Eating Healthy in an Unhealthy Way: Understanding Orthorexia

Jan 11, 2023 | Main Blog | 0 comments

Our thoughts about food can turn even healthy eating into unhealthy eating.

We all have foods we love and foods we seriously dislike. We have ideas about what foods are healthy and what foods are not. We may even have a favorite diet that we think everyone else should follow.

Some people are so obsessed with healthy eating that they can’t enjoy a meal out with friends or a potluck with the family. This is known as orthorexia. It’s an unhealthy focus on eating healthy, and it can suck all the joy out of your life, destroy relationships, and harm your health in the long run if it restricts food excessively.

Orthorexia is not much different than any other eating disorder. Behind every eating disorder is fear, control, and believing lies are the truth.

Let’s face it. We all want to be in control. We don’t like being ordered around or getting caught in the middle or being disqualified from doing the things we want to do.

When we feel out of control in other areas of life, it can be easy to turn to controlling food excessively to give us a sense that we have some solid ground beneath us. We can decide when we eat peas, whether we eat 2 peas or half a cup of peas, and whether or not we even eat peas.

It’s when we take the control we have over food to the extreme that it becomes a problem, whether we starve ourselves, throw up after eating, or only eat “healthy foods.”

Nutrition is very important for our brain to function, so if we aren’t getting the right nutrients, that can set us up to be prey to an eating disorder. However, fixing an eating disorder requires that we deal with the lies we believe, not just the nutritional imbalances.

The first step to overcoming orthorexia (or any eating disorder) is to change your beliefs. A belief could be something like “If I eat any foods I don’t prepare myself I will die/get fat/get sick.”

When you are in a situation where you are declining a family dinner or a night out with friends, stop and examine why you are saying no. What are you telling yourself that leads you to believe harm will come to your body if you say yes? That’s the lie you need to replace with the truth.

If you are at the grocery store and you are afraid you’ll bring home the wrong food or you spend hours reading labels only to check out with a few items, what are you telling yourself?

Once you identify the lies, you can then create statements that contradict the lie. These statements can come from scripture, inspirational quotes, or you can simply rephrase the lie so that it allows you to enjoy a meal with friends and family or shop without fear.

Now that you have your truth statements, you are ready for what I call the Foot Stomp method. This is what it looks like:

When you think the lie, stop what you are doing, stomp your foot on the ground and say (aloud), “NO, that’s a lie. The truth is I can enjoy a meal out with my friends and live a long and healthy life.”

Use your truth statement and keep saying the truth until you believe it. You might have to employ this method several times before it sinks in. Make sure to keep your truth statement positive and avoid negative words like “can’t,” “don’t,” or “won’t.” The brain doesn’t recognize negatives.

There are five general rules for eating. They are:

1. Eat well 80% of the time and don’t worry about the 20% where you have little control or where a friend invites you for an ice cream. Just enjoy it.

2. Eat real food as much as possible.

3. Follow a diet that you enjoy and one that agrees with your biology.

4. Don’t worry about what other people are eating as they, too, need to follow a diet that they enjoy and that agrees with their biology.

5. Eat with gratitude and thanksgiving.

When we make decisions about what diet to follow, we should consider things like enjoyment, access to foods, ease of food preparation, and is it a diet that is sustainable long term. We don’t have to get it 100% right every second of our lives. The human body is amazing at healing itself and it can easily withstand a few not so perfect meals or treats.

We also do not need to place unnecessary burdens on ourselves. Life is hard enough as it is without us creating hardships for ourselves in an attempt to be healthy.

Fear has no place when it comes to food, and there is no reason to be afraid of food, no matter how unhealthy it is. Life has enough pressure on its own; you don’t need to add to it.

There is nothing wrong with controlling what you put in your mouth. Eating healthy food is a great way to enjoy life and live it to the fullest. If we nourish our bodies properly, we are less likely to experience disease, fatigue, or pain that can prevent us from doing the things we want to do.

What is not healthy is being so obsessed with what we eat that we restrict foods to the point of starving ourselves of nutrients, or we stop enjoying activities with friends and family, or our joy is snuffed out by fear.

We don’t need to be extreme when it comes to diet in order to experience robust health.

Our beliefs impact our actions, so we want to believe the truth about things. We want to believe our bodies are healthy. We want to believe we have the wisdom to know what to put in our body. We want to believe enjoying a meal with friends or family is not going to harm us, even it if contains foods we think are unhealthy.

The best thing to take control of is your beliefs. Choose beliefs that set you free from unnecessary burdens while supporting a healthy body and a joyful life.

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Annette Presley
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