In talking about orthorexia, I hear the same comments over and over again. The thing that seems to confuse people most about the unofficial eating disorder is how one can be so concerned with eating healthy and end up so unhealthy. So, in the interest of public service, here’s my step-by-step guide on how to be as messed up as I was:
Step One – Find Authoritative Sounding Research
For me it started with a sincere desire to “get healthy.” Sadly, I had no idea what that meant. I’d grown up, like many of my peers, on white-bread sandwiches with processed cheese followed by a Little Debbie chaser. Adding peach slices in heavy syrup made it healthy, not to mention rounding out the “orange” theme on my plate. In home-ec class (yeah, they actually had one in my high school and I actually took it) we learned essential skills like how to fold cloth napkins into a bird and how to sew the legs of your drawstring pants together but zilch about nutrition. College was the height of my eating disorder so my menus were entertaining little tidbits like one fun-size package of chewy gobstoppers. Per day. Occasionally I’d mix it up with Lipton rice-n-sauce. I remember one time my roommate brought home a 20-lb box of orchard fresh apples. We ate that entire box in 2 days, so starved for produce we were. Obviously I needed help.
Thankfully in our country nutritive help abounds. I read every book, website and magazine article I could get my hands on. For instance take this little gem about milk: Lose Four Times The Fat And Build Twice the Muscle Drinking Milk!
Step Two – Implement Advice
The study sounds believable. But then, they almost always do – at least to me. My love of research is probably one of my worst orthorexic weaknesses. Even the best study is not infallible, and I know it, but those researchers, they always sound so sure of themselves! And they’re smart! And I’m losing IQ points by the child! So I do what they say. In this case, drink a cup of milk post workout.
Step Three – Find Contradictory Research
If there is anything researchers love more than research (and forwarding arcane insider jokes to each other over their University intranets) it is contradicting other researcher’s research. Nothing grabs headlines like refuting a popular study. In fact I hear Britney was almost bumped from her #1 Google spot by those Women’s Health Initiative people. Okay, not true but it should be. For example, this study: Milk Studies Misleading – Milk Does Not Aid in Weight Loss. This one is particularly good because it manages to refute ALL milk studies at the same time. Genius!
Step Four – Get Confused
Since I trust other people’s knowledge, particularly science-y types, more than my own I am left in a quandary. Milk is da bomb! Milk sucks! Milk chocolate often has no actual milk in it! So what am I to do?
Step Five – Try Logic
By far the worst step. Some people try and cheat past this step by just blindly following a particular diet like South Beach or Atkins or Mariah Carey’s purple bender. Sheep! At this point, I would try and figure out the flaws of each study. Sample sizes? Research institution? Funding source? Duration of test? Longitudinal? Case study? Self report? Were twins involved? Animals? Oijia boards??
Okay, so maybe all milk isn’t bad. If I go up a dollar on the price scale there’s the no-hormone milk. But it’s not organic. Another dollar gets me organic but not from grass-fed cows. Another dollar gets me grass (oh, the joke I could make here about the street value of cow juice compared to MJ these days but I’m too busy being neurotic – excuse me while I continue getting worked up) And then there’s the whole issue of are the cows just finished on grass or actually grass fed their entire lives? And is the grass organic? Another dollar up – now like 12$ a half gallon – gets you organic, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, free-range, unpasteurized, unhomogenized and totally grassed-up cows. But… I can’t afford that!
Besides, cows are the single biggest contributor of methane – a greenhouse gas four times worse than CO2. And cows pollute ground water. And eat up valuable land that could be used to grow food for starving Africans. And cows are named cute things like Bessie and Daisy. Not to mention everyone says that dairy makes you bloat.
Step Six – Make Arbitrary Rule
Once you’re this far down the crazy path you either let your brain explode or you have to decide something. Fine. There’s just too much uncertainty. Milk is out.
Step Seven – Repeat
Now repeat steps one through six for eggs, meat, soy, nuts, seeds, fruits, tubers, leafy vegetables, cheese, bread, sugar, artificial sweeteners, boxed cereals, canned produce, frozen produce, juice, microwave meals, grains, caffeine… ad nauseum.
Which is exactly how I got to the point where all I ate were green veggies, some fruits and nuts. Congratulations – you’re a squirrel!! Welcome to the nut house.