#28 Orthorexia - When Healthy Eating Becomes Unhealthy

The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast


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"Orthorexia commonly involves socially isolating yourself from people and dining situations where you don't have full control over the food preparation or ingredients. Feelings of extreme guilt and shame over slip-ups or deviations from your plan are also likely. When you have a healthy relationship with food your sense of self-worth, self-love, and self-respect are NOT dependent on your food choices."

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In Episode 28 of The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast, Natalie Douglas and Kate Callaghan discuss how to overcome being obsessed with healthy eating and Orthorexia treatment options.

  • What is orthorexia
  • Signs/symptoms of orthorexia
  • The fine line between caring about what you eat versus orthorexia
  • Strategies to heal yourself from restrictive eating
  • Practical tips and more!

Natalie K. Douglas 0:00
Hello and welcome to the holistic nutritionist podcast. My name is Natalie Burke, holistic dietitian and nutritionist from health by Whole Foods calm today you and with me as always, I have Kate Callahan, the holistic nutritionist from the holistic nutritionist calm.

Kate Callaghan 0:16
Kate, how are you going this morning? I’m good. You also have Ed who just bought it?

Natalie K. Douglas 0:22
That No, I did it, but I’m gonna like re listen and see if I can hear these. Good, good.

Kate Callaghan 0:29
And we have Charlie anyway. How are you? Charlie’s my cat by the way. I

Natalie K. Douglas 0:32
was like, what you had another child that I’ve taught? I’m glad thank goodness. I’m good. I am. I had a coffee for this the first time in a while this morning. And I’m like, buzzing but like a good buzzing I didn’t I’m not. I’m not anxious buzzing which is which is nice. Probably because I’m not super stressed at the moment. And I also had a pretty good sleep last night. And it was also got it coffee, which seems to make a difference for me. Gosh, it’s delicious.

Kate Callaghan 1:02
Really. It’s delicious. I’m mixing it.

Natalie K. Douglas 1:04
Yeah. Coffee. My problem is though, if like, once I start I like remember how delicious it is. And then I’m just like, oh, I’ll just have one a day for a while. And like, just like, they’re not trying come off. And I’m like, No, I feel like we talked about this every week.

Kate Callaghan 1:21
Yeah, yeah. So I think green smoothie would put a bit of much in it today. Oh, nice. It tastes horrible.

Natalie K. Douglas 1:29
It really does. It tastes like you’ve just gone outside and eat and grace. I mean, it’s good for you. But like,

Kate Callaghan 1:36
I’ve turned it into a lot of deliciousness. So type the right. Yeah,

Natalie K. Douglas 1:40
Moscow. It’s like those greens powders like this or like you have to disguise them. Yeah. How did I have people just like I love my greens pad on like, I don’t ever really do.

I love I love what’s in it. But I’m like,

Kate Callaghan 1:56
I don’t know this, and so virtually greens.

Natalie K. Douglas 2:04

I did want to actually ask you one thing to share with everyone. So I saw on Instagram because I stalk you that you dive into the extremely freezing New Zealand like so tell us why you did that.

Kate Callaghan 2:19
Ah, thanks for giving me the morning here. Just a brief of why you did it. So I went to a conference last weekend the ancestral health society conference. And one of the speakers there was Ben Logan, and he’s he’s on Instagram, his new age primal and he talks a lot about cold thermogenesis, which is basically exposing your body to the cold, extreme cold to experience various health benefits. And I actually just pulled up his little slide here that goes through the benefits of Coldwater immersion. So the science and benefits of Coldwater immersion improving lymphatic circulation, cardiovascular health and circulation stimulation of the immune system, activation of brown fat, increased insulin sensitivity, mitochondrial bio, Genesis, AMPK activation, increasing doper mean, increased mental and physical resilience and stress response, assisting to dissolve the biofilms around chronic infections, increasing growth hormone increasing metabolic rate assisting symptoms of inflammation.

Natalie K. Douglas 3:28
Yeah, so that’s why myself a cold like, yeah, it’s

Kate Callaghan 3:33
bloody freezing.

Natalie K. Douglas 3:35
Yeah, I can imagine I am. I try, like, I, it’s not quite the same. But I try and have like a cold shower every day. Like usually it’s well, I usually shower at night. So it’s usually at night time. But I find like, I feel like it’s invigorating. But in winter, you have to really like, I don’t know, convince yourself that it’s a good idea. My like, my fiance does it every morning. I’m like, wow. And he loves it. So

Kate Callaghan 4:00
yeah, we don’t have a good place to start.

