I wouldn’t consider myself a former orthorexic—at least officially—but there were puh-lenty of instances where my healthy cautiousness turned into disordered thinking; for instance, I obsessed over calorie counting, over-exercised, and desperately researched the quickest methods to weight loss possible. For many healthy people, these are normal problems that can be solved (well, easier said than done, of course!). However, what if there was one interesting thing that seemed so beneficial, but was secretly taking a toll on your well-being?
Many seem to talk about how counting calories, carbs, fats and protein is dangerous and unhealthy. If you heard of the IIFYM diet, it appears almost too good to be true (no calorie counting involved!). You can eat chocolate cake, protein shakes, Eggs Florentine, cheese steaks and potatoes galore—so as long as you eat the correct portions to fit in your daily macros: carbs, protein and fats. Go overboard and you gain weight. Stay in the same range and you’re good to go. There are many stories, on the other hand, of people who got so fixated in their macros that they would starve themselves to 600-800 calories a day WITH intense exercise, and would deprive themselves even further if they exceeded their limits.
With all that being said, would you think that it’s possible to be obsessed over micronutrients? You know, the vitamins and minerals that average people turn a blind eye to and health nuts skim over and cover vaguely. But anything is possible, and it happened to me; what’s worse is that I initially didn’t think it was an issue. I let so many micronutrients dominate my well-being, but my general obsession narrowed down to one: Vitamin A.
Here’s a disclaimer: Vitamin A is essential for health. It is the king of maintaining keen eyesight, glowing skin, knight-like immunity and bones strong as rock. Most people are actually deficient because they don’t eat a sufficient amount of whole, real foods. The biggest flaw about the IIFYM diet is that it doesn’t focus enough on micronutrients—only macros. So yes, someone can have a smoking hot body with muscle tones everywhere, but his or her teeth, hair and skin don’t look to par. I’m saying that you ABSOLUTELY need to focus on micros because they keep you ALIVE and WELL. Becoming overwhelmed with micros and letting them control your way of living healthily does the opposite—pretty much what my obsession did to me.
In the midst of my health journey, people started to hear about these new superfoods, plus notice my diet changes and would ask me what I get out of them. These situations led me to a long and pleasant (at least for me) lesson about what the superfood is, where it originated from, how it is harvested, how it’s traditionally eaten and of course, what micros it provides. 90% of the time, I mentioned Vitamin A—it was in all of my favorite foods—minus grapefruit, oranges and cantaloupe: kale, broccoli, pumpkin, Romaine, shrimp, collards, squash, cod, sweet potatoes, apricots, tomatoes, carrots, the list goes on! I’d start my days with a One-Ingredient Cake or kale smoothie, have a Romaine salad for lunch and zoodles or a tofu broccoli stir-fry for dinner. I loved all the foods I ate and I was happy with cooking the meals. I thought it was the perfect way to eat. It worked.
After a long period of time, I started to get a little bored and wanted to change things up a bit. But little did I know that something inside of me was holding me back. When I wanted to make nana ice cream, I’d use berries and apricots, or if I was craving eggs, I’d have spinach instead. My mind gradually separated from my cravings; I lost the ability to feel satiated after a meal. What I really wanted to eat was constantly put aside for later just because “there wasn’t enough antioxidants”.
It wasn’t until I dragged myself to eat another sweet potato when I discovered my obsession loudly and clearly. What I thought was the perfect diet for me was actually controlling me and twisting my thoughts around. I was no longer in tune with my body. Later, I came across symptoms of too much Vitamin A and scared myself out of my pants—no way would I let myself get osteoporosis, liver problems and orange skin!
So yes, it is definitely possible to overdo it on the micros as with macros. While it’s much much harder to get too much micronutrients, it’s just as dangerous and unhealthy. However, the worst part is the mental process: I made excuses as to why certain healthy foods were unhealthy in comparison to the Vitamin A boosters. For a while I actually thought bananas were empty calories unless you have them with spinach or kale.
You N-E-E-D variety. As simple as it may seem, we find ourselves eating the same things every day just because it’s comfortable–smoothie for breakfast, salad for lunch, chicken and broccoli for dinner. But if you’re like me and get bored easily, then go for something new without shame! Get your Omega-3’s with chia salmon one day and your monounsaturated fats from avocados and almonds the next. As cliche as it sounds, balance is the key to sufficiency.
You’re probably looking at this and asking yourself why I’m not writing a story about how I was rushed to the hospital—I caught myself before I could–which is very fortunate by the way. I know it’s a bit disappointing that I don’t have an extraordinary scare story to tell, but it’s important as a word of caution to not obsess over anything. No. Matter. What. Enjoy a happy medium for all your life; don’t deprive yourself or settle for anything that seems like “the one”. You discover something new every day.
Have you ever obsessed over macros/micros? What was your experience?