Diary of an orthorexic.
This is a story about finding balance above all the noise. How to eat a balanced diet without feeling overwhelmed by the myriad of well-meaning advice coming at you from every corner of the internet.
But before we delve into finding this balance, a cautionary tale about Orthorexia. What? Yes, I’d never heard of it either.
Orthorexia is defined as an extreme or excessive preoccupation with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy.
I only know this because, by chance, I read an article about a young woman who’d decided to give up her dedicated life as a vegan and began to reintroduce meat and dairy back into her diet.
You may think that is not such an extraordinary story, nothing remarkable about changing your mind about something. Right? However, in this interconnected world, we live in, this young woman had acquired a level of fame and became known as The Blonde Vegan. (I will post a link to her story at the bottom of this post).
Announcing to her loyal fan base that she was no longer vegan sent shock waves through her online community. Every gamut of emotion came flying her way, including a fair swag of hate mail from people whose reasons for being vegan are a moral one rather than a health choice.
The Blonde Vegan (Jordan), the motivation was her health. But, as with anything that becomes too restrictive or obsessive, there is often unhealthy consequences, and in Jordan’s case, it manifested in both her health and her emotional state.
Jordan has since managed to navigate her way back to a healthy life that includes meat and dairy. It seems she has successfully relaunched her online business, perhaps with fewer vegans but with a new bunch of followers who have a goal of health through balance. Cleverly, Jordan is now known as The Balanced Blonde. I like that.
The perils of a restrictive diet.
This brings me to the now hugely popular Paleo Diet. Although a somewhat restrictive diet, the true believers are undoubtedly just as passionate as those that declare themselves Vegan. Now, I am not about to criticise either.
And while I like the premise behind the paleo diet such as giving up wheat, eating organic when possible, and thinking more ethically when eating meat all sounds good to me.
And, while I believe aspects of paleo are worth adopting, it’s still restrictive.
So for me, rather than trace our diets back to a zillion years ago, I prefer to trace it back just two generations and choose to follow something a little similar to the diet of my grandparents.
Finding balance and the paleo diet circa 1964.
My grandparents on my father’s side migrated from India to Australia in 1948. A family lineage dating back to 1852 gave our family the rich and beautiful tastes of Indian food.
Like many migrants in the late 40s and 50s, my family brought a rich array of traditional recipes with them. We ate natural yoghurt made from the live culture, my grandmother cooked with ghee and Indian sweets so sticky and delicious you really only needed one tiny piece. (Yeah, right, that never happened).
As a child, it seemed a rich, colourful and enchanting way of eating.
My Mother very quickly adapted to the tastes of her in-laws. This cultural mix gave us a gastronomical British/Germanic/Indian wonderland of flavours and foods. There was never a dull culinary moment at the family dinner table.
Perhaps you have similar childhood memories? Meals made without the reliance on packaged or processed anything and eaten sitting around a dinner table interspersed with conversation and stories of the day.
What went wrong?
It seems we are living longer, and yet, never has there been so many age-related diseases. Should we accept the last 15 years or so of our lives as a time burdened with ill health and chronic illness? Is this is the kind of longevity we all planned for?
Somewhere we seemed to have lost our way. Did we get lazy? Did convenience take priority over natural goodness? Whatever the reason, if we are to live not just a long life but a healthy one, then harking back to a time when things were simpler makes sense.
Everything in moderation or just in balance?
When I quit sugar, it was just as much about giving up packaged and processed foods as it was about giving up sugar. Sugar was the catalyst for change. Less convenient, but certainly more straightforward and without any real sacrifice.
My balanced version of paleo.
So while I embrace much of the paleo diet, I’m doing it my way and opt for something closer to the Mediterranean diet.
It’s slow food, slow eating and whole food. But it is not restrictive, nor is it a diet.
So now, this is what I’m doing to achieve a balanced diet.
- If I choose to eat meat or poultry, it will be primarily grass-fed and organic.
- Eat at least 7 serves of fresh vegetables a day and if this is too hard to do (and it can be), then blend some of it into beautiful green smoothies.
- Choose real, unflavoured, unsweetened natural ‘live’ yoghurt.
- Minimise the consumption of grains. If you know they upset your body’s balance, then maybe cut them out altogether.
- Swapping wheat-based products like pasta and bread to basmati rice and rice noodles in moderation.
- For sweetness instead of honey, agave or maple syrup, I’ve switched to rice bran syrup or stevia.
- Eat home-cooked beetroot. It’s so good for you and loaded with potent antioxidant enzymes.
- Find ways to include sauerkraut (not to be mistaken for pickled cabbage) in your diet; with as much, if not more lactobacillus bacteria as yoghurt, the process of lactic fermentation makes sauerkraut essential for the health of the gut.
- Jelly made from grass-fed gelatin products to improve my gut health.
What about dairy?
True Paleo enthusiasts do not drink milk at all. And, it’s worth noting, we lose the enzymes to digest milk properly by the time we cut our baby teeth. But I can’t do this. I like milk in my tea and coffee. So if like me, you can’t or don’t want to give up milk, you could try lactose-free milk like me.
But if you are one of the many that find it impossible to digest milk, then give it up altogether may be your only choice to maintain a healthy balance.
Coconut Milk may be a perfect choice for you with an abundance of medium-chain fatty acids and, in particular, one known as Lauric acid; it is indeed worth including in the diet for its antiviral and antimicrobial effect.
Let’s talk about dietary fat for a moment.
I am no longer afraid of fat. Healthy fats that come from Avocado, olive oil and fatty fish, nuts flaxseed should get a starring role in your diet. So, do not eliminate, just moderate the right amount for health.
Your skin, hair, nails, brain all need good fats.
Avoid commercially processed vegetable and seed oils which are often heated at very high temperatures, rendering them rancid. No thanks!
Pass the sugar?
I restrict sugar from my diet, and I’ve found eliminating sugar rather than moderation is easier. There’s no grey area to swing back and forth.
Of course, there have been times when for the sake of politeness, I have partaken, which only reminds me of how sickly sweet sugar-laden treats can be.
Of course, quitting sugar is not for everyone, and if we’re are talking about balance then cutting back a little, might be a better alternative for you.
Where does exercise fit into this story?
In the time of paleo man, they walked many kilometres every day seeking food. And while, a walk to the supermarket is hardly comparable, getting in the least 30 minutes of uninterrupted walking is a good idea.
I know, hardly the long walks of our ancient ancestors, but you’ll be surprised how 30 – 40 minutes of walking on a daily basis can improve your outlook.
Waiting a little longer to eat.
As hunter’s and gatherers, our paleo ancestors waited many hours for food. In modern times, a 12-hour window between the last meal at night and breakfast the next day is a worthy goal. And, on occasion, I try to extend my fast to 16 hours. Not so hard when you’ve been asleep for 8 of those hours.
Like Jordan, I’m looking for a balance or restriction and not a diet but a healthy way of thinking, living and eating.
A little bit more like the way my grandparents lived. Simply.
See you next time,
You can read Jordan’s story as it appeared in Harper’s Bazaar here.