No Wellness Wankery

114: Do I have orthorexia or am I just a healthy eater? Recognising the signs before your relationship with food turns into an unhealthy obsession.

May 13, 2024 Lyndi Cohen
114: Do I have orthorexia or am I just a healthy eater? Recognising the signs before your relationship with food turns into an unhealthy obsession.
No Wellness Wankery
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No Wellness Wankery
114: Do I have orthorexia or am I just a healthy eater? Recognising the signs before your relationship with food turns into an unhealthy obsession.
May 13, 2024
Lyndi Cohen

Are you always trying to eat perfectly healthy?

As a dietitian, I've watched the pursuit of perfect health become an all-consuming battle for many. Myself included. 

In today's episode, we dive into orthorexia nervosa, the thin line between healthy eating and an extreme fixation on so-called 'clean' eating.

We'll explore how the pursuit of eating perfectly can lead to nutritional deficiencies, social isolation, and worsen our mental health. And discuss the importance of support, understanding our relationship with food, and the journey back to enjoying life - beyond what's on our plates.

But recognising the problem is the first step to healing. So, let's get into it.

If you think you may be struggling with orthorexia, please speak to your GP, or get more support at The Butterfly Foundation

Looking for more support to feel in control around food? I'd love to support you in my Binge Free Academy


Want to feel more in control around food? Check out my Stop Struggling With Food Guide. You’ll also find 50 of my favourite recipes to get you inspired!

If you don't already - come follow me on the gram at @nude_nutritionist (no nude pics, sorry).

Want to share some feedback or have an idea for an episode, I'd LOVE to hear from you - hit me up at hello@lyndicohen.com

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Are you always trying to eat perfectly healthy?

As a dietitian, I've watched the pursuit of perfect health become an all-consuming battle for many. Myself included. 

In today's episode, we dive into orthorexia nervosa, the thin line between healthy eating and an extreme fixation on so-called 'clean' eating.

We'll explore how the pursuit of eating perfectly can lead to nutritional deficiencies, social isolation, and worsen our mental health. And discuss the importance of support, understanding our relationship with food, and the journey back to enjoying life - beyond what's on our plates.

But recognising the problem is the first step to healing. So, let's get into it.

If you think you may be struggling with orthorexia, please speak to your GP, or get more support at The Butterfly Foundation

Looking for more support to feel in control around food? I'd love to support you in my Binge Free Academy


Want to feel more in control around food? Check out my Stop Struggling With Food Guide. You’ll also find 50 of my favourite recipes to get you inspired!

If you don't already - come follow me on the gram at @nude_nutritionist (no nude pics, sorry).

Want to share some feedback or have an idea for an episode, I'd LOVE to hear from you - hit me up at hello@lyndicohen.com

Speaker 1:

Hi everyone and welcome to today's episode of no Wellness Wankery. I am your dietitian and your host, lindy Cohen, and someone who has, at times in my life, become overly obsessed with trying to be healthy, and that is the case with something like orthorexia. What we're seeing are people who are striving to only eat pure, clean, healthy foods in an attempt to try and get the ideal version of health, and the irony of trying to do so is that the restrictions that are placed on you from all these food rules you have are actually taking you further away from being healthy, and this is not good. So what is orthorexia? Orthorexia nervosa is, well, it's an obsession with eating healthily, and sometimes it's a fixation on the quality of how healthy something is, how pure, how clean something is it's a term that we get a lot these days rather than something like the quantity or how many calories something has. So, for example, it might be an acai bowl, might be something that's considered very okay and ticks a lot of the boxes that an orthorexic person is going to be interested in eating, but for someone who's got something a little bit more like an anorexic tendency, they might not be willing to have something like that. And what ends up happening with orthorexia is we start to create all these food rules, about food, so maybe people tend to cut out things like gluten. They tend to go vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, maybe gluten-free. They show quite an unusual interest in what other people are eating. That's something that often happens. They can be really obsessive with following a healthy lifestyle blogger or some other social media figure, really being interested in those what I eat in a day kind of videos, which I find are incredibly unhelpful. And what this can lead to, this obsession, is nutrient deficiencies.

Speaker 1:

Where you're just not getting the right mix of foods, you can experience things like mood swings, anxiety and depression. You can find it really hard to socialize and you might find yourself withdrawing from those social occasions, particularly the ones where food is involved, and honestly, I don't know about you, but almost all of my social occasions involve foods. That can make it really tricky and can be incredibly isolating. You might experience extreme guilt if you eat anything that you consider not healthy based on the rules that you have in your brain about what you consider healthy enough. And if you do eat according to your strict set of rules, you might start to feel better and controlled and like you're good and it can be a really punishing thing to try and chase these really extreme goals that you've set for yourself. You might find that you are also obsessively checking the ingredients and really listening and reading lots of content related to healthy eating, so much so that it has gone from a hobby or an interest into an obsession.

