What is Orthorexia Nervosa, aka Extreme Clean Eating Disorder?

I want to take a moment to introduce a serious, but important topic – Orthorexia Nervosa, or otherwise known as ‘Extreme Clean Eating Disorder’. We all do our best to eat healthy, or ‘clean’, whatever it is we want to call it, but there is a point where the obsession can cause one to overly restrict their diet to a point when there are serious health implications.
More and more every day I see people posting and commenting on just how confusing this whole healthy lifestyle thing can be. The determination of what foods are healthy and which foods are bad for the human body seems to fluctuate with the tides. One month coffee is deemed healthy, the next it is bad for our health. The same can be said for a multitude of other foods and drinks. Despite the ever-wavering evidence for and against the benefits of some foods, the common factor has always been that eating healthy is good for all humans and animals. However, Dr. Steven Bratman termed the phrase orthorexia nervosa in 1997, claiming that the obsession with eating healthy can actually lead to poor overall health. People in this situation can be so scared of certain foods that they are restricting their diet to where they are not getting the nutrients they need. They are either restricting to too little calories overall and/or over-restricting certain foods or types of foods (both of which can lead to malnutrition), and/or they restrict themselves from social situations, which can also have negative health effects. This of course would be the extreme side of this. If someone doesn’t go out for with their friends for one night but instead stays in, eats healthy, and exercises, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they may have orthorexia nervosa. It’s about the obsession, and how much it is consistently impacting their health in a negative way. A very interesting and eye-opening interview with a psychologist and two registered dietitians on this topic can be listened to here.
The Dr. that coined the term orthorexia, was affected by a tragic case where a vegan blogger had died as a result of this disorder. Her heartbreaking story can be read about here. She had been diagnosed with anorexia, but resisted the diagnoses and help because she didn’t feel that it fit her situation. She didn’t fear about being fat or obsessed with being skinny; she was obsessed with eating healthy. This unfortunately ultimately led to her untimely death due to malnutrition.
This is why I at least want to start a conversation about this and make people aware – because it is a real thing, and it does happen, and I care about the lives of women. Again, I also understand how confusing the health and fitness world can be and I see the confusion in some of the questions and posts.
There are also people who support the uptake of these fears by society, and this can be equally damaging. I won’t point any fingers or name names, however a popular blogger who tends to shame others’ food decisions is discussed in the interview mentioned above. What I will say is that people shouldn’t be constantly scared that what they are putting in their bodies, and their families bodies, is toxic. This can be psychologically harmful. They should be informed and educated on how to read labels, how to choose more healthy, less process items, but not that everyday food items are toxic. It’s all about balance and people need to know that that.
Not everyone is going to agree with me and that’s OK. I get that not everyone has to agree on everything all of the time (what a boring world that would be). But I thought I would post this in the hopes that it would be eye opening to some. Some of you who, like me, sometimes feel ashamed at some of the food choices that you make. Also, I believe that it is important for this topic to me more aware of and understood. If you, or someone you know, please seek help from an eating disorders specialist. Since the time of Kate’s death, the concept of orthorexia has become much better known, and there is help out there.
Thanks for reading!
 
Felicia Newell, BScAHN, MScAHN(c), RD(c)
Official NEM Nutritionist
For the past several years, Felicia has been working at a university research centre with a focus on food security (Food Action Research Centre), and has taught university level nutrition courses. Her passion lies in working toward a future where everyone has access to enough affordable, healthy, safe and culturally appropriate food, that is produced, processed and distributed in socially, economically and ecologically sustainable ways. Felicia has recently published a paper in the Canadian Journal of Public Health titled, ‘Is the Minimum Enough: Affordability of a Nutritious Diet for Minimum Wage Earners in Nova Scotia’.
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FeliciaNewellNutrition
Instagram: @felicianewellnutrition

Healthy Cooking Tips!

Let’s face it – it’s a new era where some of us have basic cooking skills, and some of us don’t. It’s not our fault really – it depends on how we were raised and other factors (We all have strengths and weaknesses right?).
 
 
Try these ideas to make some of your favorite recipes a little healthier. 

  • Blend a handful of spinach or kale into a fruit smoothie
  • Mash cooked cauliflower together with potatoes
  • Add puréed butternut squash to homemade macaroni and cheese
  • Shred carrots, zucchini or onions into spaghetti sauce
  • Stir canned puréed pumpkin into whole grain pancake or muffin batter
  • Sprinkle berries onto breakfast cereal or yogurt

Balance your baking with simple swaps.

There are lots of tasty ways to make your baking a little bit healthier. Experiment by using these simple substitutions in your favourite baked goods:

  • Replace at least half of the enriched white flour (if you normally use white flour) with a healhier type of flour (e.g., whole grain, coconut, brown rice, millet, buckwheat, oat, etc.)
  • Replace a quarter or more of the sugar with a healthier alternative (e.g., stevia, truvia, agave nectar, honey, skim milk powder)
  • Replace half of the fat in muffins, quick breads and cookies with mashed fruit or vegetables, such as unsweetened applesauce or puréed sweet potato
  • Use milk (regular, almond, coconut, etc.) instead of water

Get delicious results with good-for-you ingredients. 

