Picky Foods, Pure Foods, or Pass? Learn about Orthorexia

Confused shopper

I am asked frequently by friends and acquaintances alike, “do you only buy organic?” “do you only eat raw foods?” “do you ever let your kids eat Shake Shack?”   My answers are always the same:  No. No.  And most definitely yes (from time to time, or after a kids’ soccer game).

I am a Registered Dietitian.  And I am also human.  We live in a world of immeasurable cultural diversity, and I believe that access and exposure to “other” things is part of living, and part of raising a family.  (“Other,” meaning anything outside of what I may consider habitual or typical for me.)   For example, while I do not live in the woods, I really like going camping with my family and experiencing sleeping outdoors in tents.  (And snuggling in sleeping bags! And making a fire! And making s’mores!)  So while my day to day living is in a comfortable urban home, it is fun to branch out and try new places.

I approach food the same way.  I take pleasure in food shopping and preparing healthy meals for my family.  I make a point to buy in season, local, and a wide variety of foods for my kids.  This is normal in my house.  We eat a varied diet, and I always encourage my small children to try new foods.  Meal preparation is unlimited.  (Sometimes daunting, but nonetheless a blank canvas awaiting to be filled.)  I crave finding, making and serving new foods for my family to enjoy.  Bedsides, if we can’t exposure our kids to new foods at home, how can we ever expect kids to branch out when out of the house?  I worry that kid food begets kid food, and picky eating habits are enforced.

Interestingly, I have discovered that while parents genuinely struggle with providing varied healthy meals for their children, there has been a growing trend of “pure” eating among adults.  Self limiting foods that we consider “bad.”  We want so badly to do right by our children, that we have grown overly conscientious of what we put in our mouths.  Is it that we are finally listening to the growing obesity rate statistics in this country?  Or is it possible we have taken it too far?

I’m sure you have met the adults who have cut out all sugar, all fruits, all gluten, all dairy, all meat, all carbohydrates, all starch, all Doritos*.  (Speaking for myself, I am a vegetarian 90% of the time, and I ration Doritos to maybe once every two years.)  Lets face it, we all have our reasons for the food choices we make.  But to what degree is this healthy, and to what degree is this abusive?

I want to share a good article that was published yesterday about a new disordered eating habit called Orthorexia.  This is defined as “an unhealthy fixation on eating only healthy or “pure” foods.”  (Source: Orthorexia: An Obsession with Eating Pure)

I am glad that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals) posted this article to inform us of this new dieting trend.  Perhaps its a sign that mixed messages in food marketing is driving people crazy.  Perhaps we, nutrition experts, are not doing a good job helping to disseminate clear information about healthy eating.  Perhaps each food recall or discovered chemical warning is driving us to abandon food all together.

Do me a favor.  If you have questions about eating, please consult your nearest Registered Dietitian.  Until then, focus on eating more vegetables, plant-based protein sources, and a varied diet.  Your body will thank you.

~ Emma

* Please note, there are some very real medical conditions where certain foods and food groups need to be limited, and I am not referring to those in this blog post.