New, Cool Eating Disorder. Healthy Or Orthorexic?

In the November 2014 issue of Harper’s Bazaar UK, actress, Jennifer Lawrence took aim at the Hollywood trend of gluten-free diets. She called them the “New, Cool Eating Disorder.”

Our society has become obsessed with healthy living, often to the point of being un-healthy. We now live in a culture of low calorie, low carbohydrate, low fat and high protein diets, along with sugar free and gluten free options to boot. But are these lifestyle approaches healthy… or something else?

When we hear the words “eating disorder, ” we most often think of anorexia or bulimia. But there’s another more subtle form also out there: Orthorexia.

According to Timberline Knolls Eating Disorder Treatment Center’s website:

“A person with orthorexia will be obsessed with defining and maintaining the perfect diet, rather than an ideal weight. He/She will fixate on eating foods that give him/her a feeling of being pure and healthy. An orthorexic may avoid numerous foods, including those made with:

  • Artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
  • Pesticides or genetic modification
  • Fat, sugar or salt
  • Animal or dairy products
  • Other ingredients considered to be unhealthy

In addition, orthorexia’s behaviors also include:

  • Obsessive concern over the relationship between food choices and health concerns such as asthma, digestive problems, low mood, anxiety or allergies
  • Increasing avoidance of foods because of food allergies, without medical advice
  • Noticeable increase in consumption of supplements, herbal remedies or probiotics / macrobiotics
  • Drastic reduction in opinions of acceptable food choices, such that the sufferer may eventually consume fewer than 10 foods
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These behaviors can, indeed, be disordered eating. And yes, hindsight has shown me I’ve also been touched by this condition. Just as my eating disorders have morphed, one into another, so has my recovery from them.

There was a time, with anorexia when I ate nothing, fearing every food, even fearing water would make me fat. Eventually, however, my physical and emotional hunger overtook my starvation tendencies and then it was all about bulimia. In this disorder, I binged on everything “unhealthy ” in large amounts. I felt deprived, hopeless and in desperate need for comfort. So, foods rich in fat, fat and sugar were my answer. However, I learned they weren’t my solution, as, no matter how much I ate of them, my life was still painful. I was looking in the wrong direction.

And, as I pursued a healthier direction, I believe orthorexia started in the early stages of my recovery process. As I got into therapy and dealt with painful issues, my buzzword was “healthy. ” I was obsessed. Now, I wanted to eat completely healthy all the time. There’s nothing wrong with healthy eating, in and of itself. We need to eat nutritious things which encourage, not destroy health.

However, with my perspective on healthy eating, I regarded it as an oppressive rule rather than a guideline. The rule demanded perfection. However, the guideline encouraged the power of choice. And, whether I knew it or not, felt it or not, I could make another choice.

And so, the evolution of my recovery continues to focus more on that principle. It’s not perfect. But it’s about not attaching such extreme “worst case scenario ” results to the food, be it healthy or not as healthy. I can always make another choice about what I’m doing. It’s freeing instead of stifling.

And what’s the most freeing is the more relaxed approach toward perfection.

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 1 Corinthians 10:23

All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. 1 Corinthians 6:12

Life is not perfect; I am not perfect. It’s not an attainable standard. “Healthier, ” however, can be. “Kind to oneself ” can be. “Human, ” like it or not, is.

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust. Psalms 103:14

And, when we come up short (and we will), God is there with His perspective and help, even dealing with these food and “trigger ” situations.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go: I will guide you with My eye. Psalm 32:8

It’s acceptance, not rejection. We need to remember that.

And health, indeed, is God’s desire for us:

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. Psalm 42:11

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Jeremiah 29:11

For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after. Jeremiah 30:17

God’s not oppressive; disorder, in any form, however, is.

In our daily lives, therefore, it’s a good thing to stop and ask ourselves about our food choices. Why do I eat this food? Why do I avoid this food? It can be all too easy to disguise an eating disorder as the latest, perhaps, even glamorous or healthy trend.

However, that disguise cannot stop potential negative health issues from occurring.

It is about using “the mind of Christ ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) we, as believers, possess. It is about choosing life (Deuteronomy 30:19).

So, let’s be mindful to eat THAT on a daily basis!