The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Orthorexia: The Unclassified Eating Disorder
Today is National Eating Healthy Day.
If you live in a well-established country, than your choice of food is nearly endless. Not only is it endless, but there are foods with tastes that would never actually occur in nature, yet technology and spices allows us to make food taste like literally anything. Humans have become so good at creating food that foods can even be processed to make even more of it. Unfortunately, this task of processing foods also causes them to lose their valuable nutrients, but somehow they manage to keep their calories, thus providing people with an overabundance of caloric energy, but without the absolute nutrients their bodies desire. As a result, over time, the body of people who eat processed foods begins to break down and they begin to experience types of sickness.
Illness and cancers are prevalent among the population, and in essence, people are literally starving themselves, and yet eating themselves to death. We could call it an unhealthy epidemic in which education may or may not play a role, and people still choose to eat the way they do. The diet which causes unhealthiness is a staple called the Western diet or American diet. Literally, anywhere this diet ends up in the world, obesity, cancer, and health problems, and death follow in its path. The American diet is in demand, as many Americans love it, and people outside of America enjoy its taste and easiness. Why fix the problem if it is not acknowledged as a problem? Why fix the problem if it makes so much money everyday and every year? The processed and fast food industry is a billion dollar industry.
Processed foods began as early as the 1800s in order to feed heavy military populations. It escalated during the World Wars, as food was scarce, or there was simply not enough people to do the work of providing food for everyone, thus began the rise of freeze drying, juice concentrates, artificial sweeteners, evaporation, and spray drying, which allowed food to last longer on shelves, or extend its lifetime without refrigeration. Since the 1900s, it has only escalated and with it, a list of health problems began to arise, and continues to rise. Maybe it is done as a means of population control or maybe it is allowing society the freedom of choice in the foods they eat.
Nonetheless, millions of people die every year from the foods they have been eating their entire lives. Maybe people do not know any better or simply know but regardless of what they eat, know that eventually they will succumb to death. Thus, they choose to enjoy the foods they eat, rather than worrying about the health effects it may have on them over time. There are people who can eat just about anything and do not seem to experience the effects of weight gain or excess body fat. They appear healthy, but underlying, may not always be healthy. On the other hand, people who may have extra body weight and body fat may also appear to be unhealthy, but be healthier than slimmer body types.
There are others who cannot even look at food without gaining a few pounds or putting on excess fat. Gaining weight or acquiring excess fat is something that is certainly not done overnight. However, as food is packed with calories, or energy, and we eat too much in a single day, far too much than we actually need, weight is put on over the years. I have personally seen people gain as much as 10-20 pounds in a single year. For example, if one person drinks one can of soda every day of the year, they have the potential of gaining nearly 5-10 pounds. Throw in several regular sugar-filled sodas each day and now you have figured out why society is gaining too much weight.
Fast food has become the norm for most families, going out several times a week, because it is far easier to spend a few minutes driving to the fast food restaurant, shelling out a few bucks, and calling it dinner for the family. That lifestyle is extremely appealing and one that the corporations our capitalist society take advantage of. Going to work, working for money, and using that money to buy food is like money you are paying to save time. You are literally not only buying food, but time as well. Cooking for yourself takes some time. Cooking for an entire family is like a 2-hour chore. Hoping that everyone appreciates and enjoy your meal is for probably long enough for me to write another confession about. I am someone who needs to be told that I did a good job cooking and that my food tasted great, even if everyone ate it. If there is the slightest bit of criticism, such as I added too much of one ingredient, or forgot to add an ingredient, I am totally torn up over it and beating myself up. The worst is when you spend all that time cooking and either someone or everyone decides that what you cooked is just not worth eating, even if it tasted amazing.
There are people who have acknowledged this problem in society, such as myself, and have done something about it, possibly acquiring a new healthy eating lifestyle, and losing weight. I bold those words because many of those who have lost the weight and acquired that lifestyle, tend to lose it after a while, forgetting that their metabolisms are still slow as molasses, and they only lost weight and became healthier because they allowed their bodies to do so. A healthy eating lifestyle involves eating healthy foods, which means that “health foods” usually contain very few ingredients. These are the best kinds of foods to eat and the ones that my body has very little reaction to when eating them. Whether you are gluten-sensitive, dairy-sensitive, wheat-sensitive, sugar-sensitive, or any other sensitivity that comes with food, which I am for many different foods, you try to avoid food as much as possible, because nearly every food in our society contains something in those categories. Luckily, I have no allergic reactions to nuts! Having any foods in my stomach containing any of the related sensitive ingredients causes me inflammation and possible weight gain, by 2-5 pounds for several days. Whether it is a tolerant allergic reaction to foods, in which I may really be allergic to things I eat, but my body has learned to deal with it, I do not know. Therefore, I have tried to eliminate nearly all food out of my diet and switched to alternative healthier choices.
