As we become more and more savvy to the fact that diets don’t work, the dieting industry has become more and more sneaky. The most popular fad diets right now are ones that claim to not be a diet at all. Riding the popularity of the body positivity movement–and the pushback against destructive messaging that thinner is always better–these diets in disguise claim to focus on “wellness” and “health” instead of “dieting” and “weight loss.” They promise: if you just eat this one way, you will be healthy–and also lose weight of course, if you are really doing it right. These types of eating plans have become increasingly popular as the research around dieting becomes more and more clear that long-term weight loss isn’t sustainable, and as people with lived experiences of yo-yo dieting have become disillusioned with the classic dieting rhetoric. But the truth is that these wellness plans are no different from any other diet or old school weight loss plan.
Are you unsure if the latest health craze is really a diet in disguise? Here are a few telltale signs:
The danger in not calling these wellness plans out for what they truly are–diets that are being rebranded because that is what is trendy right now–is that people follow them thinking that they are doing something new and different to improve their health without the risks and pitfalls of a traditional diet. But don’t be fooled; these wellness diets inflict the same feelings of deprivation and restriction as classic diets– and also carry the same psychological and medical risks, including increased risk of eating disorders and disordered eating. In fact, with this new age of wellness diets masquerading as health, we have had to make room for a whole new beast in the eating disorder world: orthorexia.
Orthorexia is defined as an obsession with healthy eating. In this disorder, food often takes on a moral value of being “good” or “bad” and people struggling with orthorexia define their self-worth based on what they eat. Instead of getting on the scale every day and measuring worth based on the number of pounds lost, people who struggle with orthorexia measure their success by whether or not they’ve eaten “clean” foods, or foods that have been determined to be “healthy” by whatever eating plan they are following.
There is still much to figure out when it comes to diagnosing orthorexia, and it is not currently in the DSM or classified as an official diagnosis. Researchers, however, are currently doing their best to parse out what exactly the symptomatology of orthorexia is, and how it differs from other eating disorders and non-disordered healthy eating (Zickgraf, Ellis, & Essayli, 2018). Mental health professionals and those of us in the eating disorder field have also gone ahead and welcomed the term orthorexia into our vocabulary, as we see its impacts every day on the lives of our clients.
Whether it is an obsession about weight or health, any eating style that allows for virtually zero flexibility is never a good idea. Our bodies crave satisfaction, variety, freedom, joy, pleasure, and so much more. All that comes from listening to our bodies–not a diet or wellness plan. Understanding how to achieve our true goals–the kind that fill our lives with value and meaning–rather than fitting into a certain size jean or obsessing over which kind of wheat flour is in our bread, is where the real work begins.
Alexis Conason is a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of overeating disorders, body image dissatisfaction, psychological issues related to bariatric surgery, and sexual issues. She is the founder of The Anti-Diet Plan (sign up for her free 30 day course). Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
This content was originally published here.