Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Reader Advice Day: Orthorexia Concerns for a Nutritarian

I received an e-mail last week that I really need to share with you, so here goes:


I wanted to let you know how much I love your blog and your photos!!

Here is my issue.........I suffer from major OCD/food anxiety. Since eating this way, 7 years ago, I have become so OCD about food. I think of nothing else. I have anxiety around food that I have never had before reading all of these plant based books. I obsess over salt, sugar, and oils. I want them then I don't, I want them, then I don't. Dr. Fuhrman especially makes me incredibly anxious. Have you ever heard of this or do you experience this?

Just as a side note, I am not over weight, I am only 110 lbs and 5'2, so that is not my issue. I eat this way because I have horrible skin and it keeps my skin decent, not perfect, but decent.

It gets so exhausting to be like this that some weeks I give up and just eat junk food vegan and then the next week I go back to strict nutritarian then I go to a more starch based diet, it is one big cycle of obsession. Any tips, thoughts, books, advice? You seem very balanced and I love that about your blog.

Thanks for everything!

P.S. Plus I am trying to feed a two year old and my husband is not on board with this way of eating so it is a constant battle, it adds to my anxiety. Sometimes I just wish I have never read all of this information. Ha!


In case this is the first that you have heard of the term "Orthorexia," please take the time to read the Wikipedia definition here.

I'm going to propose that real Orthorexia is probably somewhat rare, but I really have no idea. What is probably more prevalent amongst readers of Healthy Girl's Kitchen is not full blown Orthorexia, but varied experiences with anxiety over food choices, either now or in their past.

I can only tell you what my experience has been, as I am not a professional.

I have obsessed about food since I can remember. My earliest obsessive food memories are from when I was about four years old. You can read my story here. I am no stranger to this disorder. I remember when I was about twenty years old realizing that I woke up thinking about food and I went to bed thinking about food. What I was going to eat and when I was going to eat it was a major preoccupation for me for years.

Fast forward twenty years. I can tell you that I do not wake up thinking about food anymore, nor do I go to sleep thinking about it. The obsession is gone. I now think about food for three reasons:

(1) hunger
(2) meal planning for future meals/entertaining/blogging
(3) fun conversation about recipes with like minded people

My thoughts about food are no longer anxious thoughts. I believe this is because starting three years ago and for the first time in my life, I began eating enough fiber and nutrients that I am actually full--my belly is full of food and my cells are full of nutrition and energy.

I have struggled tremendously over those three years with how "perfect" my plant based diet is. Am I Plant Strong? Am I Plant Perfect? Should I try to be Plant Perfect? I've tried and failed too many times to count.

I'm not getting any younger. At some point being kind to myself became far more important than beating the crap out of myself (and that includes at the gym). That realization came with a ton of personal and spiritual work and self reflection. I know that I am doing very well by my body--better than most Americans, and I need to be okay with imperfection.

If the thoughts that you are having about food are causing you anxiety, get help. From a professional, from books, and from communities on the internet that feel good to you. Try JL's website Stop Chasing Skinny.

For lack of a different metaphor, when you die and you are standing at the gates of Heaven, do you think God is going to ask you if you ate a perfect diet? Or how big were your muscles when you were alive? How small was your stomach? Your thighs? Or how much did you weigh when you were 35 or 45 or 55?

We all need to put this food/healthy eating thing into perspective and make sure that the place that food and nutrition occupies in our life is the correct one. There are far more meaningful things to put our attention on than whether or not our diet is "perfect." Love, laughter, performing acts of kindness, smiling at others--these things are at least as good for our overall well being than eating a "perfect" diet (if there even is such a thing!). Try making a list for yourself of what those things are for you. Read them every morning and every night.

And good luck. We are here for you.

Do you now or have you ever suffered from Orthorexia or any level of anxiety/obsession over your food choices? How do you maintain balance with your thoughts and attention?

Blogging tips