Natalie K. Douglas 4:03
Yeah, it’s not quite as effective in terms of like, being like in an icy icy place. But it’s the best I can do when I don’t really have a like,

Kate Callaghan 4:12
Yeah, I was only in there for maybe 30 seconds. It takes your breath away. Hi. He will spend, I think he said the longest he spent in the river, which is freezing in the middle of winter is an hour. Oh my god. And so the really awesome things. So he’s kind of combined that with a bit of a candidate ketogenic diet, and he’s to have epilepsy. And I say used to because he hasn’t had a bit since he’s been doing this.

Natalie K. Douglas 4:39
Wow. Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing that with us. It’s actually not what we’re talking about today, guys, but I really wanted to bring it up, because I find it really interesting. So maybe we can chat a bit more about it another time. But for anyone who does have a very freezing like nearby and then go feel alive, if not jump in the freezing cold shower, and you can reap some of the benefits. So today, we’re actually talking about something slightly different to that. We’re talking about both RX Yeah. So basically, we wanted to bring this up, because it is something that’s becoming more and more talked about, both in the media and I know, even just amongst kind of like my friends groups at the moment, some people have been bringing it up. And it’s it’s an interesting topic, and I find it, I find I have a lot of opinions on it. And I think that it’s worth the discussion. So that’s what we’re going to be chatting about today. To start off though, I think it would be wise to give you a bit of a definition of orthorexia. So, it’s not actually an officially recognized eating disorder at this stage. However, it’s still a recognizable term that fits somewhere on the eating disorder spectrum. So the most basic definition of what orthorexia is, is a condition where an individual is driven to eat in a way they see as perfect or pure, often involving strict and inflexible eating behaviors. So it differs from anorexia for example, where the main kind of fixation of focus or goal is on controlling weight and a fearfulness of weight gain. And this is more about the quality of food and, and kind of like having a quote unquote clean diet or whatever that person deems to be clean and perfect in the way of eating. And of course, the two can overlap but I just thought I’d point out some minor differences there so people didn’t get confused or just think I was retarded and was meaning to say anorexia, but was saying orthorexia. Sorry. So some signs and symptoms of orthorexia can include things like strong anxiety around food choices, feeling quote, unquote dirty or impure if you stray from your quote, unquote allowed foods list, a feeling of superiority of others because of your playing food choices. Socially isolating yourself from people and dining situations with you don’t have full control over the food preparation or what’s going in there. Extreme guilt and feelings of shame over slip ups or deviations from your plan, and a dependent on food choices in the way of it dictating your feelings of self worth, self love, respect, all those kind of things. So I think where this can get a bit tricky, or at least where I find it gets tricky is that when it comes to this debate around orthorexia, there’s a fine line between caring about what food you putting your body and prioritizing healthful eating in your life. And versus that kind of that priority ruling your life and dictating self worth. I guess personally, for me, I get a bit frustrated when I see people judging people or accusing them of having an eating disorder based on the fact that they choose to eat a whole foods based diet free from processed food. And because again, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that. And if there is there and probably half of our colleagues who are nutritional nutrition professionals would all be deemed to have it orthorexia, including myself. But I also think that there are times where restricted eating regimes or what I prefer to call therapeutic interventions are definitely called for and helpful. However, they are just that the interventions lasting a short period of time with a specific purpose beyond being superior to your friend who eats a blissful every day for afternoon tea. However, when straying from that diet or set of guidelines starts to create feelings of, you know, the anxiety or anything that I listed above, then that’s when I think it starts to kind of enter this area of orthorexia, and is worth addressing and worth having a discussion around. So, Kate, I don’t know what your thoughts are around orthorexia. But, do you think there’s a bit of a fine line between you know, having orthorexia? I guess, behaviors versus having a conscious have making conscious decisions about what you’re putting in your body? And how would you? Can you kind of view that that line?

Kate Callaghan 9:19
Sorry, I’m here. I just had to pick up in. Okay. Yeah, no, I absolutely. I agree with RP. That said, I absolutely think that there is a difference, there is a line. And I think, as you said, it’s awesome to want to eat good quality, Whole Foods to take care of yourself and rain, that’s what I do for the most part, and that’s what my family does. And but I think it’s important to be okay, with occasionally not eating perfect, quote, unquote, perfect food. And so for example, if you’re in a social situation, all there is no foods that you don’t see is perfectly clean, or within your strict eating requirements, and you just choose not to eat at all, just for that fear of being unclean or impure or deviating from your rules. Or if you think you know, that one little bit of cake is going to make you put on five kilos, and, or if you ate a piece of cake, and then you have those feelings of guilt, and you feel that you have to beat yourself up about it. And you’ve done something wrong. I think that’s where that line is crossed. So I would say eat well, most of the time, a healthy way to do be eating well, most of the time, but 20% of the time, or you know, 10%, whatever works for you allowing yourself to eat something that’s, you know, less than ideal. Yeah. Sorry.

