Healthy living or Eating Disorder? What was my mistake?
In recent years, “weight loss” and “dieting” has become a dated term and the word “diet” has been replaced with “detox” and some people have started looking for solutions in gluten-lactose free, vegan and vegetarian options. This makes us feel better as we are not on a diet as such, but instead just restricting one or more food groups because of a health problem.
The new era of “Gut Health”
Many people have actually found out that after many years of suffering from symptoms like bloating, energy loss, etc were actually due to gluten or lactose or some type of animal protein! And I have found out that I myself am part of this group.
After rejecting the results of some blood tests that showed that I am intolerant to lactose, I could not ignore the ultrasound results after the past summer where I indulged myself with delicious Turkish yogurt and cheese! The doctor said, “something you eat creates a storm in your gut, do you know what that is?” Aghh I didn’t want to!!
So, this part of healthy living I totally understand, by eliminating or limiting what makes your gut unhappy is a good choice. Gut health is central to “healthy living” and research evidence supports the fact that the gut is the second brain and 80% of the immune system. For this reason, we are now drinking either kefir or kombucha or eating fermented vegetables or all of the above in addition to the probiotic supplements we take. Are we going to another extreme??
As you may be aware, in the nutrition world there is a lot of conflicting information. Like eggs and cholesterol, gluten/grains are good for us…or bad for us!? We have to continuously “learn” and “unlearn” some of our basic knowledge we have acquired.
In addition to that, we are living in a world of “information diarrhea” where new research results flow through unknown sources and confuse us. Also, most of us are in search of finding answers to our problems and love to try new methods – especially if a trusted expert or just a friend says, “it is great, it works, you must give it a try!”.
Yet why do you still not feel at your best?
This is simple, we are all different and what works for you will not necessarily work for someone else! Maybe we need to each do our own experiments before making any major changes to our diets and listen to what our body has to say!
If you are feeling tired, bloated, having skin problems, sleep disturbances, headaches, cravings, anger-tension…these are some of the symptoms that says your body is NOT happy with what you are eating!
I have been experimenting with food since high school. By the time I arrived in University I was already either dieting or cooking – reading a new book on either nutrition or dieting! Both interested me enormously and I was convinced that both were possible by portion control, regular exercise and making sure to balance every “indulgence” by following it with a healthy meal. Over the years I also learned to indulge myself with healthier sources and alternatives.
Since I became a health coach, I have been trying different nutritional models to see the effects on me like vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, detox, juices-smoothies, etc. My latest experiment was the ketogenic diet, the low carbohydrate and high fat one (where I was allowed only 25grams of carbohydrate per day) which lasted longer than others (4 months). It worked well for a while, I lost body fat and gained muscles and increased my energy levels. You can read more here about Ketogenic Diet.
Every time I try a new diet and restrict one group of food, I learn new recipes and implementing new ingredients in my meals. Sometimes I am successful and I keep these new meals, and sometimes I am not, but I never look back !!! In that sense, I am grateful for these experiments.
However, this last time, I made a mistake!
I was at a very busy and physically demanding period in my life and I was still on low carb diet and was trying to restrict any kind of grains, legumes, fruits, starchy vegetables, sugar and the like. I was also transitioning to become vegetarian. I already avoid cheese and yogurt as my intestines really suffer with them! So what is left??
“What are you eating then?”
I got this question a lot and it always made me laugh – thinking I eat a lot! Vegetables (mostly greens), tofu, egg, nuts, and seeds! And that is it!! In an ideal world, this is enough in most cases when you cook for yourself in the comfort of your own home. However, when I was in a rush, eating out, or ordering from somewhere, my choices were so limited that often I gave up and didn’t eat at all!!
Or sometimes I mixed up carbs which avoid staying in ketosis and my insulin started to kick back, which eventually lowered my energy. (You can read more here if you want to learn how the ketogenic diet works)
I was feeling very tired, bloated and was more tense than normal. My belly and gut were not happy about what is going on. Finally, my last blood test results revealed that I had an iron, vitamin D and B12 deficiency. I had low iron and vitamin D before, like many other women, however, B12 was a new one for me and probably due to my vegetarian diet. I should’ve been taking supplements or made a better plan to eat more legumes – but I was avoiding them too!!
Is this becoming an eating disorder? About Orthorexia.
There is a new eating disorder that has appeared in recent years called orthorexia, in addition to anorexia and bulimia. It is explained as follows:
“Orthorexia is the term for a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet….
A person with orthorexia will be obsessed with defining and maintaining the perfect diet, rather than an ideal weight. She will fixate on eating foods that give 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
Common behavior changes that may be signs of orthorexia may 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
Drastic reduction in opinions of acceptable food choices, such that the sufferer may eventually consume fewer than 10 foods
Irrational concern over food preparation techniques, especially washing of food or sterilization of utensils”
Some of these symptoms may appear in a perfectly healthy person and there is nothing to worry about it.
