I just had a woman ranting at me about an orthorexia quiz I posted on my skwigg site, and how orthorexia is not real. It was invented by "big food" to undermine organic farming. She closed with, "Like I said, I am not fat, but, and I say this totally without passing judgement, I bet that you are, because no one would think that article was cute or had any social value or would even consider putting it in print unless they were on the opposite end of the weight issue."
The hell? I'm like a wacko magnet lately.
I didn't respond because I try not to engage crazy. If I did respond though, I'd tell her that there is nothing wrong with preparing, eating, and enjoying healthy food. I do it all the time. I love it. It's fun. It makes me feel fantastic. Eating is not the issue. The THINKING is where it can turn disordered and painful. It's one thing to glug green smoothies and swoon over your grass-fed burgers and organic strawberries. It's another to feel extreme guilt, shame, and self-loathing if you don't eat "clean." Or to feel virtuous and superior to others if you do. It becomes disordered if the list of foods you're afraid of grows and grows until you're scared to eat anything you don't have complete control over. Healthy eating as part of a balanced life is a wonderful thing. If consumes your every waking thought, or socially isolates you, or determines your self-worth, uh-oh!
Orthorexia isn't based on what you eat but how you eat. It's the high you get from eating perfectly and safely. It's the misery that comes from fear-based eating. It's thinking something catastrophic will happen to your health if you eat GMOs or trans-fats, or pesticides, or sugar, or whatever else goes against your chosen diet. On the flip side, people often feel like they can control life and prevent anything bad from ever happening (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, death itself) if they just eat perfectly and avoid certain foods. So, when they eat something less than optimal, it's not just a fun day with cake and ice cream, it feels like a shameful betrayal of values and a serious threat to their sense of self.
I've been very flirty with orthorexia. I used to have an (I thought) hilarious fine print disclaimer on that quiz basically saying that I thought eating like a normal person was for weaklings and losers. I had the superiority thing going big time, the fear, the control, the isolation, the obsession. My identity was totally tangled up in my food choices. I flunked the hell out of that orthorexia quiz the first time I took it, and thought that was funny. It was funny, for a minute anyway, until I became more and more obsessed and fearful, to the point that I couldn't eat in restaurants and had to carry my own food with me everywhere.
It's not so much what you're eating, but how you eat it and how you feel about it that matters. Somebody else could look at my meals and think they're very strict and healthy, or very indulgent and reckless, or safe, or repetitive, or fun, or totally stupid. What matters is how I think about my meals. Am I relaxed and enjoying them, or am I stressed, guilty, and afraid?
Eating squash for breakfast because it makes you squeal with happiness (you know who you are, people!) is different from eating squash for breakfast because you're afraid to eat anything else. Just like eating pizza for breakfast doesn't mean it's "cheat" day or that you don't care about your health. It's just squash. It's just pizza. What really matters is the thought process. Do you feel good before, during, and after eating? Awesome! Enjoy!
Based on your own experiences, what separates healthy thinking from disordered thinking? If there's a line to cross, how do you know when you've crossed it?