Avoiding Orthorexia: How to Not Get Obsessed with Nutrition and Fitness
We all want to look and feel our best. But it takes planning to implement a healthy, Paleo lifestyle – setting aside time to plan the menu for the coming week, writing the grocery list accordingly, scheduling time for your cooking sessions, and making sure you carve out time for regular activity are all equally important components. But when does your meticulous planning cross the line into obsession? What’s the balance between having a healthy approach to eating properly and exercising versus crossing the boundary into being obsessed?
A few years back, I first learned the term orthorexia, a medical condition in which the sufferer systematically avoids specific foods in the belief that they are harmful. The manner in which I learned about it was rather unpleasant; someone commented on my blog to suggest that, in their opinion, the reason most people choose to follow a Paleo diet is because they’re actually suffering from orthorexia. While I’m sure there are some who fit this bill, to assume that that the majority of the Paleo population falls into this category is a big problem. It was as if this person were saying that someone, like me, should keep eating foods containing gluten despite feeling physically awful after consumption because it’s only my perception that they’re doing harm? I found it doubly offensive as it seems to lessen the severity of legitimate eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, which truly can be life threatening.
However, this isn’t to say that all of us, regardless of what type of eating and exercise regime we opt to follow, don’t run the risk of becoming hypersensitive. It may start out innocently enough – after seeing great results by taking the first steps toward becoming Paleo, it’s easy to see why we all continue this lifestyle. We feel healthier and more energetic and those extra pounds are slipping away! But if you do find yourself in a place where what started out as a healthy eating regime ends up diverting down a path where you’re cutting out foods that are actually healthy, you need to rethink your approach.
Use the following checklist to make sure you’re keeping on an emotionally healthy path to match that which you’re trying to create for your body.
1. DON’T ARBITRARILY ASSIGN A LOW NUMBER OF CALORIES OR FAT GRAMS YOU’RE ALLOWED TO EAT
Remember that one of the beautiful things about a Paleo diet is that we eat well! Good fat, rich proteins, and copious amounts of veggies equal satiety, great energy, and focus all day long. If you’re flagging at 11 AM and dreaming of a sugary muffin and a third coffee, look back and see if what you ate for breakfast was truly worthy of being the most important meal of the day.
2. DON’T SET UNREALISTIC GOALS FOR YOURSELF
If your reasons for starting a Paleo diet regime include losing those fifty pounds you’ve put on over the last ten years, don’t set yourself up for failure by deciding you need to lose the weight in time for your reunion next month. Better to lose five pounds and keep them off while feeling great instead of losing twenty on a crash diet that leaves you feeling drained, lackluster, and grumpy after starving for weeks.
3. KEEP IT FUN
With a playful approach, rather than a punitive one, it’s much easier to stay lighthearted and positively engaged. Allow yourself to laugh when you’re at your first Pilates class and you find yourself positioned backwards on the reformer! You’re just learning and you deserve a break as you develop a new skillset.
4. REWARD YOURSELF WITH NON-FOOD GIFTS
While food is certainly more than just about fueling the body, it’s a multi-sensory experience; there are many other means to provide impetus to stay on course instead of deferring to a comfort food that leaves you feeling anything but comfortable! Pick something special that has nothing to do with food to give yourself after you hit the yoga studio four times or learn how to prepare a delicious Paleo meal of Italian Chicken under a Brick served over sautéed rapini instead of pasta.
5. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
If your body tells you that you need more sleep, and your throat is scratchy and you have a headache, don’t muscle through that 6 A.M. spin class. If you’re inclined to do so, that in and of itself is a sign that you’re running the risk of going into a dark territory. Any time you find yourself heading this way, pay close attention and look into it before it becomes a habit to disregard the signs your body is providing for you.
One good reality check is to ask yourself if you’re treating yourself with kindness and love, the way you might treat a dear friend or family member. Would you tell them the things you’re thinking towards yourself? If so, chances are you’re on a good path. If not, stop and think and consider your approach; it may be time to tone down, tune in, and regroup in order to create a healthier relationship with you, your body, and nourishing yourself.
The sooner you put a potential problem in check, the better!