Monday, July 14, 2014

Am I Orthorexic?

It's been a few weeks now since I received the following message on Facebook. I've been thinking about it daily ever since. While I thought that I could whip out a blog post response to the message, I have found that the issues are very complex, and it hasn't been so easy for me to get my thoughts "on paper." Here's the message that I received:

"I don't want to start a debate on your page but I do not agree that salt, sugar, and oil are the 'holy trinity of addictiveness.' 

If those things are addicting and trigger foods for someone then that person needs ED therapy. I don't think that shaming someone for eating those things is at all helpful , constructive, or healthy. I see nothing wrong with having something processed every once in awhile. I don't believe that a bag of chips with oil will give you heart disease, that the sugar will give you diabetes, etc. Sure it probably isn't too healthy to consume nothing but processed foods, but in moderation I think it's fine. 

I also don't think that fearing foods and putting them into categories as good or bad is healthy either. Your recent posts invoke so much fear mongering around certain foods and certain food groups. While I realize that your bio on your blog is outdated, there are a few lines that struck out at me not only when I first found your site, but even more so over the past few months. For example: 'Food and sugar are no longer the scary enemy that they once were.' 

'That does not mean that I never eat anything with meat or dairy or sugar or oil. I'm not going to let myself play that orthorexic head game.' 

These lines drew me to you because it seemed like you had a grasp on acknowledging that viewing certain foods as evil or scary is not a healthy way to think. The orthorexia part has been popping in my head after reading most of your recent posts these past few months. You've been eliminating so many foods and food groups. Fearing them, restricting them, thinking they are evil, harmful, etc. A lot of your actions, statements, and beliefs are concerning. I'm not trying to be confrontational or disrespectful. I realize that you won't agree with me, but I just felt the need to share my feelings."

Thank you dear reader, I welcome this discussion!

I am reminded of a quote by one of my favorite people, blogger and author Winnie Abramson:

"Eating should not be stressful or make you feel bad or guilty. Ever."

I could not agree more.

The trouble for me is that this is a VERY complex situation. And I can only speak my truth. What has worked for me in the past or is working for me now is an evolving thing, and I can only say that it is working for ME. The longer I study this subject and the more that I read, the more I realize that there is no one size fits all way of eating or living. Everyone needs to work hard to find their own mojo.

But back to my friend Winnie. She's a sorority sister of mine from college. I've always really liked Winnie, and I found out that Winnie had her own food blog at the same time that I decided to become a food blogger myself. The name of her blog is Healthy Green Kitchen (can you see how I was influenced by her?) and it's much, much more popular than Healthy Girl's Kitchen. It's also not an oil-free, sugar free, dairy free, or meat free blog. But it's a fantastic blog nonetheless.

Winnie recently wrote a book called One Simple Change. You can check it out on Amazon here:

One of the chapters in One Simple Change recommends that you eliminate sugar from your diet completely. It was only after her book was published that Winnie confided in me that if her book hadn't been published yet, she wouldn't have put in a chapter on completely eliminating sugar from your diet. She felt that a stance of moderation was more up her alley, and she didn't feel that complete elimination of sugar from a person's diet was necessary for good health. You can check out the pieces that Winnie wrote about sugar moderation around the time that her book was published:

Is It Time to Stop Worrying About Sugar? (You Don't Have to Quit It)
What's Wrong with Moderation?

Confusing, huh? Even for people who think and blog and write about this stuff all of the time!

But back to my current reality. Here are the facts:

First of all, I don't stress out at all if I am in a restaurant and some of my food is not as oil-free and/or salt-free as I would like. I don't cook with any oil or most salt (sometimes it is in a packaged product like salsa or hummus and I just don't care about it), and my food tastes really delicious to me.

But sugar? Really any processed carbohydrate (except for corn tortillas and rice cakes)? I really do try my best to avoid those. Why?

Well, you guys know that I had been trying to follow Dr. Fuhrman's Nutritarian plan for quite some time.

I found myself struggling to stay on the plan. It actually caused me great stress and anxiety. I was eating foods that I did not want to eat at times when I was not hungry. Things like cake that would end up on the lunch table at work. I think it's fair to say that if you want to lose weight and you don't want to eat cake, that in and of itself does not make you an "Orthorexic." Not wanting to finish your children's mac-n-cheese, but being unable to stop yourself, and then feeling guilty after you eat it--that's not Orthorexia.

That's food addiction.

I gained weight. That sucked.

About ten weeks ago I decided to eliminate (yes, that naughty, dirty word) all refined carbohydrates from my diet and replace them with sweet potatoes, white potatoes and unprocessed whole grains like brown rice. It wasn't like I thought that a piece of whole wheat Ezekial bread was an unhealthy food, or a bowl of whole wheat pasta for that matter. My goal was actually just to eat less calorically dense foods at my meals.

I had no idea that this change in my diet would have any other effect on me other than possible weight loss.

I had no idea that eliminating refined carbohydrates from my diet would make me feel like a normal person--totally in control (yes, I hate that word, but it's the only one that applies) of what I put into my mouth.

I had no idea that eating some processed carbohydrate was preventing me from fully enjoying real, unprocessed carbs like fruit and potatoes.

I had no idea that the whole change would be so natural and freeing, that I would be able to easily stick with it for as long as I have.

I had no idea that I would be so happy, unburdened from the pain of not being able to say "no thank you" to a cookie.

Sure, it's not always so easy. I sometimes have to remind myself that if I eat a little of that pizza from my son's plate at the restaurant, that it will be that much harder for me to be free and happy. But that's all it takes--a quick and simple reminder in my own head.

So you want to know if I am Orthorexic now?

No, I'm not.

I'm anxiety free about food. No iron-clad will is needed to maintain my eating style. I don't have an unhealthy obsession about food. In fact, I care less about food than I ever have in my life, hence the lack of recipes on this blog right now. I don't stress out at all if something that I eat isn't "perfect," but I do try my best to make my food at home Whole Food Plant Based and SOS Free.

I don't eat anything with a mother or a face, and I'm proud of that. It's taken me a long time to be able to say that I really don't eat any dairy or flesh, at all. But instead of that being any source of stress in my life, it's a source of pure joy. I don't want to have anything at all to do with the factory farming machine and the suffering it causes, so no issue for me there.

I don't feel restricted. I feel free. Joyful. Happy for the first time in a really long time.

So to my dear reader, and to my friend Winnie, I want to say that for many people, a little bit of sugar is no big deal. Consider yourself and those people the lucky people! Eat a cookie!

But for people with carbohydrate sensitivity or for food addicts like me, a little bit of sugar (and that can come from whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, alcohol of any kind, and lots of other places) makes a lot of unhappiness and anxiety around food. And for us, moderation is NOT a good thing.

I hope that I am not shaming anyone from eating those foods that are safe for you. You have to know yourself. Is overeating in general a problem for you, or not? Is a particular food a problem for you or is it not? If food addiction is not your issue, than my blog posts on food addiction simply don't apply to your situation. But for those of us that suffer, restricting some foods (or even many) can make all the difference between a lifetime of pain and suffering and a lifetime of bliss.

For all of you reading this, it is my true hope that you find your bliss. And let us all be reminded of what my friend Winnie said, "Eating should not be stressful or make you feel bad or guilty. Ever."


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