Speaker 1:

So where is the line between healthy eating and orthorexia? And I think this is a really brilliant question, because I think diet culture has really made some orthorexic behaviors celebrated, something that everyone thinks oh, my goodness, I can't believe you've got such good willpower. Oh, wow, you brought your own food to the lunch. Wow, I wish I was as dedicated as you. But if you're doing something where you feel like you are so committed to your eating plan that you can't relax around it enough to eat what everyone else is eating, you know within realm when you go to a social occasion it might be a clue that your healthy eating has become unhealthy.

Speaker 1:

I think this determination to eat more healthily or clean can start off innocent enough that it can quickly become a disordered relationship with eating. Your relationship with eating, your relationship with healthy eating, becomes problematic when it starts to consume you, control you and keep your life small. So, for example, if you're lying in bed at night really feeling stressed about what you ate that day, going through everything that you ate, trying to work out whether or not it was okay or not, I think that is limiting your potential. It's taking up a lot of headspace, leaving less room for important things for you to be thinking about. It becomes really stressful trying to work out what you're going to eat when you go out for dinner with your friends, so much so that you end up perhaps not going. You might have found that when you first started eating healthily that you could still eat quite a few foods, but as you progress toward an orthorexic mindset, the list of foods that you are allowed to eat has become smaller and smaller.

Speaker 1:

Now here's the thing there is no category specific to orthorexia in the DSM-5, but it is actually captured in the DSM-5 under something called avoidant, restrictive food intake disorder, which is what we call ARFID. It's basically a broad diagnostic category that holds orthorexia, as well as a whole bunch of other eating and feeding disturbances. Now, to be diagnosed with something like ARFID, for orthorexia would include an avoidance or a restriction of food intake, and nutritional or energy needs are inadequate. And then you have to have another one of these experiences, one of the following things there is a significant weight loss or an inability to gain age appropriate weight. There are nutritional deficiencies the person requires enteral feeding or oral supplementation. Or there is impaired psychosocial functioning, basically meaning you're finding it tricky to eat out with everyone else. Now I think it's not that hard to be able to qualify for something like this. But even if you're not taking those criteria, I think, even if you notice you're starting to become obsessive over what you eat, you feel like there are more and more food rules that are overcoming you. We don't need to wait until you get a diagnosis before we can do something about it.

Speaker 1:

So if you think you're starting to become overly fixated or concerned with how healthy different foods are, try asking yourself if it's worth sacrificing your joy and your connection in your life just to be slightly healthier, remembering what is your definition of healthy. And perhaps you sit down and you think about what does healthy look like to you? Think about a time in your life when you felt you're most vibrant. Were you obsessive over what you were eating or was there a bit of relaxedness with how you were eating. And what about your body? Do you remember that happy time? Were you preoccupied with what you looked like, obsessively looking at yourself in the mirror, taking photos, weighing yourself? Or were you also feeling a little bit more relaxed about your body, even if you perhaps weighed? A little bit more relaxed about your body, even if you perhaps weighed a little bit more than what you weigh now? Remember that food has so many purposes in our life beyond just giving you energy. It is a tool for connecting with others. It's meant to be pleasurable and delicious. That's why it tastes good and it's something you can create memories around. So limiting your food choices can limit the benefit of food.

Speaker 1:

What I would recommend you do if you're going oh, okay, I don't even know if I might be orthorexic it's still a really good idea to go and get professional help from a psychologist or a dietician Someone. Please go find someone who specializes in eating disorders, and this is going to be one of the most powerful ways to prevent you from developing an eating disorder. It'll help you get the support that you need. Basically, what they will support you to do is to slowly reintroduce your fear foods, starting with the ones that you're less afraid of and working your way up to the ones that you've come to consider the most anxiety inducing or unclean, and they're going to support you in this process. And yes, change is necessary. But what you're going to discover in the process of change is you're going to regain so much more of your life.

Speaker 1:

I really want you to know that you can completely recover from orthorexia and go back to having a positive and a balanced relationship with food, but you need the right support to do it. It's way too isolating, too lonely and too hard to keep trying to do it by yourself. You can get a team around you. The best place to start make an appointment with your doctor. Go tell them what you're feeling, their thoughts around food, and they can refer you onto the right support crew for you, to the right support crew for you. I hope you've got some benefit from listening to today's episode. If you know of someone who might benefit from listening to this episode, please do flick them a listen so that they can benefit as well, and I'll see you next week. Bye.

Understanding Orthorexia
Recovering From Orthorexia With Support