Natalie K. Douglas 11:00
No, that’s fine. No, I I totally agree with that. And I think that, I think a point I wanted to make where you just said that 20% of the time or 10% of the time, whatever works for you. I think that’s important in recognizing that, you know, it’s not that we’re saying you have to force yourself to be flexible 10 to 20% of the time or whatever fits with you, but more about being okay with that, and, and being okay with making that choice to be you know, flexible or imperfect in quotations. If that’s what happens to come up in a social situation, or if that’s what you feel like doing, because it’s totally fine to do that. And I know, I think it’s also important from the other side for people not to be too quick to judge someone and put them in the basket of having orthorexia. If you observe them in social situations where they happen to be like, No, I don’t want to drink or No, I don’t want the peace cake. Because, you know, it’s not always that they’re doing that, because they’re fearful of having that for a lot of people in this kind of, I guess, area of like loving to prioritize health and well being a lot of people genuinely don’t enjoy the taste of it or don’t enjoy the way it makes them feel. And it doesn’t necessarily create anxiety for them avoiding it. And I say that because I’m I’m probably in that category in that majority of the time. If I’m out. I don’t generally drink much alcohol, because I don’t generally like it that much. And likewise with dessert. That doesn’t mean to say that I never say yes. If I feel like saying Yes, absolutely. I say yes, I had gelato Misener on the weekend, two scoops to myself and was delicious. And I didn’t feel guilty about it at all. But if you asked

Kate Callaghan 12:56
Yeah, if you ask,

Natalie K. Douglas 12:58
you know, some, maybe some people who are in my social circles that see me at, you know, at at, you know, social occasions, and if you ask them or does does not drink and eat dessert, like a lot of them would probably say No, she doesn’t she she doesn’t really do that. And it’s because they haven’t observed me doing it as the norm. But for me, personally like my reasons for not doing that aren’t wrapped up in a feeling of guilt or shame or anything like that. It’s it’s from a pure dislike of either the taste or how it makes me feel. But as I said, it’s not, it’s not like, I never allow myself to do that. So I think it’s really important to not be too quick to judge, too, you know, obviously, be aware, if you’ve got a friend who has those tendencies, and you’re seeing some of those signs and symptoms, then definitely, you can open up the discussion with them about it and about their reasons. But don’t, don’t be so quick to judge or anything like that, because I think that that’s unfair. And also can create tension as well and and lead to them further avoiding those situations if that’s what they they’re doing. So that’s just something I wanted to point out. But I think probably what we should point out as well is if you do have orthorexia, or some of those signs and symptoms that we’ve discussed just before actually being quite true to you and your lack of Navy, I have overstepped that line between caring about what I put in my body and actually starting to rule my life and dictating myself with what are actually some strategies that you can use to actually get yourself out of that situation. So of course, one of the key things that we would recommend is go and talk to a health care practitioner, because it’s often helpful to get an objective opinion on these things. But there are other things that you can start with. So Kate, I’ll just start with one example. And then maybe you can jump into a few others. So I think one important thing to do is to actually sit down and have a think about why you’ve implemented some of the restrictions you have, and clarifying the reasons around that. So what I mean is, you know, have you eliminated, I don’t know what saying the grains, for example, because they actually make you feel horrible, or you have some kind of reaction to them, or have you eliminated them because there’s just rules that you’ve seen on social media that say you shouldn’t have grains, they’re bad, they’re not optimal for health, you shouldn’t eat them. So kind of going through that list of food restrictions and understanding clearly, why you’ve avoided that why you’re avoiding them. And if there’s actually a good reason to would be one thing to start with. Kate, do you have some other suggestions about what people could do?

Kate Callaghan 15:58
Yeah, so I think that’s the a good idea to write down Why are avoiding I with my ha, girls, my dilemma comin are you girls, because obviously, there’s a lot of orthorexia tied up in there. And I do get them to write a list of every foods that they’re avoiding, and why they’re avoiding and why they think they should avoid them what they think will happen if they ate it, and then also write down a couple of reasons why it might be worth eating it, eating that food. So you know, if it’s chocolate, writing down everything that you think is going to happen if you eat it, and then next to it, what’s going what are the benefits of potential benefits of eating it? And I don’t necessarily mean health benefits, I mean, taste and chocolate. Yep, totally. And I think it is important to chat to your friends about it as well, I had another idea. And this just slipped my mind completely. Damn it babies.

