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Go Kaleo’s frequently used term “Dietary Dogma” has to be one of my favorite’s this year. Love, love, love it.

Personally, I don’t care which lifestyle diet you choose, so long as it actually benefits your health (lifestyle = set of principles that you choose to live by. Not being on A diet). If it includes lots of fresh veggies, enough protein, is mostly clean, allows for occasional treats and makes your BODY feel AWESOME, you get high fives from me. And if it doesn’t, hopefully you’ll make healthier changes over time that suit you.

But… feeling awesome is about how your BODY responds to your diet. Not how superior YOU FEEL because you follow it. That’s where dietary dogma can get tricky and MAY cross over into orthorexia: a growing problem in the fitness & health community.

Orthorexia is an unhealthy fixation on healthy foods. Unlike anorexia, the goal is not to be thin, but rather to be as healthy as possible. While that may not SEEM all that bad, there is a VERY big difference between someone making healthy lifestyle choices to ENHANCE their life, versus someone who’s healthy choices ARE their life.

Most simply, the difference can be seen in how two individuals handle a situation like hunger….

When faced with the option to either A. starve or B. eat McDonald’s, a person with a healthy relationship with food will choose McDonald’s. They know their body needs food, even if it’s not the kind of food they’d regularly have. They know that the only thing WORSE than eating McDonald’s is starving their bodies.

A person with orthorexic tendencies, on the other hand, would rather starve than eat unhealthy OR will experience SEVERE feelings of guilt, self-loathing and anxiety should they eat the undesirable food. Even when the alternative was starving.

See the difference?

**UPDATE: Just a little add on, since some people seem to be going NUTS over the idea of eating McDonald’s in the example above. I don’t want McHate to cloud the points being made. 

I’m not talking about having to wait an hour before you can find yourself something healthy to eat. In the extreme example below (which, by the way would probably never happen in real life. Figured that most people would ‘get’ that, but hey), I’m talking about a hypothetical life or death situation that highlights the thought process of someone who might suffer from orthorexia.

Someone who would rather starve to death than eat McDonald’s HAS ISSUES (considering that most of these people avoid McDonald’s in order to be healthier, it seems funny that they would choose ‘death’ over it. If anything could be considered unhealthier than McDonald’s, it’s starving or dying. Hands down). That’s all I’m sayin’. I am not, nor have I ever, encouraged people to eat McDonald’s, lol. But if the thought of eating McDonald’s versus starving (not just for an hour or two) actually makes you anxious, stressed, or ________, you MAY want to look into that. That kind of thinking crosses over into MANY behaviors (and most don’t have anything to do with McDonald’s).

Like all eating disorders, it’s about your relationship with food AND there’s a scale. You may have some orthorexic tendencies, without it having a SERIOUS impact on your health (though it may cause you more stress than you’re aware of). The biggest concerns with orthorexics involve the anxiety & stress they experience surrounding food (and meal planning), a decrease in quality of life with increased focus on diet ‘perfection’, ignoring warning signs from the body and potential malnourishment/health problems pertaining to dietary restrictions (very severe at that point. Ortho-anorexia)

Some Signs You May Have Orthorexic Tendencies

  • When your self-worth is wrapped up in the diet you follow.
  • You feel superior to others because of your diet.  
  • You demonstrate feelings of anger & anxiety when other criticize the diet. (on the internet, you use CAPS more often).
  • You’d rather not eat at all than eat something that doesn’t follow your principles.
  • Your relationships have experienced some strain due to your diet (and/or you avoid people who may not adhere to the same principles). You may miss out on social gatherings or functions, skip dinner dates etc.
  • You close yourself off to other dietary ideas (a.k.a unfollowing pages or unfriending people who may have different dietary beliefs). Makes for a comfy but closed bubble.
  • You think about food more often than most people.
  • You spend more time prepping and researching your food than enjoying it.
  • You get more joy from the health benefits of the food you eat than the food itself. (note: enjoying food is important too)
  • You vigorously follow the latest studies, research and more when it comes to food. Not just keeping tabs, but actively keeping up to date and implementing changes based on your findings. Sometimes daily. (Exp: a “study” comes out linking tomatoes to cancer. You throw out the tomatoes in your fridge and won’t eat them again until the next study reveals they “prevent” cancer. You buy them again, until another study reveals they may increase your risk of heart disease. And so on).
  • You ignore signs and tells from your body that your diet may not be working for you (or choose to blame other factors).
  • You hold your dietary beliefs as strongly as you would religious convictions. You can’t be swayed, even when confronted with potential risks (like a doctor advising you to change things up).

Now, here’s the thing: many healthy people will experience SOME of these behaviors. We DO tend to spend more time prepping food. We DO tend to do a little more food research. But the biggest question to ask yourself is whether or not your relationship with food impacts your self-worth or self-esteem. Whether or not your diet is designed to enhance your life verses BE your life. Whether it’s actually SERVING you, versus hindering you.

When it comes to dietary dogma, I do sometimes wonder where one’s passion for healthy eating crosses over into obsession. When someone is so engulfed in ‘my diet is EVERYTHING’, I do get a little concerned. I want healthy bodies too, and over time I’ve come to accept that there are a PLENTY of lifestyle diets that “work”. Some work better for some people and not so well for others. By encouraging the behaviors they all have in COMMON (loads of veggies, adequate protein, clean foods etc), most people can achieve greater health. Beyond that, it’s about personal preference and what YOU find works best for YOUR body.

If it works, awesome. If not, you can change it. But YOUR way isn’t the only way. And no, it won’t work for everyone. All bodies are different. And that’s OKAY. Other people’s lifestyle choices do not take away from your own.

How Can You Tell If Someone Has Orthorexia?  Via WebMD

1. Do they spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about healthy foods?
2. When they eat the way they’re supposed to, do they feel in total control?
3. Are they planning tomorrow’s menu today?
4. Has the quality of their life decreased as the quality of their diet increased?
5. Have they become stricter with themselves?
6. Does their self-esteem get a boost from eating healthy?
7. Do they look down on others who don’t eat this way?
8. Do they skip foods they once enjoyed in order to eat the “right” foods?
9. Does their diet make it difficult for them to eat anywhere but at home, distancing them from family and friends?
10. Do they feel guilt or self-loathing when they stray from their diet?

(If yes was answered to two or more questions, the person may have a mild case of orthorexia. )

Stay healthy, mind & body. :)

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    I think I’m othorexic
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    orthorexia: the majority of fitblrs.
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