Orthorexia Nervosa – Huh?

In my first blog post, I detailed the extreme measures I took to improve my diet in an effort to reclaim my health. To be clear – I didn’t just make a few tweaks here and there. I wasn’t just avoiding gluten and dairy. I didn’t just cut out alcohol for a few months. I didn’t do a few juice cleanses and call it a day. I changed everything I knew on how to nourish myself and stuck to it for eighteen months with a vigilance I didn’t even know I had in me. It was a long term, devout commitment to something I knew would pay off – or at least had faith that it would, anyway.


Like any commitment – be it a job, relationship, marriage, investment, or pet – it took work. And, the more I put into it, the stricter I was with the quality of food I consumed, the quicker my health improved and life was back on track. This, my friends, is what Pavlov termed positive reinforcement. I was hook, line and sinker with no desire to cheat, flirt, or even take an innocent glance in the opposite direction.


What originally felt like positive reinforcement, however, eventually instilled a sense of fear within me. I began to wonder, “What if I don’t keep this going? What if I slip up? What if that had dairy in it? What if I’m not getting the right ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s? Oh no, those blueberries weren’t organic. Did that Lara Bar have too many carbs for this late in the day? Will that cause my symptoms to return?”


Exhausting. Crazy. Familiar???


I knew, for sure, that having my symptoms return was absolutely not an option for me if I was able to control it. For some people, though, having control over something you fear can turn into an unhealthy obsession. So, like most relationships that aren’t meant to be, the pendulum began to swing from hot-and-heavy and honeymoon-phase to trouble-in-paradise and me questioning if it was really worth it or necessary to be this committed to something that was affecting my happiness.


Well, here’s what I’ve learned.


There’s having a healthy diet. And then there’s being unhealthy about having a healthy diet. It’s a fine line.

With the flurry of information from ill-informed people that’s accessible on the internet these days, knowledge is no longer power, it’s paralysis.


I remember being at a barbecue over Labor Day weekend a couple of years ago and not “being able” to eat or drink anything there besides water and fruit salad because I was worried about the quality of the food, the types of oils it was cooked in, and what its allergens might do to me. Mind you, barbecues at the Jersey Shore are something you go to with a completely empty stomach – crab sauce, burgers, chips and dip, steamers, cocktails, cannolis. You get it. Truth be told, I was doing more damage to my body and immune system by a) not eating food with needed calories when it was in front of me, and b) worrying so much about the negative repercussions it could possibly have on my health.


It’s a fact that we are primal beings. We have the same genetic makeup as the first Homo sapiens on the planet. Way back then, their lives revolved around finding food, finding safety, and reproducing. The main form of stress they endured was famine. As their bodies evolved to survive this type of adversity, it learned to slow down their metabolism, store fat, and shut down reproductive function so they wouldn’t lose body fat (warmth), and wouldn’t have to nourish a baby in their womb while not having the fuel to healthily do so.


Stress is stress is stress is stress. The body does not know the difference between the various negative forms, but it reacts the same way to all of them. These days, people place this same degree of stress on themselves when they diet, when they exercise too much, when they don’t sleep enough, and most importantly, when they live in constant fear and worry. The version of constant fear I wrote about today is termed orthorexia nervosa.


BUT! What if you have an autoimmune condition? There really are antibodies that are produced in your body which attack various organ systems when you consume proteins to which your immune system is reactive. Luckily, there are other ways to address your immune symptoms through modalities outside of diet, which I plan to delve into in due time.


What I do know is that happiness and relaxation are paramount to calming down your immune system along with any sort of inflammation in your body. Fear and stress … are not.


So, chances are that the GMO-laden, canola-oil fried, preservative-filled, hydrogenated tortilla chips that all of your friends are enjoying with their guacamole and sugar-filled, liver-taxing margaritas won’t hurt you any worse than being afraid of eating them will. Go ahead, indulge. Your belly, heart, leptin levels, sanity, and most importantly – your dinner date, will be thankful.


In the meantime, stay tuned for posts on other ways to help your immune system as the grass continues to grow here.



  1. suparnasays:

    This is such a great post. Unfortunately I think more people, namely women, are guilty of this than we realize. With all the body image-paleo this-atkins that- latest fad crap out there, it’s hard to get the message you so eloquently and effectively expressed out to the people who need it most. I’m going to share this with people I think can benefit from it!! Thank you

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