Eat healthily, be healthy. Eat unhealthily, be unhealthy.
It seems simple enough, but what all does it mean to be healthy? What happens when healthy behaviors trigger unhealthy actions? A while back, I briefly talked about struggling with switching from paleo to Eat to Perform and had all sorts of mixed emotions going into it. It led me to thinking that there may be a strong link between crossfit, paleo, and orthorexia.
The topic came up recently on the Girls Gone WOD podcast, talking about the dangers of orthorexia. I had heard the term tossed around before, and have seen many “healthy” bloggers fall into what I considered to be the definition: an obsession with “healthy” habits that turns into an unhealthy mindset. I thought it was restricted to those obsessed with counting calories and doing endless amounts of cardio, striving for a perfect body. But it really is a lot deeper than that.
The National Eating Disorders Association explains it as:
a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.” An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.
I won’t deny it; to some degree I was there. I take that back- not just to some degree, but this was almost spot-on, me.
I consider myself to have somewhat of an addictive personality, and event admitted last week some of my neurotic tendencies. I may come from a long line of gamblers, and growing up, it was almost a rite of passage, in a sense, to take your first trip to the casino. When I was going through my divorce (oh hey, did you know I was married for 5 years?), the casino became my escape. Between a gambling addiction and a shopping addiction (think of the book, Shopaholic (ironically one of my favorite books), – in debt, get depressed about being in debt, spend more money on things to make you feel better..). The casino was a similar; gamble your money away, get upset, think for whatever reason that next time will be different, and end up in a vicious, self-destructive cycle. I justified it as a “hobby” and not an “addiction,” as I was working two jobs to support the habit, my bills were being paid, and it was my replacement for any semblance of a social life.
While the degree and frequency of trips decreased significantly after I started a new relationship, the devil still sat on my shoulder. And then when I found Crossfit, it essentially was one vice replacing another.
People joke about Crossfit and its cult-like mentality and that people are brainwashed, and become addicted to it. But I think it takes a certain type of personality to really let it consume you. I was going to classes twice a week when I started at my box, and struggled upping it to three days. My body was sore and tired, and I wasn’t used to the taxing workouts.
Then I went through a heartbreak.
And all of a sudden, Crossfit became my reprieve. I started to go 5x a week, sometimes 6. I hated taking rest days and all I wanted to do was be in the gym.
I ditched all plans that didn’t involve Crossfit.
I never really had many close friends outside of my sisters, so my Crossfit friends became my only friends.
Crossfit consumed me.
“Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully..”
I made the decision that if I was putting so much time and effort into my workouts, I should be eating to support my new healthy lifestyle. I had previously completed a Whole30, and I needed to get back into that mindset, of eating for perfection and optimal health. Note: I never had any eating disorders before, never had any sort of self-body-hate, nor did I ever strive to look like someone in a magazine. I was naturally thin and was not switching up my diet just to look good.
And I previously lived off of Chinese food and pasta.
“..but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity..”
I was not so strict as Whole30, but started buying organic meats and produce. I stopped going to conventional grocery stores and only shopped at Farmer’s Markets and my local markets. I did still maintain the use of protein powder, which was not paleo-approved. Despite my 95% adherence to the lifestyle, I was told by someone who consuming one “bad” shake a day was the equivalent of only smoking crack on Saturdays..
“..they become consumed with what and how much to eat..”
I never had a problem with wanting to cut calories, nor did I ever believe I should; but it was more a matter of making sure I was eating enough. I started to measure food, and log everything. I would see what other girls were eating and scoff at them for not eating enough, reveling in the fact that I could, and should consume 2000+ calories.
“..Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.”
Holy nail on the head. I became super judgmental of anyone that wasn’t eating paleo. In fact, I even became judgmental of those who were eating paleo. Beef jerky and nuts were not the way paleo was intended. Paleo muffins and brownies were not real paleo. You say you eat paleo, but where are your organ meats and fermented foods? Why aren’t you brewing bone broth and drinking kombucha? I was not perfect in everything that I was doing, but boy, was it easy to point out that everyone else was doing it wrong.
