Staying True to Paleo Does Not Equal Orthorexia

There have been a few occasions in which blog readers, twitter followers or the public at large have made comments from ‘people who are completely Paleo are too rigid‘ to ‘anyone who never eats grain, dairy or legumes must clearly suffer from orthorexia and it’s a real problem‘.

Just two days ago in the Seattle Times, there was an article entitled ‘When Healthy Eating Becomes An Obsession” followed by...Orthorexia, or the unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food, can lead to diets so strict that they interfere with everyday life and, ironically, deprive the orthorexic eater of essential nutrients.

Understood…and agreed, even, but we have to separate the scenario where someone has an actual eating disorder and someone does not, but has simply identified certain foods as making them feel ill and consequently avoiding those.   It’s unfair and inaccurate to group the two together.

The article gives an example of a woman who identifies herself as someone who fell into the orthorexia category.  

In her words, she “developed orthorexia nine years ago as a 21-year-old bodybuilder. She was restricting certain foods, counting calories obsessively, making sure she got a certain amount of protein. When she was under stress, she coped by tightening her control on food.”

The last part, to me, is the distinguishing factor.  She used control over food to deal with stress. Again, understood, and hats off to her for recognizing this behavior.

It continues along with “The downside is that when control cracks and a forbidden food is eaten, feelings of failure, guilt and self-hatred often follow. The woman tried to stop her food obsessions by trading bodybuilding for CrossFit, only to run into trouble when she entered a paleo diet challenge.  She stated that every time she ate something that wasn’t paleo, she would just beat myself up and finally said, ‘I just can’t do this any more’ and  sought treatment two years ago. While she still struggles, she says she’s generally better today.”

Beating yourself up because you have guilt or failure emotions from not eating Paleo foods and then pledging to never eat them again simply to feel in control of something is far different than purposefully and thoughtfully avoiding non Paleo foods because you’ve already found out the hard way that when you eat sugar/grains/beans/dairy you feel awful and as such, opt to not eat those foods.

Further, comparing True Paleo to an ‘ultra restrictive diet that leaves people with compromised nutrition’ is a concept so asinine it’s not even worth commenting on any further. 

 The woman featured in the piece, ends with saying, “It’s really a judgmental kind of elitist denial you’re in; you dismiss what everyone else says, thinking ‘What do they know … look at how they eat.’

Again, another example of what one might think if they’re in the throes of an issue that goes far beyond what they’re actually eating.  Eating disorders are not simply about not eating food, or eating too much food.   There is a huge emotional component and, as we can see from the testimony of someone who actually had a disordered approach to what she ate, there are many feelings attached to it, and clearly, not just towards oneself.

If you are completely following the True Paleo approach to living, and you’re feeling great, please don’t let anyone make you think there is something wrong with you.

Even if there were something that needed addressing, would eating a piece of cake and some ice cream simply to prove that if you wanted to eat non Paleo foods, you could despite how sick you might feel really help?

I doubt it.