What does clean eating mean?It undoubtedly means different things to different people, but it often involves excessive, rigid rules based on the person’s idea of healthy eating. For example, for one person, it may mean strictly avoiding food additives and preservatives. For another it may mean going vegan, and for another it might mean eating exclusively organic. Often people will view sugar and wheat flour as “dirty”, whereas other trendy grains are “clean”.
Clean eating doesn’t sound so dangerous, but what about orthorexia nervosa?
Orthorexia is an obsession with healthy eating – often fixations on food quality and purity. Literally, the translation means righteous eating. Clean eating often goes hand in hand with orthorexic behavior and can sometimes overlap into other disordered eating.
Why is obsessing with clean or healthy eating a problem?
First and foremost it interferes with a person’s healthy relationship with food. Food is no longer just food, it becomes something “clean” or “dirty” which is another way of labeling good and bad. And once you start down that path of moralizing food choices, you just took food out of its natural place as food and gave it power over your self-esteem and self worth.
How can you tell if you or someone you love might struggle with orthorexia or clean-eating-gone-awry?
Ask the following questions:
- Do you feel more in control and able to cope when you are eating clean?
- Do you avoid social eating situations with family or friends because the food might not adhere to your “healthy” diet?
- Do you silently judge the way others eat or even what is in other people’s shopping carts?
- Do you feel guild or remorse when you don’t eat “clean”?
- Do you view food more as a combination of nutrients rather than an enjoyable combination of flavors and taste experiences?
How does one avoid the dangers of orthorexia yet still eat healthy?
- Consciously eliminate positive/negative labels on food. Food is just food – it’s not good or bad, clean or dirty (unless we’re talking about toddlers disregarding the 3-second rule and eating off the ground).
- Focus on variety, flavor and enjoyment at meals.
- For those that feel the need to have some type of measurable rules, try an 80/20 approach. 80% of the time you drink water, eat lots of fruits, veggies, and incorporate whole grains. 20% of the time you grab a burger for date night, or have pizza and popcorn for movie night, or enjoy warm chocolate chip cookies.
Remember that fear and guilt are what sells, so avoiding that mentality when it comes to food puts you back in control of your health and your food choices instead of buying in to whatever the latest diet is selling.