Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Obsessive Much?

Recently, I saw an article about the dangers of a condition called "orthorexia nervosa" - an unhealthy obsession with healthy food. While my initial reaction was to roll my eyes in disbelief about the mere existence of this "condition" in the midst of our nation's obesity epidemic, it did bear a second look.

On one hand, couldn't we all benefit from being more mindful about what we are eating? People are quick to judge behaviors as "extreme" when they are counter to society's norms, yet are the norms always good? A midnight run to a popular fast food restaurant for burgers or tacos doesn't raise eyebrows - in fact, some of these establishments are open until 3am in my town - but if someone were to suddenly develop an intense desire for something like a cold, crisp, tangy kale salad and desperately try to procure that at 3am, their friends might think they'd totally lost it... OR were suffering from some kind of disorder...

On the flip side, I recently read someone's frantic post in a forum about their 2 or 3-year-old kid having ingested a pack of Big League Chew (given to him by someone else's kid who happened to be in the minivan with them). Turns out the kid actually ate the bubble gum - never having had gum before and not knowing what to do with it. The parent was beside themselves, wondering what type of cleansing potions/supplements would be necessary to rid the kid of the toxins that were surely coursing through the kid's body with the introduction of this hideous substance laced with tons of chemicals (although I would be more concerned with something getting stuck in the digestive tract, but that never even came up in the rant). The parent expressed anger at the 8-year-old gum-pusher who had exposed the kid to the offending substance and was also asking for advice for how to deal with this delinquent.

My take on the subject was that if this was the worst thing the kid ever ate, he was probably going to survive the overdose of Big League Chew (I mean, seriously, haven't you seen those little dirty tots wearing nothing but a diaper, drinking Pepsi out of a baby bottle??? What must their daily diets consist of??? Yet they often survive into adulthood, only to become white supremacists, wife-beaters, or some such societal outcast with really bad dental problems... but that is for another post). I would be more worried about introducing detoxifying supplements and potions into the system of a 2-year-old (did you know that these items are not regulated by any entity? The only way to know if you are getting what the label of a product claims you are getting is not from enthusiastic endorsements from MLM sales-reps or website proclamations, instead rely on the scientific information gleaned from evaluations conducted by an independent, third-party evaluation group like Consumer Lab).

My take on the validity of the existence of orthorexia nervosa has shifted somewhat, but I am not so sure that the general public has a good handle on what an "extreme" fixation with healthy food may be, given the fact that so many Americans consider eating iceberg lettuce and white potatoes great ways to fulfill their daily vegetable quota. Balance is key, yet I cringe when many people say that the true key is "moderation" (ever notice how many people say this while ordering their cheeseburger and fries at super-cheap/crappy establishments or slurping their jumbo sodas???). No, the key isn't in "moderation," it's in mindfulness. Think about it: At the most basic level, if a particular food makes you feel lethargic and bloated after eating it, don't eat it. If you are suffering from lifestyle-related illnesses (most of which are caused by making poor food choices), you actually should change your way of eating unless you want to be dependent on medication to simply mask your symptoms. If your food proclivities prevent you from participating in "regular" life, perhaps you need to reevaluate them or create some more user-friendly strategies. If you begin avoiding family gatherings, or taking an entire meal's worth of food for yourself when attending family functions, odds are you've gotten a tad obsessive with the food-thing (I am not taking about people who suffer from a life-threatening condition like a peanut allergy).

Balance really is the key - and by "balance" I'm not talking 50/50... I'm talking 90/10. If you are eating healthy foods 90% of the time, splurge the other 10% - and let your splurges be on the best-quality splurges you can get your hands on. That way, you don't live life feeling deprived (or deranged). If 90/10 is too extreme from where you're starting at, attempt 75/25 and work your way up from there. Baby-step it (borrowing from the depths of wisdom gleaned from Bill Murray's What About Bob?). And if your mother-in-law invites you over for dinner, skip the drama, suck it up and eat something at her table for goodness sake!

Elly Haddad is a certified holistic wellness coach based in Nashville, TN. Through her practice, Elemental Fit, she works with individuals and groups, helping them to better understand the role that diet & lifestyle play in their health, happiness and overall wellbeing.

1 comment :

Debbie said...

Mindfulness - I like that. I will use that when I am told to take all things in moderation ( and yes, this is only said to me when cheese laden food or meat is being offered to me). "I am a mindful eater." that is comforting to me and I imagine it will be to my mother as well. Thank you.