The obsession with eating the right foods has almost become a social past time: Listen to everyday banter and you’ll find it revolves around the newest diet book, what Jessica Simpson is eating to drop pounds, or how the latest juice fast has done miracles for your memory.
When it comes to food and fitness, the line separating educated and obsessed can be blurry. Orthorexia nervosa, for example, is the unhealthy fixation on healthy eating—and is an eating disorder that should be taken seriously. (To recognize the symptoms and get help go to www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.)
But simply being finicky or focused about food can be disruptive to your body and relationships too—even if your actions don’t land you in the category of a classic eating disorder.
In trying to bring balance to your life, flexibility in your relationship with food is what’s healthy. And obsessing with strict control over every bite may be a reflection of the little control you feel in other aspects of your life. Take a good, long look at your friendships with food to make sure they are ones that support physical and psychological health. And though you won’t find them in textbooks, look out for three types of neurotic eating styles in yourself or friends.
This person goes haywire on a pre-determined “cheat day” and then runs to fitness classes with names like “Purgatory” to erase their sins. A subcategory of The Punisher is someone who will binge then cleanse on repeat. The result: The cycle of excess then self-punishment is addictive. Loathing self-talk accompanies the cycle too and can wreak havoc on your self-esteem.
The bird eats over the sink, off other’s plates, or while standing with the fridge open, but never has an entire meal sitting at a table. They’ll cook for others, but never for themselves. They are often “starving” and say they just need a snack. The result: These people are always perplexed why they can’t lose weight. This dieter can never really get a sense of how much they eat either. With birds, eating isn’t about nourishment or joy; it’s about fast nibbles in transit that never truly bring satisfaction and wind up creating an unhealthy relationship with food.
The 70’s Dieter
This stuck-in-the-past dieter won’t eat anything that doesn’t say “low cal,” “low fat,” “skinny,” “diet,” or “lean” on the label. These people disregard sodium levels and artificial sweeteners (which are in everything they are eating). Stuck in the old trends, they think all fats are bad and spot reduction is possible. The result: Seventies dieters are low on fiber and vitamins, and high on salt and unhealthy chemical sweetener. They may be thin on the outside, but unhealthy on the inside as they’re missing good fats and complex carbs. Swearing by marketing claims can also make social engagements incredibly stressful—what does one do if the drink isn’t available in a “skinny” version?