I am the first and most passionate advocate that nutrition is the foundation of health! But I am also the best example of someone that sometimes took this a bit too far!
There are so many people, who takes things to the extreme and they are too religious about everything and are very fast to categorise every action or behaviour. Have you heard any of the below before?
- If you eat rice you are not doing keto!
- If you eat meat you will get a heart attack!!
- You should never eat this!!!
Trying to be “perfect” can have the opposite effect and lead to a disordered eating condition called Orthorexia. Don’t try to be perfect!
The idea of perfection
Many people boast of being perfectionists. For most of them there is a state of doing everything perfect, in the most ideal and optimum way.
A very funny example of this are Italians! I have many Italian friends with whom I have spent many evening dinning. It is always a great experience and fun, since in many occasions the discussion resolves around food. And if you know Italians they are very passionate about food, and especially passionate about the origins of certain dishes and how they should be made. If pizza is not prepared with Mozzarella it is not a pizza, and of-course only Romans know how to prepare a real carbonara!
The above example is mostly a healthy, funny situation. There are many other situations though that are not so funny. Because perfection does not exist as a state. Because what is perfect it is only personal definition of what one considers the ideal state. What you and I consider perfect can be very, very different.
And striving for our own defined perfection, can also be healthy as it is driving committment and improvement.
But we need to be very careful since perfection can also lead to aiming for something that can’t be reached. Can lead to extremes, to obsession, to rejecting everything that is not considered perfect, to feeling unhappy.
The idea of doing everything perfect, is very selfish approach to life. Doing everything perfect might be translated that we are better from the rest, and consciously (or unconsciously) are criticising others (and ourselves) for their performance.
We can be unhealthy in different ways, some of which are obvious. For example
- Injuries or infections
- Hormonal disorders or chronic diseases
However, we can also become unhealthy when we over-focus on trying to get “extra healthy” or make our diets “perfect”. This is a form of disordered eating know as orthorexia.
People with orthorexia, are obsessed with the purity and cleanliness of their food. They can feel excessively concerned and anxious about being harmed or getting serious health problems if they don’t strictly follow this way of eating. Most “normal” people don’t have this problem, but health-conscious people in the wellness industry often do.
Orthorexia, like other forms of disordered eating, doesn’t happen in isolation. People who struggle with orthorexia tend to
- feel unhappy with their bodies
- overly focus on themselves
- worry about how they look to others
- depend on external performance and approval
- struggle to maintain strong relationships
- Orthorexia is a disordered when someone is obsessed with eating healthy and anxious about being harmed if not following their diet in a strict manner.
When does healthy eating become a disorder?
Any disorder has some effect on one or more of our function of real health.
- Physical health : nutrient deficiencies, low immunity, poor healing and recovery, hormanal disruption, digestive issues
- Mental health : obsessive thoughts and feelings, self-critisism, rumination
- Emotional health : anxiety, depression, guilt, constantly feeling bad
- Existential health : not seeing the big picture, rigid identity, not having a clear purpose
- Relational health : trouble with relationships, avoiding social events
- Environmental health : restricted environment (allowing only certain foods in your house), avoiding unfamiliar experiences
- As discussed many times with health we want to unlock our powers, be happy and achieve everything we need in life.
- Health is a tool not the end-be-all goal of life.
- If the pursue of being healthy, has an impact on our mental or emotional state you are more likely to become unhealthy!
Finding the right keto balance
Keto has a long list of benefits and I strongly believe this should be the base to build any healthy diet. Following a ketogenic lifestyle and being in ketosis will help you in so many areas like
- Increased and constant energy throughout the day
- Mental clarity and focus
- Lower inflammation and address auto-immune issues
- Improved vitamin and mineral status (when done correctly)
- Simplified life, and decoupling from food cravings
On the other hand, being for long periods constantly in ketosis can have also negative effects by the sheer power of shifting the balance only to one side.
- Physiological Insulin resistance : A state where you have increased blood glucose, since your body has forgotten how to use carbs and only works with fat as energy.
- Gut imbalances : Cutting out whole groups of foods over time will change your gut microbiome and might result in intolerances to even small amounts of certain types of food.
Of-course, many people can’t tolerate carbs very well and will benefit from a long-term ketogenic diet. On the flip side, when someone has fixed his/her metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance they should include some healthy carbs to strike the right balance. Carb cycling is healthy way to achieve a great balance and still be mostly in ketosis. You can eat a moderate carb meal and still be in ketosis the next morning!
- Keto has great benefits.
- Don’t become obsessed though with being constantly in ketosis and don’t avoid carbs as if they would kill you. This perfectionism is just an idea which can be harmful in the long-term.
- Don’t feel guilt when eating “unhealthy” food once in a while. Think of how much health buffer you have created!
Listen to your body
There is an enormous amount amount of research as to what makes us healthy but we still have a lot to learn. One thing is for sure. There is no such thing as a perfect diet. Everyone is very different and the bio-individuality of the person, his/her age, state of mind will determine what is the most benefiting food for them.
Of-course there are some red lines which you should try not cross too often. Food such as
- Refined grains
- Refined sugars
- Vegetable oils
- Foods high in anti-nutrients
so be generally avoided – but also be comfortable and enjoy that piece of cake at your birthday!! Listen to your body, which food makes you feel better and enjoy the days where you stray a bit off. Your results will not be compromised when you are making most of the time the right choices and your consistent with them. Doing these little daily actions between 50-79% of the time actually makes all the difference in the world!
Check-in with yourself
If you are curious about orthorexia, here is a questionnaire to screen for it. The higher the score the more the “normal” the eating.
Eating choices and habits heavily dictate the level of our health, but they are not the holy grail. Thinking all day of what you should and shouldn’t eat is classed as a disorder. Be honest and check-in with yourself if your actions are really the most beneficial or if you gone a step too far.
Don’t be obsessed with food. There is no perfect diet. Be informed, know what benefits you and what not, and above all feel content and happy with life choices.