We would get lunches catered in to work, and I would snub at the salads and processed foods because who knows where it came from? Our boss would buy everyone lunch and I would wait to eat what I packed before or after. I would pass on our monthly “birthday goodies” spread because there was more sugar and gluten than I consumed in a month in one item. I would stress out when work meetings were scheduled around the time that I was supposed to be eating. I silently mocked those that were eating their Lean Cuisines and Healthy Choice soups. I would walk by the candy dish and glare at anyone who was sneaking a bite-size Snickers.
Suffice to say, I think the infatuation with the marriage of Crossfit and paleo did not help my dating situation at the time either. It wasn’t so much that I was probably just not ready to date or that I was just way too closed-minded for my own good, but the thought of going on dates gave me anxiety. First of all, it would likely involve a blip in my training schedule (and what am I training for, anyway?). Second, it would mean a chance of having to go out to dinner, to a restaurant where I would be unfamiliar with where they source their meats and produce; I would be exposed to alcohol (oh, that whole Wine to Weightlifting thing? Yeah, the wine consumption has decreased about 90% since this blog started). I would have to eat beforehand or plan the dates as situations where there would not be food.
Eventually, I went on some dates, judging everything about the poor guys who took me out. They didn’t lift. They didn’t eat paleo. They loved pizza and beer. They think running is the healthiest form of exercise. They go to globo gym and bench press. Who the “F” am I to care what someone wants to eat or how they workout? Why should that matter to me?
In a conversation with one of the fine gentlemen that I let take me out, he told me that I seem to have control issues. Hows that for first-date talk? I took extreme offense to his statement and obviously wrote him off right away (because he didn’t “get” it), but as an after thought, I think that is not an inaccurate statement and often something that accompanies compulsive behaviors. I liked my lifestyle because I could control what I was eating. I could control when I workout and control who I hang out with. I was putting myself out there with online dating because it was something I thought I should be doing, but really, it was a perfect opportunity to exercise more control.
It is often when you stop looking that you find what you were looking for.
I think it is not uncommon to have thoughts like this. We work so hard in the gym and are surrounded by so much information on ways to improve our health and how to fuel our workouts and what we are doing to our bodies. We strive for a solid foundation on which to build our workouts upon, so it makes sense that we aim for some sort of perfection. But there must be balance.
It has been about a year since I discovered Eat to Perform, but it has been a slow transition into letting up on the compulsive behaviors and just using the recommendations as a guide and not as a bible. I acknowledged last fall that pumpkin pie was a weakness, though once the season was over, kept right back up with my strict eating. For the past four months or so, I have focused more on performance and focused more on how I feel, rather than plugging numbers into a spreadsheet. I still love to track food sometimes and I am still not gorging on fast food, junk food, and alcohol. But I am not feeling guilty if I eat something that wasn’t planned.
I still load my shopping cart with all the healthy goodies, meats and veggies, and I order my probably-not-gluten-free-and-possibly-contains-GMO oats and rice from Amazon. I rarely have any junk food in the house, unless it’s “paleo-approved.” But if I am craving some post-WOD pancakes? I am not denying myself them. PR donuts? Done. Twinkie that Mom brings me because I was having a bad day? Hmm…. okay. 😉
I have come to terms with a healthy relationship with Crossfit, finding a way to balance it with my lifestyle, feeling comfortable taking rest days when I need them and listening to my body; scaling when necessary and doing what is best for me. To complement the workouts, Eat to Perform continues to ground me and steer me back into healthier relationship with food. My body composition may be a bit less lean than it was last year but in reality, my weight and body fat have not really changed all that much, yet my lifts and skills have gone up.
I purged my closet of tons of clothes that no longer fit me and rid my linen closet of products I will never use (I also took coupon-clipping to an extreme..), and now stick to spending my money on things that are functional, rather than because they are on sale. Nearly all desire to go to the casino has diminished (because the high from lifting is almost equivalent to that of gambling), and I would rather direct my money towards Crossfit or food. We still have a tradition on celebrating birthdays between my grandma, mom, and sisters; but no more sneaking away for solo trips as I had before. I am in a much happier, healthier, place.
Whether or not you do Crossfit or eat paleo, this can be directed towards any type of fitness or diet lifestyle. I said before I believe there is an all-or-nothing approach, and now I believe that you have to do what makes most sense for you, what is in line with your goals, and what keeps you healthy, knowing that the mind is just as important as the body.
Have you ever experienced any thoughts similar to the ones above?
Do you think that an addictive behavior can only be replaced by another?
What is your biggest vice?