Natalie K. Douglas 16:59
chat to your baby it

Kate Callaghan 17:00
chatty baby about it, no chatty friends about it, and let them know how you’re feeling and what you’re doing. Oh, now you talk for a minute, my brains gone wonky.

Natalie K. Douglas 17:11
Alright, so another suggestion I have would also be to start to really focus on self love and compassion around food choices. Because I think that we get into this habit or some people get into the habit of dictating their self worth and their self respect, respect based on how healthy they are eating or how healthy eat food choice each day. So I think when that just like, the first step is just becoming aware of that becoming aware when you feel guilt or shame when you make, you know, a decision around food that isn’t what you would deem to be perfect, and just start to change that conversation in your head. And also, I think becoming conscious around your self talk when it comes to food and also when it comes to your judgment of others. So often, as I mentioned, one of the signs or symptoms of orthorexia is actually feeling like you’re superior to other people, because you’ve made better food choices. And just being aware of that. So starting to change that conversation as well. Because that can that can really be helpful and can sometimes have a flow on effect to yourself. Because if you’re if you start with practicing not judging others for their food choices, then it becomes a little bit easier to not judge yourself as well. And the last thing I would suggest would be to do a little bit of an experiment in adding one food into your diet each week that you’ve eliminated for no particular reason other than you don’t feel like it’s pure and clean. It doesn’t have to be anything junk food, like or anything like that. Because to be honest, like XX often restrict things that are you know, it could be healthy as well. So for example, it could be something like Like I said, before, some grains or some full fat dairy or you know, anything like that, or some fruit Amen, a lot of people put restrictions, restrictions around fruit till the types of fruit or anything like that, and just give it a go or like once a week, try h food. And then after it just like see what happens and and the reality is nothing’s going to happen. And it’s a chance for you to practice your reaction to to that because that’s the only thing that is going to occur is you having a an emotional reaction to that. And if you’ve already practiced being conscious around that, then it’s going to be a good exercise to do. Kate, did you have any other suggestions at all?

Kate Callaghan 19:55
Right now Sorry, sorry, for that brain thought moment. Fast. So, and I would encourage people to not place morality on the foods that they’re eating. And what I mean by that is to not label food as good or bad or clean or dirty. And so when you when you call when you get that morality of food, when you say something’s good, when you say something bad, then when you eat it, you’re going to be posting that morality on to yourself. So I know a lot of my clients when they when they’ve eaten something, quote unquote, bad and they feel bad, or they tell me that they’ve been naughty. Or when they haven’t had these quote, unquote, unclean food, then they’ve had a good day or they’ve been good. And that’s really really a vicious cycle just starting to look at food as food, and it’s got more or less vitamins in it lifts more or less healthy, and but it doesn’t have it’s not inherently good or bad in itself. And eating that food doesn’t make you good or bad. yourself. So try and let go of that if you can. And with that net, the this Justin that you said with eating that food weekly, I think that’s a great idea. And, and yet, identifying how you feel so journaling, as well can help. So eat gone, eat your your food that you’re just a little bit uncomfortable with, and get your journal out and just start writing about how you feel and the whole experience of it good and bad experiences with it. And so how you feel physically how you feel mentally, how you feel emotionally, so you can then look back on it and identify if you are happy to eat that food on occasion. And there’s one quote that that chris chris has said

Natalie K. Douglas 21:44
years ago dialogue, I know you’re going to say that a little bit to say it.

Kate Callaghan 21:50
Which is it’s better to eat the quote unquote, wrong foods with the right mindset than the right foods with the wrong mindset.