I often feel guilty when I eat, healthy or not. I have anxiety when people mention food, talk about food, or discuss going out to eat food with me. While I do not make a huge fuss if someone cooks dinner for me, in order to respect and appreciate what they do, I am constantly living with this anxiety and paranoia. If I snack on unhealthy foods or grab a bite of my lady’s fast food burger, I am ridden with the guilt of being unable to control myself. It is as if I feel that I gave into the raging hunger beast. This is not to put down anyone who loves fast food or processed foods. To each his or her own! But my reality is: It is healthier for me to cook that burger and make it myself, so that I know or what I believe I bought at the store is healthier than giving into the alternative unhealthy food. This obsession with healthy food has gotten to the point where I am scared to eat other people’s food, whether I eat over their houses, grab a little side snack from someone who brought in brownies or cookies to work, or eat at a restaurant. They could have used milk! They could have used too much sugar! Too much sodium! They could have put too many ingredients in it! They could have skipped out on this or that ingredient and added a better alternative ingredient to it!
Eating healthy even makes me question eating healthy. Is what I am eating healthy enough to eat? If I eat that piece of cheese, is that okay? If I happen to munch on some potato chips or cheese doodles, is it going to affect me to the point where I need to spend an hour or a day in the gym or not eat for a day in order to offset the balance of eating healthy to non-healthy? This “healthy eating obsession” is a blessing and a curse: A blessing because I have lost over 80 pounds and managed to keep it off for many years; a curse because I care too much about the food my body is getting, and how it was not designed to “enjoy food” because everything I eat makes me gain weight so easily or feel “guilty for eating” it.
My “meal” has literally become a researched nutrient-packed satiating liquid shake that amounts to 25g fat, 12g carbs, 30g protein, and 5g of fiber, with just 2g of sugar, amounting to about 400-500 calories. It consists of almond milk, extra water if desired, whey protein powder, flax seed, chia seed, cacao, maca powder, coconut with a sprinkle of cinnamon. The fact that I carefully calculate, usually in spoonfuls, how many macronutrients are in a bite of food, means that I may just have an obsession with “eating healthy food” or am I obsessed with the macronutrients? Occasionally, I may snack on almonds, pistachios, or almond butter, all of which are carefully chosen in hand-selected amounts, have a good balance of fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Sure, most of you reading this are yelling at me that I need more food, but in eating less, I have ultimately eliminated nearly all bouts of hunger. I do not “feel hungry” ever anymore and have almost no desire to eat. “Food” does not consume my mind, command nearly any time from it. I am free to do many things without ever thinking: “I’m hungry.” On the other hand, forgetting to eat, not wanting to eat, or having no desire to eat is shy away from the norm and makes me abnormal. Unfortunately, it also means that because we are social creatures and use food to socialize, I become the awkward one for not wanting to eat, forgetting to eat, or not “planning for everyone” to eat.
While everyone else is busy trying to figure out what they want for lunch or dinner, my mind focuses on other things, writing articles, building a project, reading new information, that I feel are more important than eating. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. In fact, I think eating is a big waste of time and while I loved to cook when I was eating more solid foods, I found it extremely time-consuming. Going to buy the food. Spending money on food. Pulling out the dishes. Getting out the food. Preparing the food. Waiting for the food to cook. Eating the food. Washing the dishes. Drying the dishes. Putting the dishes away. Cooking is an ordeal that requires at least an hour everyday. With my new method of becoming a chemist and making a shake everyday, I spend less than 10 minutes a day eating. Since I already know what I am going to have and I know how to make the shake, no time goes into figuring it out. Almost no time is spent thinking about food, what I am going to make, how it is going to taste, how I will feel afterwards. With the same meal, over and over, I know how it tastes, I have perfected it to where I like it and it satisfies my taste buds, I have made it so that I have a feeling over fullness afterwards, and I generally enjoy it. I can even drink my shake and walk among others who are eating delicious foods I know I love and numb myself to it all.
Stepping on the scale is another nerve wracking experience. I have learned to maintain my weight and having been over 200 pounds for most of my young adult life, I have been able to remain under 200 pounds for the past 3 years. Unfortunately, sometimes weight gain is shown simply by drinking too much water or eating something that did not agree with me, and the inflammation causes me to bloat up and appear fatter or heavier on the scale, despite the weight gain only being temporary, but it is still something that causes panic and re-enforces the idea that I should be avoiding food altogether, not just unhealthy food, but even healthy foods.
You could say I live with Orthorexia, a disorder in which individuals become obsessed with healthy eating. The obsession can get to the point where the individual feels guilty for eating nearly any kind of food “not deemed” healthy. Avoiding fast food, junk food, processed foods is an obstacle everyday. This does not mean the individual does not want to eat them, they simply know that temptation is always there with the need to over-indulge because self-control is not always easy. Eating these foods, however, have dire consequences, and while one may not gain weight overnight or even the next day or week, there are consequences for eating food. For every action, there is an opposite reaction. This is my life everyday, every minute, every hour, and every second of the day. In the irony of it all, as much as I do not think about food all the time, I am thinking about it all the time, but instead of eating it, just avoiding it. This is both my blessing and my curse.