However, when there are multiple symptoms and when you start to feel nervous and it is interfering with your everyday life, with feelings of guilt, fear, anxiety and mood swings…then you must take action. This is the definition of orthorexia ” Obsession with healthy food can progress to the point where it crowds out other activities and interests, impairs relationships, and even becomes physically dangerous. When this happens, orthorexia takes on the dimensions of a true eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.”
I was on the brink of orthorexia but luckily recognized this in time to stop! Looking back I can see that my biggest mistake was not listening to my body’s reactions. I was still insisting on a restrictive diet that was stressing out my mind and body that had left me exhausted. I lost my energy both physically and mentally at a time when I needed it the most. I was also making the mistake of mixing up different diets that did not help anything but only served to disturb my digestive system even more. All this in the name of PERFECTIONISM!
Looking at the Instagram and Facebook world of “healthy eating”, I started to see parts of these symptoms everywhere and how everyone is motivating each other to keep on in this direction. Of course, most of them are not be considered a disorder…as of yet!
Perfectionism and Body Image Issue
Many people become addicted to perfectionism and take things to the extreme. Even if this is a healthy habit of doing yoga, eating a healthy diet, when taken to the extreme it can have serious negative consequences like orthorexia as explained above. A perfect body image is what makes most of us “uncomfortable” with what we eat and how we live and we try to make the changes accordingly. There is this fine line between obsession and healthy body figure supported by a healthy life, where you do not get sick frequently, you know that your organs are functioning normally and regular check-ups show that you are on the right track.
Social media, movies, TV series are full of images of the “perfect body” and the norm is to be thinner with more muscle. However, the trends change on almost a daily basis and each time you hit a new target…another one appears! It makes you feel that you are being left behind and need to workout more! It is a tough skill to stay content with your own body image – however, the good news is once you are there, being bombarded with the images of the “ideal look” will no longer bother you!
Balance of all -Mindful Eating and Living
We are all free to experiment with our diets and then decide what works best for us. Having the awareness of how you really feel would be the key to healthy body and mind on this journey.
The Buddhist monk, Zen master and writer Thich Nhat Han teaches mindfulness and how to live happily in the present moment. His book, “How To Eat” teaches you how to enjoy every bite, how to stay within that moment to see what you are doing for yourself, positive or negative ways. He says, ” When we slow down and really enjoy our food our life takes on a much deeper quality. I love to sit and eat quietly and enjoy each bite, aware of the presence of my community, aware of all the hard and loving work that has gone into my food. When I eat in this way, not only am I physically nourished, I am also spiritually nourished. The way I eat influences everything else that I do during the day.”
I strongly recommend his books and mindfulness practices for any part of life and especially on how to take care of our bodies.
If you need to lose weight, choose your method carefully
We’d love to have one solution that fits all – yet weight loss is a very personal journey. In fact, the best ‘diet’ is to switch to healthy long-term living habits and to be patient with your weight loss. If you decide to choose the quicker route, especially at the start, then at least choose the method-model very carefully. Get an expert opinion and make sure you do the necessary research before you start. And don’t forget that if you are a parent, you have the responsibility of being a good role model for your children. If you choose to have a healthier lifestyle then they will benefit too. If you choose the quicker route, do short-term crash diets, then they will also learn this type of eating – “restricting” food to lose weight.
Another good resource for mindful eating is the book by Marc David, The Slow Down Diet, which shows how fully enjoying each meal is the optimal way to a healthy body. The book explains how relaxed eating stimulates metabolic function and how stress hormones encourage weight gain and give suggestions for how to relax!
Recently, I have been back to my routine “healthy, Fitgourmet style” eating.
Enjoying the healthy, homemade, delicious vegetables as well as meat-chicken-fish in moderation, for myself and my family. 80% of our diet is plant-based. Salads have been my favorite meal since childhood! I eat vegetables and fruits of the season as well as different grains and legumes. I eat a good quality, multi-grain bread every now and then drizzled with honey if I feel like having more energy or extra virgin olive oil, if I find a good one!
I continue to enjoy meals when I am out with friends and I am not limiting myself to a group of food but try to keep an eye on the portions, especially for carbohydrates. I keep the fit and gourmet approach and find the healthiest version of a dessert, using natural sweeteners like honey, molasses, dates, etc. if it is available! I enjoy a piece of dark chocolate almost every day with my cup of coffee as well as my daily green and herbal teas, and can easily taste or share a good quality dessert after a good meal when we eat out! And I make sure that I move more than usual after a heavy meal and follow it with a healthier lighter one.
I truly believe that food is medicine and you are what you eat. I eat well so that I am well!
Because I like to stay fit because I like to enjoy life, because I love food, I want to stay healthy for many long years, and I want my kids to grow as healthy fit adults, gourmet and happy!