There’s a new eating disorder sweeping the columns of tabloids, healthy living forums and yes, even the message boards of bodybuilding websites.
At one end of the spectrum, comfort eating and food binges can cause weight gain and all the emotional and psychological issues that go with it. At the other end of the scales, there’s anorexia, a horrible disease that sees sufferers starve themselves, sometimes to death.
But now it seems too much emphasis on ‘clean food’ can cause problems too…
Into fitness? Want to look good on the inside as well as the outside? Chances are you already watch what you eat. And don’t get us wrong – that’s a good thing. But find yourself taking way too much care over the composition of the food you put on your plate, and there’s a risk of setting yourself up for an eating disorder called ‘Orthorexia’, an obsession with ‘clean’ food.
But just what is ‘clean’ food and if it’s so good for you, why is it bad?
Clean food is food as nature intended it; clean food is the optimal diet for humans; clean food is a historical reality we need to get back to. Three different definitions of clean food, all of which are right, and all of which are wrong depending on your individual food beliefs. And what counts as ‘clean’ changes too. Back in the 1980s, fat was out, now sugar gets the bad press. In the 90s healthy grains were the go, now the paleo buffs won’t touch anything cavemen couldn’t have eaten.
Food trends come and go and so does the science behind them. Remember what they used to say about dietary cholesterol? According to the scientists, it was bad – very bad. Now the research says that in combination with a healthy lifestyle, munching on egg yolks, butter and cream does little to increase your chances of heart disease. Processed foods are supposed to be bad, but depending on your training regime, whey protein, creatine and cod liver oil are appropriate supplements. ‘Clean food’ is anything but simple, and obsessing over the detail can create the conditions for an obsession that can wreck lives.
Do you have a problem?
Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with healthy eating. Vegetarianism is not a problem, neither is veganism. What we’re talking about here is an unhealthy obsession with the quality of the food you eat.
But when does a healthy interest in eating well become an unhealthy obsession with food? According to the American National Eating Disorders Association, the more of the following questions to which you answer yes, the more likely it is you suffer from an eating disorder.
• Do you wish that occasionally you could just eat and not worry about food quality?
• Do you ever wish you could spend less time on food and more time living and loving?
• Does it seem beyond your ability to eat a meal prepared with love by someone else – one single meal – and not try to control what is served?
• Are you constantly looking for ways foods are unhealthy for you?
• Do love, joy, play and creativity take a back seat to following the perfect diet?
• Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
• Do you feel in control when you stick to the “correct” diet?
• Have you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the foods they eat?
Avoid the pitfalls
To avoid clean food anxiety, the 10 – 20 guideline is a key weapon in your armoury. Think healthy for 80 – 90% of your diet, but always leave room enough for 10 – 20% of your calories to come from whatever you like. It’s an exercise in moderation – it builds flexibility into your diet, and that will help stop you obsessing.
So don’t be too rigid in your menu choices. Make sure every once in a while you get to enjoy an ice cream or a good old fashioned hamburger – without guilt. If a friend invites you over to dinner, eat what she puts on your plate. It doesn’t matter if it’s not your usual fayre – as long as most of the time, you eat quality fresh produce from across the food groups. Always remember the old adage: a little of what you fancy does you good!