Eating Clean is a lifestyle way of eating designed to help you manage your weight and nutrition while restoring balance and respect to your way of eating. It’s not a diet. That’s how I intended it. But, as with so many trends, the strategy of Eating Clean (different than Clean Eating – just ask the publisher) has turned a dangerous corner and folks are now questioning if this too is prompting a new eating disorder called orthorexia – a term coined by Dr. Steven Bratman in 1997. According to this American, orthorexia nervosa is an unhealthy obsession with eating “proper” food.
As the founder of the Eat Clean revolution and as a hungry person seeking her next meal, I have always approached eating well with balance and a sense of reason – you Eat Clean when you can and when you can’t, eat something else and stop whining. For example, when travelling, it is challenging to always find a clean meal. Most recently I was in Denver for business. My schedule was so tight, I had no time to eat from when I landed to when I had to start working. That meant making a choice. Do I eat what I can find or blow a gasket, moving heaven and earth to nibble on a clean morsel. “Excuse me, taxi driver could you stop over there so I can chow down some grass?” For heaven’s sake people. You can only do what you can do. Did I throw my hands up in the air, fall to my knees and ask the universe why I couldn’t eat clean? Nah! I had just enough time to grab a pre-made hummus and veg assortment and that suited me just fine. The point is, you don’t need to make yourself crazy over eating no matter how you do it.
But how do you feel about this? Over the years, I have answered your questions, read your stories and connected with you and I wonder if orthorexic is how you feel? I went back to my vault of anecdotes from you and it wasn’t long before I noted a striking commonality amongst you. You like to Eat Clean. You appreciate the principles and you don’t tie yourself in pretzels to make it happen – sometimes you even eat pretzels. You eat your pizzas and pasta, drink your beer and wine and eat chocolate and then you return to Eating Clean as your go to strategy. Eating happens so frequently (365 days per year, 6 times per day or thereabouts) and for so much of your time that it’s clear, eventually you are going to eat something that doesn’t fit with a clean lifestyle but you don’t have to go to confession about it. It’s about approaching your eating with a sense of reason and balance. In my writing I have always advocated this.
But in a recent Newsweek story, it is suggested that orthorexia can be associated with those who choose to follow a paleo, gluten free or clean way of eating. It further states that “Clean eaters may follow similar regimes, removing gluten, dairy and even meat from their diets.” None of these are advocated in an Eat-Clean Diet® so I find this statement more a response to the confusion that is clean eating today – clean eating is not Eating Clean. Eating Clean isn’t about removing dairy and meat from the diet. That’s somebody else’s idea. You may think this is semantics but it isn’t. The differences in the two are like night and day, namely that in Eating Clean one is never prompted to make oneself nuts over eating it and we do eat meat and dairy.
In an Italian study researchers created a questionnaire to determine the presence of orthorexia. Here are two examples of questions: “Does the thought about food worry you for more than three hours a day?” and “Do you feel guilty when transgressing your healthy eating rules?” There is a sector of the population that is more prone to orthorexia and that would be women. No surprise there. However these kinds of questions could be asked of anyone who eats yielding similar results. Again, if we approach our nutrition with a sense of balance, enjoying our food, participating in the selection, preparation and eating of it, there is a greater chance of developing a healthy respect for food.
In the Baltimore Sun, writer Andrea K. MacDaniels suggests that as “safe food choices become more and more limited weight loss and malnutrition can occur.” This is ridiculous. The safe food choices disappeared a long time ago with the invention of fake foods, processed foods and other such nutritionally dead foods. That train left the station several decades ago, and you can see where that got us. According to the WHO (not the band, but the World Health Organization) we have never been more overweight and ill with numbers approaching 70% of the population in both categories, predisposing us to higher incidence of disease. Type II diabetes is on the rise such that now 1 out of 3 people can expect to be diagnosed with it, and those are just the ones paying attention. Our food has done this to us. Please do let me know where the safer foods are, because I would dearly love to know.
In a later statement, MacDaniels writes that culture has prompted “restrictive food trends.” She blames cleanses, paleo and raw diets and others that eliminate entire food groups. Good news for Eating Clean – all food groups welcome. We only draw the line when that food isn’t a food at all but a Frankenfood generated in a lab that, oh by the way, is likely killing us. And this statement makes me fall on the floor in shock. She writes, “Individuals often receive encouragement and information about these diets directly from companies that profit from the sale of associated products, or from online sources with no medical or nutritional training.” I am sure Coke is calling up all its consumers to share a nice afternoon chat about its nutritional value.
I don’t wish to make light of this potential eating disorder or any other. Having a family member who struggled through an ED, I am particularly sensitive to its prevalence and devastating effects in our society. Which is why Eating Clean works because it is all about eating and eating nutritious foods to restore health. Let’s be on the lookout for the potential of developing any of these EDs and approach all eating with a sense of balance and reason. If you aren’t hungry don’t eat. If you are hungry, eat. If you can Eat Clean, then go for it. If you can’t, then do your best.
If you suspect you or a loved one has an Eating Disorder, get help from a qualified Physician, either traditional or naturopathic. I would go with a naturopath because they spend 5 years studying nutrition while a traditional doctor gets maybe 5 hours or less.
When we tie our nourishment into a feeling of wellness and mindfulness, we experience a higher level of health that is difficult to confuse with obsessing about what to eat. Harvard Health Publications promote mindfulness providing a checklist for creating a mindful environment in which to eat. You can find it here. However I prefer to think about the food itself as I source and prepare it. I think about how I will serve that food and whom I will eat it with. Then, when I sit and eat, I sit and eat. I don’t do anything else. And I Fletcherize every bite – meaning I chew each mouthful 25 times. Food today is complex but doesn’t have to induce nightmares or ED’s. It’s not about righteous eating or better than you eating. Instead, think of every bite as an opportunity to support health, wellness, optimism and mindfulness.
I’m always listening.
PS. And I want to know…what are your thoughts?
ARE YOU ORTHOREXIC? (from Baltimore Sun)
• Constant worrying about the quality of food one is eating.
• Feelings of superiority because of rigid dietary habits.
• Excessive social media use focused on dietary “pureness” or restriction.
• Extreme guilt after eating foods considered to be unhealthy or impure.
• Feeling very competitive about food or criticizing the eating habits of others.
• Spending significant time planning, preparing, and consuming food.
• Eliminating foods once enjoyed in order to eat the “right” foods.
• Difficulty eating anywhere but at home.
• Increasing social isolation due to an inability to find “safe” foods elsewhere.
• A feeling of being in control of one’s life when adhering strictly to a “pure” diet.