When did a potato become a food to be terrified of? How can sugar be so bad that eating a blueberry renders an otherwise sane woman hysterical? Why are grain foods suddenly being banished from diets?
It’s one thing to be mindful and in-tune with your body and wellbeing when choosing the most nourishing food and drink for yourself. It’s another thing entirely when it goes beyond ‘looking after yourself’ to a full blown obsession that leads to anxiety, depression and damage to relationships.
Orthorexia is a hidden disorder which is disguised by the healthy eating tag, and it is not always about weight loss.
Instagram ‘influencers’ often promote idealised body images and lifestyles, and make it look simple and very desirable. This sets up unrealistic expectations among followers, who buy into the ‘insta-magic’ with often disasterous results.
Orthorexia seems to be a growing problem for successful, intelligent women in their 30’s or 40’s as they strive to stay slim and healthy and let’s face it, ‘virtuous’ with food. This is opposed to ‘lazy, out-of-control, bad’, which equals unhealthy and overweight, and which is often considered a dreadful indictment of the woman herself.
At the same time as being bombarded with dire warnings about The Obesity Epidemic, we have never before been exposed to so many conflicting ideas or ‘rules’ about foods, just think about all the blogs, books and groups blossoming around food rules: the quit sugar movement, the Paleo lifestyle, the war on carbs, vegan, raw vegan, organic …. And while each group has some fantastic points about healthy eating, it can easily slip into an unhealthy and confusing obsession as it takes more and more focus to control the strict purity of this way of eating. There can also develop a sense of ‘superiority’ over others who have a more relaxed relationship with food.
This unhealthy pattern of disordered eating can create severe anxiety, depression, a sense of failure if the strict standards can’t be maintained, anxiety about eating out or socialising, damage to relationships, and damage to the body.
Specialists estimate that one in ten women is affected by the disorder. No official figures have been collated yet as it is only in recent years that orthorexia has been identified as a health concern, but I have seen a sharp increase in the number of women coming to me for this issue.
Do I Have Orthorexia?
Consider the following questions. The more questions you respond “yes” to, the more likely you are suffering with Orthorexia.
· Have you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the foods they eat?
· Do you identify so strongly with your diet that you will not associate with others who do not eat like you?
· Do you feel guilt from straying from your diet?
· Do you punish yourself for straying from your diet?
· Do you feel self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
· Do you thrive on 30 day challenges?
· Do you have trouble being around people who eat differently than you do?
· Do you binge eat — especially “junk” food — and fast, exercise, or become more strict with your diet afterwards?
· Do you avoid foods which have never caused you physical harm?
· Do you restrict foods to the point that it makes you physically ill?
How can I overcome this?
We have very deep emotions and subconscious stories about ourselves and our bodies. Sometimes these emotions and stories, while not front of mind, hold a very powerful influence over our relationship with food. Our self-esteem, stories from our childhood, messages we pick up about ourselves from others, advertising, social media, all the stuff we take in about what it means to be acceptable and desirable, to be successful as a woman, all these things and more create meaning for us.
It can be a challenge to de-hypnotise someone from all of the deep emotions they have around food and control. But it can be done. A return to a peaceful, pleasurable relationship with food can be achieved through using therapies such as EFT to release the fear and anxiety around letting go of control. The most significant driver of these dysfunctional behaviours and beliefs about what we eat is anxiety. When we deal with the underlying anxiety, positive change naturally follows.