Cooking at home lets you control the taste, nutrition and cost of your meals. Try these simple swaps to fill homemade food with flavour:

  • Use whole milk (or another milk alternative) and cream cheese instead of cream and butter for a luscious pasta Alfredo
  • Substitute greek yogurt for mayonnaise to make a creamy salad dressing
  • Sweeten whole grain hot cereal/oatmeal with fruit, such as bananas, apples or peaches, instead of sugar
  • Use lemon juice, garlic, herbs and spices instead of salt to flavour savoury dishes

Add some zing!

Think healthy cooking is bland? Healthy cooking is all about good taste. Add some zing with these mouth-watering flavor boosters:

  • Garlic is perfect for pasta, potatoes and peas, and it makes a tofu-and-veggie stir-fry’s much more flavorful
  • Fresh lime juice is a tangy addition to fish, avocado or fresh tomato salsa
  • Red pepper flakes deliver delicious heat to lightly sautéed greens
  • Ginger spices up butternut squash soup and adds depth to beef and pork dishes
  • Cinnamon pairs sweetly with apples, squash and sweet potatoes

*Notes:

  • There are many more ‘cooking basics’, these are just a few tips.
  •  Please keep in mind that people have varied skills and habits when it comes to food. As a nutritionist I meet people with all different levels of cooking skills, and many use white flour, sugar, etc. all of the time, so for many people cutting out half of what they use would be a step in the right direction.

Felicia Newell, BScAHN, MScAHN(c), RD(c)
Official NEM Nutritionist
For the past several years, Felicia has been working at a university research centre with a focus on food security (Food Action Research Centre), and has taught university level nutrition courses. Her passion lies in working toward a future where everyone has access to enough affordable, healthy, safe and culturally appropriate food, that is produced, processed and distributed in socially, economically and ecologically sustainable ways.

Making Behavior and Lifestyle Changes

Food for thought: Does simply telling someone to do something, or judging someone for not doing what you think is right, actually help that person change their behavior?
As an Official NEM Nutritionist, I wanted to take a moment to bring what may be a different perspective to the table. Some may be familiar with these concepts; some may think I am way out in left field. Life is a lot about perspective, so even if I can give a new perspective to a few people I am okay with that. Here are two concepts that are just food for thought! They are usually very detailed and complex, but for the sake of this post I want to be as straightforward as possible.
1)   Behavior change. Our group is based a lot around the changing of lifestyles and behaviors. Behaviors are psychological, and deeply engrained. They are habits, and a lot of times when it comes to food-related behaviors they are even addictions. They are very difficult to change, which is why many different theories and models in the scientific field that are used to explain behavior change. I don’t want to go into detail of course because you are all busy moms and don’t have all day to read a post that sounds like a lecture. The key message I want to bring here is changing behaviors is HARD. It involves many different steps and factors to change a behavior (e.g., motivation, education, support, confidence, etc.). If you think  ‘clean eating’ and living a healthy lifestyle is hard and you are alone because everyone else is making progress or some people make it look easy – think again! We all have difficulties at some point or another (we just don’t always show it, especially on social media), and with the right support and motivation (and accepting that we will have set-backs and no success comes without failure), we can overcome them.
2)   Social Determinants of Health.  This is another concept I don’t want to bore you all with and go into detail, but I just want to introduce for those of you who may not have heard of it. This is a premise that lifestyle choices are largely shaped by many different factors, including: income and income distribution, education, unemployment and job security, employment and working conditions, early childhood development/experiences, food insecurity, housing, social exclusion, social safety network, health services, aboriginal status, gender, race, and disability. Each and every one of these factors influences the choices that we make, and we don’t always have control over a lot of these factors (a lot of these factors are set by society, and individuals have no control over this). Just one example (there are many other examples, but again for the sake of us busy moms): people in various family situations (from low to middle income; single to two parent households), cannot afford a healthy diet. This is by no means their fault for many reasons, one being the cost of living (has risen significantly, and increase in wages have not kept up with the many costs of living (food, shelter, transportation, childcare, etc.). This means many families cannot afford to eat healthy, but it is not their fault. Now there may be many other factors that influence say a low-income families’ ability to purchase a healthy diet – e.g., knowledge, skills, childhood experiences, stress, etc. So as you can see, a person’s decisions around food can be very complex!
We are all human. For the most part we have good intentions and want to support and help each other by giving advice and what works for us, and we do an incredible job! Some days we might have a bad day and post something in the wrong way. Misunderstandings can happen. I get it and I think for the most part we all do. We are all busy, and most times trying to post something in between other daily responsibilities. BUT, I do know there are moms in here who feel overwhelmed at times with conflicting advice, and/or they feel ashamed because certain things that they perceive as the ‘right thing to do’ doesn’t fit their lifestyle. These feelings can really hinder someone’s progress. Telling someone to do something is one thing, but again, we all have different factors that affect why we do what we do.
My 2 takeaway messages are: 1) try to be a little more understanding of just how many factors influence a person and the decisions that they make. If we all try to be a little more understanding of this, we may be able to support each other even more than we already do; and 2) if someone gives you advice and it works for them and not you – that is okay! We are all human, different things work for different people. It doesn’t make us any less of women or mothers. We are already doing so much and are hard enough on ourselves (but shouldn’t be) – so let’s not be hard on each other!