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BE FREE and Stress-Free with Food this Holiday Season

I have the pleasure of being a preceptor for dietetic internship programs. Madalyn Brown from Texas Woman’s Madalyn with Great Danes Lex and foster GeorgeUniversity worked with me (and my 4-legged office mates) in my practice. She chose to write a post about her journey with orthorexia and the approaching holiday season. I hope you find inspiration in Madalyn’s message. -Neily


When I think of Thanksgiving, I think about a table filled with food—turkey, gravy, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, butter, pie, pie, and did you say pie?!

Days of planning and preparation, hours spent in the kitchen, all leading up to an incredible meal. I cannot imagine a better scenario. Yet, a few years ago, the Thanksgiving table did not bring me feelings of warmth and happiness.

No. Instead it brought me uneasiness and stress. When I looked at the table before me, all I saw were indulgent foods that were “bad” to eat.

I carefully portioned each item onto my plate, ensuring I did not overdo it. While my family engaged in conversation, I worried about all the “bad” food I was eating. I fretted about the meal for hours afterward. I was miserable and I was suffering—suffering from orthorexia.

What is orthorexia?

Orthorexia is a term used to describe a disordered eating pattern characterized by an obsession with eating a certain way or an obsession about which foods are ‘healthy.’ Orthorexia has not been categorized as an official eating disorder (it hasn’t even been officially defined yet), but this phenomenon has been affecting people for years.

Jessica Setnick is a dietitian who specializes in eating disorder outreach with her company Understanding Nutrition. She was recently a member of a taskforce devoted to understanding orthorexia.

I had the opportunity to chat with Jessica and she stated, “Orthorexia is not about what you eat. It’s about how you feel about what you eat.”

The pursuit of health becomes so all-consuming that other areas of life suffer. This may look like:

  • Untold hours of the day spent thinking about food.
  • Isolation from family and friends by avoiding social situations where food is present.
  • Thanksgiving spent counting calories rather than counting blessings.

Recovery from orthorexia is dependent upon understanding that diet is not the only determinant of health. I was so focused on eating the perfect diet, I ignored that I had become underweight and depressed. I spent over five years in higher education learning about the ways that food affects health. Ultimately, my personal experience with orthorexia taught me the ways that an obsessive relationship with food can negatively affect health.

A stress-free Thanksgiving

Seeking professional help was critical for my recovery. I’ve slowly been able to establish an eating pattern that leaves plenty of room for imperfection. I am able to experience a stress-free Thanksgiving now that I have come to understand that one day of eating will not put me on the path to poor health.

Spending the day in the kitchen with my mom and sister is something I look forward to. I won’t be focused on how much butter or cheese is going into a dish. Instead, I will focus on the time we spend with each other and the memories we create.

My preceptor Neily created the BE FREE Blueprint® that outlines areas of life influencing our overall wellness. Food is just one of many. A Thanksgiving meal is just one of many.

Ways to BE FREE this Thanksgiving:

Behavior – Get involved in the kitchen.

Environment – Engage in positive conversation at the table.

Food – Enjoy!

Rest/Relaxation – Get a good nap in after the meal.

Exercise – Get the family together for a football game.

Emotional/Spiritual Health – Reflect on what you are thankful for.


Neily’s note:

I asked Jessica to review Madalyn’s information and make sure we had the correct info. Jessica responded:

Looks good. The only correction I have is to be wary of the phrase ‘healthy foods’ as in ‘eating only healthy foods’ (note: the post was changed to reflect that) because:

  1. There are no healthy foods, right? It’s the entire way of eating that is healthy or unhealthy, the rainbow of nutrition, and so this corroborates the belief that there are ‘healthy foods’ and ‘unhealthy foods’ and
  2. Different people have different beliefs so the statement should be ‘an obsession with eating a certain way’ or ‘an obsession about which foods are ‘healthy’ or something like that clarifying that wanting to eat in a healthy way or wanting to eat nutritious foods is not the problem.

The problem is that foods that may be perfectly healthy (carrots, let’s say) are eliminated because of a fear or anxiety about them—e.g., I heard they have too much sugar—which does not actually make them unhealthy.


If you struggle with your eating and think you might suffer from this obsession with eating a certain way, please schedule a complimentary 30-minute strategy session with Neily.

 

Jennifer “Neily” Neily, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Neily on Nutrition
Registered Dietitian Nutritioni
Wellcoach® Certified Health Coach
Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

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6 Responses to BE FREE and Stress-Free with Food this Holiday Season

  • Great blog, Madalyn! Thanks for sharing your story.

  • I always knew about anorexia, but it wasn’t until I took Neily’s nutrition class that I learned about orthorexia! It is so interesting to learn that there’s a huge variation on eating disorders. Why is it that orthorexia isnt an “official” eating disorder?

    • Thanks Lexly! And you learned about orthorexia from the presentation Madalyn did to the class.
      For many reasons orthorexia is not an ‘official’ ED…one being how to define it. Perhaps one day it will.
      Neily

  • I have heard of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia nervosa, but was never aware of Orthorexia. Helpful information on the blog, glad I was took Professor Neily’s nutrition class.

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