Some months ago I read an article about Orthorexia nervosa. This is a new pathological condition discovered by an American MD, Steven Bratman, that consists in an obsession with healthy eating. Because people suffering from this disorder are so fixated with what they eat, that they may end malnourished, sick or even dead. Not to mention all the guilt, depression and loneliness that such a lifestyle can lead to.
Some people who know me could think that I suffer from this condition but I’m not that nuts. Yet :) I do get a bit obsessed with eating healthy, and people notice it. For example, in the office I get the “looks very healthy” comment at lunch at least two times a week. I usually don’t eat cake in the monthly birthday celebrations or snacks on Friday afternoons (when people catch up with drinks). I would never eat an egg and bacon roll for breakfast or a donut for dessert. At home I keep mostly healthy food (the unhealthiest I can think of is bread and crackers, which are often eaten by Alvaro, plus baking ingredients: flour, dark chocolate, cocoa, cornstarch, sugar, etc). When I feel that I really want a treat I often cook it myself (it tastes better that way!). That’s Michael Pollan’s rule #39 (Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself), and has been one of mine for several years.
But eating healthy foods can be tricky because you can get sick or fat eating only healthy foods, because it all depends on how you eat them (quantity, variety of nutrients) and how active is your lifestyle. I must admit that even when I try to eat a big percentage of whole, healthy foods, I usually eat more than I need. That’s why I’m usually in maintenance mode, and not in fat burning gear, where sometimes I should be.
And it all gets worse on the weekends, specially long weekends. I spent Easter in Canberra meditating with a bunch of other crazy Buddhists. I had decided to eat sensibly because I need to keep my body fat in an acceptable level before my big 16-day eating feast in Lima. But I just couldn’t do it. For starters, we didn’t had our meals in restaurants, but in a lovely couple’s house, buffet-style. Breakfast consisted in bread, a wide range of spreads (peanut butter, Nutella, Vegemite – nobody touched it, butter, jams), coffee and milk. On the last two days I prepared porridge that I ate with fruit and peanut butter for a bit of protein. Still, I ate too much just because there was more. Lunches consisted in a sandwich bar: bread, butter, cheese, ham, salami, chutney, lettuce, tomato, pickled cucumbers, canned beetroot, mayonaise, mustard. Dinners varied and were, I think, the healthiest of all three meals. They were served school-cafeteria style, with a person measuring portions.
In the centre, where we did all our meditation, there were often chocolates and other snacks. I ate some of those, just because they were available and free (Latin American mindset taking over). I drank quite a few soy cappuccinos and lattes in the first two days until my stomach started to complain. And at night I lost the little control I had during the day. I think that it’s because alcohol messes with my brain. It’s not that I drink a lot, I just need a beer to start craving whatever unhealthy snacks are available for nibbling. As I said before, at home that’s not a problem, but elsewhere there are always potato chips, crackers or Doritos. And everybody knows that those foods are specially formulated to make you want more, even when you’re stuffed.
During the last few years I’ve found a few tricks that sometimes help me stop eating. Brushing my teeth is a great one, but it’s not always possible. Washing my hands is another good one, specially because I can’t stand having sticky or greasy hands. My goal is to train my brain and body to work together in saying “no” to foods (or edible food-like substances, as Pollan calls them) that have no nutritional value and, most importantly, I don’t really like. I guess I have a lot of training to do.