Wellness Wednesday: Health Conscious or Disordered Eating?

Worried your healthy eating could be heading into dangerous territory? Read on to know if your eating is health conscious or disordered eating.

Health conscious or disordered eating? Read on the learn if your healthy eating is getting into dangerous territory.

Two years ago, vegan blogger Jordan Younger shared a stunning (at the time) secret.

She was suffering from an eating disorder called orthorexia, an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy.

At the time, most people had a very narrow image of what an eating disorder looks like, a skeletal young woman, wasting away without food. Not a bubbly, happy (according to her instagram pictures), healthy and athletic appearing woman who gleefully shared pictures of her salads and green juice for the world to see. But behind the filters, she had restricted her food to vegetables, fruits, green juices and occasionally whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. The obsession wasn't with getting thin, it was about getting pure.

It's long been recognized among eating disorder specialists and dietitians that people, men and women, are suffering from more eating issues than just anorexia and bulimia. Some have names, like binge eating disorder, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, and orthorexia. Others struggle with combinations of emotional eating, obsessive calorie/macronutrient counting, and chronic dieting. And while these struggles may sound less severe, just because someone isn't starving in a hospital doesn't mean they aren't in pain.

One of the most difficult things about getting people who are struggling with disordered eating the treatment they need is the fact that disordered eating is so common. I've heard recovery described as trying to survive in a society that has it's own eating disorder. That description couldn't be more accurate - one study found 75% of women have disordered eating behaviors. It's totally normal to talk about dieting, good/bad foods, extreme exercise and body hatred like you would talk about the weather! But just because disordered eating is common, doesn't mean it should be considered benign.

Now, don't get me wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with eating healthfully or making a conscious effort to eat more healthy food. The problem comes when those efforts are detracting from your overall physical and mental health, and quality of life.

Not sure if your health conscious eating or exercising is verging into disordered eating territory? Take this quiz, developed by Dr. Steven Bratman, who coined the phrase orthorexia, to find out.

Health Conscious or Disordered Eating Quiz:

1. Do you spend 3 or more hours a day thinking (or talking) about food?

Is your day consumed by reading nutrition blogs? When you hang out with your friends, does the topic of conversation quickly go to dieting? Is there a pile of nutrition books and cookbooks by your bed? Do you waste your mental energy obsessing over what you already ate or thinking about what you will have for your next meal? Thinking about food is normal. Obsessing about food is a problem.

2. Do you plan your meals in advance?

There's nothing wrong with meal planning or prep. I highly recommend it as a way to make eating nutritious and tasty food easy. The problem is when planning comes from a place of control and turns into an exercise in crafting the "perfect" diet. Is your meal plan rigid, or is there flexibility? Are you planning around food you enjoy, or planning around limitations and restrictions?

3. Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure you receive from eating it?

Nutrition should plan a role in your food decision making, but taste and pleasure should be the main factors.

4. Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased?

When you're obsessed with your food nourishment, it's hard to have energy or make time for the other things in life that nourish you - friends, relationships, self care, sleep, hobbys....getting over emotionally invested in the olympic games. 

5. Have you become stricter with yourself lately?

First it was sugar, then it was dairy, then it was white flour. As you layer on more and more food rules, less and less foods are considered healthy to eat, until your diet gets to the point where it is nutritionally inadequate.

6. Does your self esteem get a boost from eating healthfully?

Do you feel morally superior because of you healthy eating? Being a healthy eater is considered a positive trait in our society and others may look up to you for your willpower. The praise you're showered with gives a big confidence boost. But, of course, there's danger in your self esteem riding on your diet is that the second you go off your diet, your self esteem takes a hit.

7. Have you given up food you used to enjoy in order to eat the food you think is right?

We all have foods we love that might not be health promoting from a nutrition standpoint, but are nourishing in other ways, through providing pleasure, nostalgia, or nourishing social connections.

8. Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, leading to isolation from friends and family?

Would you cancel plans with someone if they picked a restaurant that couldn't cater to your nutrition needs? If the thought of breaking your food rules is more distressing than missing social events, then there's a problem.

9. Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet?

When your self esteem is linked to the purity of your diet, the guilt and shame experienced by any deviation can feel overwhelming. But in reality, eating a cupcake is pretty low on the scale of moral lapses. I mean, unless you stole said cupcake, there's nothing to feel guilty about.

10. Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthfully?

Having complete control over what's on your plate gives the false illusion of having complete control in life. But life is messy, complicated, joyous, painful, challenging, serendipitous and absolutely, positively, impossible to control.

Health conscious or disordered eating? Take the quiz to find out.

If you answered yes to 4 or 5 questions, then you may have some food issues to do deep thinking about, or better yet, work with an experienced dietitian or therapist on. If you answered yes to all or most of the questions, you may have a serious obsession with food that you should seek help for.

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If you feel like your eating habits and relationship with food are detracting from your quality of life, I am happy to work with you. My goal with all my clients is to make nourishing their body well effortless and fun so you can rediscover the joy that comes from eating. We are also running the Joyful Eating, Nourished Life group intuitive eating program again in early October and would love to have you!

Another fun new way to get support - starting next week, I'll be answering your questions live on facebook each Wellness Wednesday. Send me your questions on intuitive eating, nutrition, health, body positivity or even a personal question and I'll pick one each week! And of course, it's anonymous ;)  If you have a burning question, send me an email at AnAvocadoADayRD@gmail.com with the subject line "FACEBOOK QUESTION." If I pick yours, I'll shoot you an email in advance and let you know. Hope this is something you all enjoy and please let me know of any other suggestions!

P.S. Apologies in advance for any video awkwardness! This will be new to me!

Did any of your answers to the questions in the quiz surprise you?