Too Much of a Good Thing- PUBLISHED AT APOTHECAI.COM
The foundation of health and wellness is a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, but as food and nutrition have gotten increasingly trendy, the concept of eating well has gotten increasingly complex: Which diet to try, which supplement to buy, which label to trust, which vitamins to absorb, and which ingredients to avoid all contribute to an overwhelming jumble of information that can make decisions about eating well feel as organic as a bag of Doritos.
“HEALTHY” OR BUST
Orthorexia—a term coined in the nineties to describe eating disorders rooted in an obsessive determination to only eat “healthy” foods—is a prime example of wellness flipped on it head. Fueled by a compulsive desire to eat well, people with orthorexia end up with limited and limiting diets that can lead to extreme weight loss, nutrient deficiencies, and mental distress. An ironic application of healthy habits that might feel familiar to anyone who’s gone to a grocery store or restaurant and found nothing that meets their exacting standards of cuisine.
HOW TO STAY HEALTHY IN A CULTURE OF EXTREME WELLNESS
We’re exposed to trendy and enticing marketing messages each time we go shopping, browse the web, or flip through a magazine. Staying healthy in a culture of extreme wellness is challenging, and staying mentally well in the digital age requires a whole new level of critical thinking.
GO DEEPER: IT’S TIME TO SCHEDULE A DIGITAL DETOX
We’re challenged to stay mindful of marketing tactics and create our own food culture and way of eating, choices rooted in something deeper than the latest trends. Perhaps most importantly, we must stay connected with our own intuition and bodies to understand what foods and other forms of nourishment make us feel good—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Obsessing over what to eat, how much and when—even when the food in question is a leafy green salad or vibrant smoothie bowl—simply doesn’t feel good on any of these levels. Occasionally indulging in your favorite dessert or asking a friend or partner for some loving attention can be food for the soul—something just as important as physical nourishment.
American food culture has long been one of extremes: Our thriving wellness industry has blossomed in the midst of an obesity epidemic; food deserts, where fresh food is simply not available, exist alongside wellness meccas where restaurants cater to any and all dietary choices, from raw and vegan to gluten-free. There are certainly elements of our food culture worth exploring, but there’s also something to be learned from the way other cultures approach the concept of eating well.
In Japan, food is given the five-senses test: To please the eye, meals are artfully arranged and often enjoyed in a quiet atmosphere (sound); they consist of varied and distinctive textures (touch), appetizing aromas (smell), and delicious flavors (taste).
Indian cuisine incorporates spices like ginger and turmeric that are not only delicious and flavorful, but also have healing properties that boost immunity and ward off disease.
In France, children are taught the art of appreciating food from an early age. Many schools employ a chef and dietitian, and students enjoy plated meals with gourmet cheese and silverware. These schools are upholding a deeply rooted French value—that food should be enjoyed and respected. Meals are a time to slow down and savor social connection alongside the flavors.
Beyond the powerful cultural influences at play, orthorexia, like other eating disorders, has to do with a person’s relationship with control and, more often than not, feeling out of control. When life falls apart, food may become something—maybe even the one thing—that a person feels like she can control. Controlling what and how much to eat quickly becomes an obsession, crowding out the underlying suffering and distress. Underlying most eating disorders are life experiences that have nothing to do with food—unhealthy relationships, trauma, and feelings of hopelessness and a lack of agency in the world.
If you or someone you know is afflicted by food obsession or orthorexia, there are so many amazing resources available to help people break free of disordered eating and unhealthy obsessions. We recommend checking out Recovery Warriors for resources and a network of care providers.
Edited by Alison Baenen
*image courtesy of apothecai.com