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Monday, 11 February 2013 12:20

Are You Orthorexic?

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There is a lot of information out there about the connection between food and health. Perhaps you have read that sugar can lead to cancer, trans fats can cause a heart attack, and gluten can be the cause of autoimmune disease. You are warned about the pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and toxins in your food. It can get to the point where you are afraid to put anything in your mouth.

I'm not here to dispute or support the accuracy of these claims or to promote any one way of eating. I am here to say that all of this can create a madness that is not healthy. Orthorexic is a term used to describe the unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. I'm all in favor of eating healthy (!), but when it gets to where it is causing you stress or coming from a place of fear, it's time to take a moment and get yourself back in control.

In my first year of school to get my Masters in Holistic Health Education, I veered on the side of being orthorexic. The more I learned about nutrition, the crazier I got. Nuts should be raw and soaked. Produce should be organic. Beef needs to be grass-fed. Chicken can't have hormones or antibiotics. Eggs need to be pastured. I should stay away from soda, trans-fats, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, coffee, refined foods, canned goods, packaged food, and the list goes on.

I wholeheartedly think that all of the dietary guidelines mentioned above are healthy ways of eating. This is how I eat for the most part (except that I don't soak my nuts). However, there are times when it's out of my control and I just don't worry about it anymore. For example, I don't stress about eating beef that is not grass-fed when I am invited to a friend's house for dinner. Instead, I am grateful for the invitation and for the effort that goes into cooking a meal for me. I don't worry if the greens at the restaurant are not organic. Instead, I enjoy the culinary delights that the chef has created. I don't boycott the "regular" eggs my family buys when I go visit them. Instead, I am thankful for the time we spend together.

There is a lot of information about what is right and what is wrong when it comes to healthy eating, some of which contradicts itself. There is also an element of eating according to the latest fad. In my blog, The Trendy Diet, I talk about how certain food groups have gone in and out of fashion. Carbs were good, then they were bad. Same with fats, soy, and gluten. It is best to go to the source and find out how much is reputable (repeatable) research and how much is marketing hype.

We all have to decide what is right for us. I have friends and clients who strongly support and swear by their vegan diet and yet others who do all things Paleo. There are others who are gluten-free, sugar-free, or dairy-free. We all have our own biochemical individuality which means there is no one right answer for everyone. It's important to remember this so that we don't try to proselytize our way as the right way. Live and let live without judgement. It's about being in tune with your own body and doing what is right for you. A good way to find this out is to do an elimination diet and find out which foods cause problems for your own body.

For me, I do eat meat, but I eat it in small portions and I am particular about eating quality meats (e.g. grass-fed beef, hormone and antibiotic-free chicken). I eat organic for the high pesticide produce (e.g. blueberries, kale) and don't stress as much about buying organic for the low pesticide (e.g. avocado, onions) fruits and veggies. I do buy pastured eggs. I eat gluten because I don't have a sensitivity to it, but I don't eat a lot of it and when I do, I make it good quality like whole grain breads. I eat sugar in the form of fruit and honey, but I try to stay away from foods with high fructose corn syrup and refined sugars. I choose not to eat soy. This is just what works for me. 

Being orthorexic isn't necessarily about what you eat, it's about the stress and importance that you put on it. If it's simply a way of life for you, that's great. However, when it gets in the way of your relationships and your mental happiness, it might be time to consider the toll it's taking on your overall health. A part of health is pleasure. Pleasure can come from enjoying your favorite dessert or sharing a home-cooked special meal with your loved ones. And if it's causing you stress or anxiety, we all know that is not good for your health. If you get it right 80 to 90% of the time, that's excellent. When you are in the 10 to 20% of not eating as healthy as you could, just do so mindfully and without guilt.

The bottom line is this. Yes, read the information that is out there and educate yourself about eating well. I fully believe in the power of food for our health. I've seen amazing changes happen with dozens of clients who have changed their eating habits. It's absolutely important to have a healthy obsession with healthy eating. The problem comes when that obsession turns from healthy to unhealthy. At that point, it's time to gain control back and truly be healthy—in all four quadrants of your life.

Do you have an obsession with healthy eating? If so, is it healthy or unhealthy?


Be sure to get your free 47 page Getting Started Guide: Taking Your First Step on the 4QL Journey by signing up for our newsletter at the top right of this page. It is filled with a 4 quadrant health assessment as well as health tips for each quadrant including 5 Steps to Mindfulness, 12 Tips for Fad-Free Eating, 6 Ways to Closer Connections, and 9 Ideas to Detox Your Home.

Dina Colman, MA, MBA is an author, healthy living coach, and founder of Four Quadrant Living. Dina has a private practice helping clients live healthier and happier lives. Her book, Four Quadrant Living: Making Healthy Living Your New Way of Life, guides readers to make healthy living a part of their daily lives, leading to greater health, vitality, and happiness. Contact Dina at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Published Articles

Green Exercise: Good for the Sole and Soul
Natural Awakenings, March 2011

Sustainable Danville Area: Find Your People
Danville Today News, February 2012 (Page 6)

Are Genetically Modified Foods Making Your Child Sick?
Active Kids, June 2012 (Page 23)