A preoccupation with healthy eating can lead to a form of dysfunctional eating called orthorexia. It is on the rise and the athletic population is at a higher risk. The condition starts as an innocent attempt to improve nutrition and/or performance. Yet, it often leads to elimination of too many foods or food groups, labeling food as good or bad, clean, pure, or correct.
Can healthy eating really be a problem and turn against you? If it becomes an unhealthy obsession that impacts one’s social life, self-esteem, and anxiety, then yes, it can be a problem! ‘Ortho’ means correct and ‘rexia’ means desire. In other words, a desire to be correct.
In our current food-obsessed culture, it can be a slippery slope with healthy eating. All sorts of people (non-nutrition experts) are pushing fad diets, cleanses, fasts, sugar-free, flour-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, you’ve heard it all, right? When someone needs to follow a restricted diet due to health or multiple food allergies, they are followed by a registered dietitian to ensure adequate nutrition intake. But, when you log on to social media and keep seeing posts or articles from non-nutrition experts putting the fear of food on you and making you feel bad for eating a processed food, or asking you to spends lots of money on a special supplement or drink (which is processed by the way), don’t listen, just delete.
Many of my clients suffer from orthorexia, although they may look happy on the outside, they are hurting on the inside. I met with a teen yesterday, whom I’ve been working with for the past few years. Although he continues to struggle with some anxiety and negative thoughts around food, he is recovering from orthorexia. He is a bright, athletic, popular teen and he stated to me that he would have full blown panic attacks if asked to eat a homemade cookie. He was at his lowest point when his orthorexia was high, he socially isolated himself from friends, avoided doing things he loved if it involved eating away from home. He did not enjoy holidays due to the high anxiety he would have from eating non-pure foods or foods prepared from someone else. I am happy to say he has worked very hard and has been persistent at fighting this disorder!
Recovery from orthorexia does not mean you can not eat healthy, nourishing foods. You will still heat healthy, but the difference will be your understanding of what healthy eating is. You will realize that food will not make you a better person and you will not base your self-esteem on the quality of your diet.
If you find yourself tying one fad diet to the next, or find yourself with an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, please seek help by a registered dietitian who specializes in disordered eating. Orthorexia is a serious disordered eating pattern that can have mental and physical health consequences. You may know alot about food and food science, but the information you receive may not always be accurate as the information may come from non-reputable sources. When following social media, look for nutrition advice from qualified nutritionists.