Natalie K. Douglas 21:58
Yeah, I totally agree. I think Yeah, every point you’ve made, there is a really good one, I really love that idea of not placing morality around food. And just to extend that recommendation from trying one food in your diet each week. The other thing I often encourage people to do, who are coming from this area, is also to go out once a week for a meal with your friends in a social situation. You know, it doesn’t have to be that you go out for pizza and ice cream, it could literally just be going to, you know, the local cafe that has most foods that you would already eat but maybe has something else that you don’t always eat and ordering that and being okay with that, I think it’s important to incorporate eating in a social setting so that when social events do start to come up, there’s not that anxiety around going and, and eating yet because it does start to become really problematic in terms of relationship friendships, happiness, like being socially isolated is is not very good for your health, it can create a lot of, you know, feelings of depression, anxiety, all those kind of things. So I think just starting with how you one day a week, I’m going to have a meal out with my partner, for example, or I’m going to catch up with my best season, go to the local cafe and order it or whatever it is, I feel like that day and not feel anxious about reading that menu and saying that no option has every compliant food on there. You don’t have to eat something that genuinely makes you feel sick. Like if you’re intolerant to gluten, you don’t have to go out and order toast that’s got gluten in it. But you know, it might mean just having a little bit of something that you don’t usually eat. So having a little bit of Hulu me that you love, you don’t really have a reaction to that you enjoy it, but you wouldn’t usually order it and ordering that and enjoying it or if you don’t if you’re following kind of like a paleo diet or something like that deviating from that and having a little bit of cane or or buckwheat or a piece of gluten free toast with avocado or something like it doesn’t have to be junk food, it can just be something that’s not what you would usually choose and just starting to practice that. And I think now is a really good time to start practicing that, especially when there are a lot of kind of, you know, Christmas celebrations, work Christmas parties, all that kind of stuff coming up. And you don’t want to be that person that continuously misses out because you’re too fearful around not having control over that food. So I think starting now before it all the Christmas, Daddy’s pop Saudis pot Well, all the Christmas party start to come in is a really good idea. And, as Kate said, telling a friend letting them know what you’re doing so they can support you and, and just kind of keep you distracted from your own head and know your anxiety in that moment and, and help you through that process. And I will reiterate the recommendation to actually work with a health care practitioner. So as you’ve mentioned, Kate, a lot of your ha girls have your support going through this process. And that is definitely an invaluable thing to have. So reaching out to a practitioner who can actually support you through getting out of that kind of both direct seek behavior can be really helpful because it can feel overwhelming and scary trying to do it yourself. Whereas a stepping stone can be going to see a practitioner who can actually set you some goals and some guidelines and some recommendations about what maybe you should try and add back into your diet. And I know this sounds silly, but it’s not going to sound silly to those who have orthorexia. But getting permission from someone to do that can be a helpful step in the right direction. Of course, we don’t want you to become really or needing external kind of permission in order to have a food but by all means, if that’s a stepping stone, in order for you to get to a place where you can eat intuitively and not feel bad without someone having to give you permission, then I by all means think that it’s a perfectly fine thing to invest in and start with. Sorry, no. Good, so Okay, I think

that that’s probably most of what we wanted to discuss it at orthorexia. And I think going through some of those recommendations gives people a place to start you know where they may be at if this has triggered anything for you, or you need to speak to someone then of course we both are happy to help and there are also lots of different eating disorder organizations around the world that that have actually free hotline so just Google that the butterfly foundation is the key one in Australia I’m not sure about New Zealand I don’t know if they actually linked I’m not sure but if you google I’m sure you will find it and they have they always have you know counselors and and whatnot on those three hotlines if it is has been triggering for you, and you need to discuss it with someone ASAP. If you guys have any questions or any, any follow up questions to this podcast or any future topics that you would like to suggest to us, please do write into either of us so that we can get on to those. Kate, did you have anything to add before we wrap up?

Kate Callaghan 27:37
Our discussion like to say it is completely possible to overcome it. I would say in the past, I have probably been leaning towards orthorexia with my eating behaviors, and and now I’m definitely not recovered guys. So it is possible. You got to change your relationship with food you got to nourish your relationship with yourself. It can take time, and it can be challenging, but to work through it through everything you can. It’s worth it, speak with the friends get their support and

Natalie K. Douglas 28:14
more power to you, sister. That’s it. All right. Awesome. Well, thank you for joining us, Kate and Ed and Charlie is that the cat’s name?

Kate Callaghan 28:22
Charlie gone now. The

Natalie K. Douglas 28:24
latest Charlie didn’t want to stick around. Anyway, that’s okay. We’ll forgive him. And we will speak to you guys shortly. Kate, have a lovely day. You too. Bye.


The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast - with Natalie K. Douglas and Kate Callaghan

Welcome to The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast!

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Natalie K. Douglas | Thyroid Healer

Natalie K. Douglas | Thyroid Healer

Natalie K. Douglas shows women with Thyroid problems how to heal themselves in less than 30 minutes a day. Guaranteed.

Over the past decade, she's helped treat over 10,000 Australian women, trained more than 5,000 health practitioners.

Her clients say she’s the right girl to see if you’ve tried the conventional approach and nothing has worked.

Kate Callaghan | The Holistic Nutritionist

Kate Callaghan | The Holistic Nutritionist

Kate Callaghan is a Holistic Nutritionist, Personal Trainer and Lifestyle Coach who specializes in women's hormone healing.

She recognizes that there is no “one size fits all” diet or “magic bullet” which is going to cure all illnesses.

She focuses on having a thorough understanding of your personal goals, needs, likes/dislikes, support networks and lifestyle in order to create a food and lifestyle approach that suits YOU.


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