the beginning, people with orthorexia innocently draw up a number of food rules that they have to comply with. This often starts small, for example no more fats and refined sugars. Gradually, more and more rules are added, aimed at healthy eating, in which more and more food products are restricted or even completely omitted, including: meat, fish, dairy and cereal products.
Quality as the norm
Unlike anorexia, orthorexia does not focus on quantity, but on the quality of food. The quality of food is seen as the quality of life. There is a taboo on fatty food and processed foods and there is a cramped adherence to a certain diet, in which cleanliness and purity are central. People with orthorexia feel fit and young in the early stages and notice that there are good profits to be made by simply measuring a ‘healthier lifestyle’, such as a few kilos lost, without feeling hungry or a strict diet, which has often failed before.
Emotional and social problems
But what if someone with orthorexia sometimes gets out of the picture, for example by surrendering to products that contain sugars or a piece of bread that consists of many carbohydrates? A feeling of failure and guilt is quickly lurking and the feeling that ‘poisonous substances’ are entering your body. Besides emotional problems, including experiencing guilt when a certain health rule is not met, orthorexia can also lead to social problems.
Eating outdoors is a major hindrance, as people with orthorexia have little or no control over the food that is served and they also have less control over the way in which the food is prepared. Is it prepared in full-fat butter or coconut oil? Does the salad have a salad dressing? Are the nuts unsalted? The supply in restaurants is quite limited, if you don’t want to eat meat, pasta, rice, potatoes, bread and sauce anymore. The result is that people with orthorexia start to shut themselves off from the outside world, for fear of being confronted with ‘bad’ food.
Difference between orthorexia and anorexia
The difference between anorexia and orthorexia is that someone with orthorexia does not have a negative self-esteem. Some people feel superior to others because of their healthy lifestyle, because it shows that they have discipline and are ‘healthy’. Unlike someone with an anorexia, orthorexia is not about the desire to lose weight, but about ‘healthy’ eating. The way of thinking and behaviour are fully adapted to this. Food that is thought to be ‘bad’ is avoided and people with orthorexia feel guilty and unsafe when they do give in to that ‘bad’ food.
What about you?
To what extent is ‘healthy living’ central in your life? How many hours a day do you spend on ‘healthy eating’ or looking for information about healthy eating? Does it matter to you if you eat at a certain time and according to a fixed routine? Do you only choose the ‘best’ and most ‘pure’ and ‘healthy’ products? Do you get anxious about the idea of eating chips, a sandwich or a pizza?
Some practical tips
Be honest with yourself
People suffering from orthorexia do not see their diet as an eating disorder. Denial is therefore a well-known phenomenon in this clinical picture. A pathological fixation on food, in which the world around you is labeled as ‘unhealthy’. How can you eat a bag of crisps or work inside a peanut butter sandwich? For their unimaginable thoughts that give rise to fearful feelings. Be honest with yourself, that’s the first step to recovery.
Start with small steps
You don’t just give up on a diet that has become a matter of course for you. You have fought hard for a long time to make this ‘healthy lifestyle’ part of your life, for which a lot of discipline was needed. It also requires the necessary discipline to regain familiarity with food that you consider to be ‘forbidden’. Choose a small step, one that you think would be feasible. For example, what did you like in the past? Of course, this has to be a fry right away.
Don’t judge yourself!
There is nothing wrong with measuring a healthier lifestyle. However, what starts innocently, can become a clinical picture of what is going on.