In this post, I will briefly cover the ugly in orthorexia. Many people develop a narrow-mindedness in their efforts to lose fat or look more muscular that they become biased, causing them to reject ideas that contradict their philosophies. Ex-orthorexics who are focusing on recovery however will eat up words like these as if it’s therapy, so please do share this post among those who you think could benefit.
I’m covering the ugly of orthorexia today because it’s important to realize what the obsession with eating healthy food does to people. It’s beyond just orthorexia; it’s anorexia, bulimia, ednos, disordered eating, partial-syndrome eating disorders, and orthorexia. Orthorexia can cause death (any of Dr. Bratman’s posts are a must-read). Before death, there are things that can happen to your health that bring you closer to death. Obviously, taking steps closer to death isn’t healthy, thus orthorexia is not healthy, when it takes you there slowly. No one is recommending we eat a standard american diet; these words are written to educate.
My worst health problems due to orthorexia and obsession with exercise and food was premature graying of hair. It started when I was twenty when I noticed just one hair, but now it has increased and there are a few that I can spot without too much effort. This isn’t healthy, and it comes with adrenal issues and a lowered body temperature. In my case, I believe excessive maximal exercise for the past six years (which involves a lot of adrenaline, intense music, caffeine or other pre-workout supplements, and feeling amped up all the time; all of which are stressors) started to hurt my health. The mantra of squats, deadlifts, and HIIT led me to pursue the most intense exercise, which definitely helped me stay lean while eating whatever I wanted, but took more recovery which I failed to take.
I also ate very “clean” for the first few years before realizing I needed to eat more. Only within the past year have I started to truly eat more food of all kind and only over the past few months have I deliberately exercised less, forcing myself to stop. Orthorexia is painful to reverse from my experience because it becomes an addiction. Orthorexia is defined as being obsessed with food but many may have obsessions with exercise as well. Their health will decline once their body is unable to adapt to the stress they place on it. It’s only a matter of time. That’s my experience but here is what one group of researchers (Goldfield et al., 2006) has to say about it:
“Large-scale surveys reveal that male body dissatisfaction has increased dramatically during the last 3 decades, from 15% to 43%, making current rates almost comparable to those found in women (1). There is converging evidence from cross-sectional and experimental research that exposure to the exceptionally thin beauty standards for women as advertised in the media, as well as exposure to the lean and muscular male ideal, increases body dissatisfaction and negative affect in both women and men (2-6). Female body dissatisfaction typically manifests in feeling too heavy or fat with a concomitant desire to be thinner (7), while most young men seek to be leaner, yet larger and more muscular (4). These expressions of body dissatisfaction are consistent with standards of attractiveness for each sex. The high prevalence of body dissatisfaction is concerning, given that body image issues are often the driving force underlying disordered eating, compensatory bulimic behaviours, full-blown eating disorders (8), and use of AAS (9).
In response to this hypermesomorphic somatype portrayed as the masculine ideal, many adolescent and young adult men are engaging in serious weight training or bodybuilding (10). This may have important implications for psychological health, given that activities or sports that require overinvestment in body shape and physical appearance have been noted as a risk factor for developing disordered eating or eating disorders (11)” (Goldfield, et al., p. 161).
They bring up a great point: body dissatisfaction often causes disordered eating. Accepting your body the way it is, even if it isn’t the way you’d like it, and being happy, is the hallmark of recovery imho. Ceasing the pursuit of extremely low body fat levels, ripped abs, the thigh gap, or other goals related to a low body fat is important for the health-obsessed individual who became obsessed due to body dissatisfaction.
The best way to get over those desires imo is to feel attractive from within (accepting your body however it is) and to realize that extremely low body fat isn’t attractive. If it was, why would it take so much effort and discipline to get there? We can be lean and have some abs and muscle definition without much effort and maintain that, but to be super lean like a fitness model or worse, like a bodybuilder, takes so much effort that after the diet period ends, the individual gains weight back rapidly, sometimes resulting in a higher body mass than ever before. That isn’t healthy either.
Attractiveness is tied to fertility. A very low body fat usually means lower fertility. Some people are leaner naturally and those cases are different, but for people who had to diet extensively to get there, lower fertility results in less attractiveness. Fewer pheromones will be secreted and sex drive will be lower. For whatever reason I thought that being super lean would make me more attractive; I had gynecomastia (I still do) and wasn’t confident in my own skin. This led me to pursue extreme diets advocated by people with similar issues.
What I’m saying here is that being super lean is ugly, physically. It’s a tough thing to say but I’m going to get it out there. The lean fitness models, the square-shaped-crossfitting females: unattractive from a biological standpoint. The health problems that ensue, which I’ll cover in a separate post, display the ugliness in the stressed orthorexic’s physiology as well. Having some fat on the body is sexier and indicates a higher fertility.
So that’s all I have to say about orthorexia for now. What do you think? In the next post I will cover biological attractiveness in more detail so stay tuned.
Goldfield, G. S., Blouin, A. G., Woodside, D. B. (2006). Body Image, Binge Eating, and Bulimia Nervosa in Male Bodybuilders. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 51(3), 160-168.