In a world where obesity is growing, eating healthily is certainly an admirable achievement. However, is it right to start crying when made to eat white bread instead of rye bread? Or to refuse to eat dinner because it had added salt in it? What happens when Orthorexia takes over and the world becomes a black and white divide of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food?
Most teenagers – and society in general – are surrounded by messages saying we should eat healthier. The media endorses cutting down on sugar, fats and carbs; turning to organic fruit and veg; stocking up on superfoods like chia seeds and quinoa – which is easier said than done, on a student budget! Yet what happens when healthy eating becomes an unhealthy obsession?
is it right to start crying when made to eat white bread instead of rye bread?
Orthorexia is becoming a global epidemic. For those who do not know the term, it defines an eating disorder where you become fixated by ‘healthy’ foods and practices. Foods is categorised as good or bad, while a label can declare something dangerous to eat. Exercise becomes something that must be done obsessively to stay ‘healthy.’
My personal battle with Orthorexia has been ongoing for several years. Now, I am finally in a place where I can understand the true dangerous element of this ‘Strong is the New Skinny’ phenomenon, created by the media. I am speaking as a girl who used to devour four cheese pizzas and garlic bread, all with a large grin on her face Switch to the girl who survived on seeds and vegetables, I can safely say that an obsession with ‘healthy-living’ became a dangerously ‘unhealthy’ way to live.
The human body needs a wide range of nutrients, fats and carbs to keep going. When I deemed fat to be evil – something the advertising of ‘fat free yogurts’ in the media only endorsed – my hair started to thin and fall out. Later, my periods stopped because the human body needs fat to survive and menstruate. This taught me that it can actually be a good thing to eat a Dominos at 2am, every once in a while, because no food or nutrient should be prevented from entering your body. We all need fruit and vegetables, but having a day where you don’t manage to eat the eight portions should not result in you crying in your room, due to feeling ‘unhealthy’ and a ‘failure.’
The growing increase in Orthorexia is concerning. The media endorses diets everywhere, and whilst many people do need to be educated on how to reduce the unhealthy foods and sugar in their diets, we also all need to be taught moderation. When Orthorexia takes hold there is no such thing as moderation. Even your birthday will not permit a slice of cake, because you know of all of the ‘evil’ things that are in it. You start to fear fruit, due to being told constantly how dangerous sugar is from the media.
When Orthorexia takes hold there is no such thing as moderation
It is an obsession and an eating disorder that means your social life and health suffers. In a world where the majority of people need to lose weight, we are constantly told how bad many types of food are for us. We are made to feel disgusting if we do not spend our lives ‘improving’ our health in the gym.
In primary school, lunches consisted of macaroni cheese and custard puddings. Moving into secondary school, they became tuna wraps with crisps and an apple. By college, I felt anything I ate would be too unhealthy, so I would stick to just fruit and veg.
With Orthorexia you also become obsessed with the fear of others finding you unhealthy. A single comment from a friend feeling ‘fat because she had eaten too much bread’, lead me to assuming bread was evil and banning it for weeks. Girls in particular live in a culture that expects perfection. Healthy diets are perceived to be ‘perfect’ but when they become an obsession they become an imperfect, destructive, isolating and terrible way of living.
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Health food bloggers such as Deliciously Ella endorse amazing natural, unprocessed, vegetarian foods. But many of her recipes are high in sugar – albeit from natural sources like dates – and fats such as nuts and avocado. To an Orthorexia sufferer these may be off-limits, despite being some of the healthiest, most nutrient-rich foods around. As a blogger she appreciates that the human body needs a wide range of nutrients. As someone with Orthorexia, I assumed it is safer to eat a carrot than to follow her super-healthy recipes. In reality the reverse is true.
Recovery from orthorexia takes time. You have to challenge the irrational fears. You have to eat biscuits, and cake, and realise that health is balance. You have to block out the media’s obsession with health and realise that you will never be healthy enough in the media’s eyes – and that this is okay! You have to realise that you do not need to work out solidly every day to stay fit, and that in fact it is healthier to work out a few times a week as your body needs recovery time.
However, you also have to learn moderation again. You have to learn that it is actually very ‘unhealthy’ to limit your diet to those perceived ‘safe’ foods. You have to discover that the real healthy is happily eating all foods in moderation.
Healthy eating is not about perfection, limitations, rules and avoiding all ‘bad’ foods. It is about variety, enjoying healthier foods in a moderate way and responding to your body’s true needs.
No one should miss out on a (large) slice of cake on their birthday, should they?
Featured image: flickr.com