The dangers of “healthy eating”

In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I’d like to address a less commonly recognized eating disorder, orthorexia. Orthorexia Nervosa is an eating condition that is characterized by an obsession or fixation on “healthy eating.” Though not formally recognized as an eating disorder, orthorexia bears many similarities to more commonly-known disorders like anorexia. Society’s fixation on perfection, social media, and health-ism help to reinforce this obsession in those with orthorexia. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that at least 30 million people suffer from some type of eating disorder.

People with orthorexia possess an unhealthy obsession with eating pure and healthy diets. While leading a healthy lifestyle is always recommended, people with orthorexia become so fixated on eating healthy, that their physical and mental well-being, as well as their daily lives, begin to suffer. But how do you know if your nutritional habits are pushing it too far? Here are 10 ways you can tell if your healthy lifestyle has turned into orthorexia.

1. You Obsess Over “Eating Healthy”

Orthorexia typically begins more subtle than other eating disorders, because your initial intent is to eat a healthy diet. But when “clean eating” or eating healthy becomes an obsession, you are moving into unhealthy waters. You may become obsessed and extremely focused on the quality of your food, specific ingredients, or healthy trends. As time (and the obsession) progresses, it becomes the center of your world and begins to interfere with your personal, social, and work life.

2. The Fixation On Diet Controls Your Emotions

When you become obsessed with your diet and eating habits, your emotions begin to hinge on that obsession. You may have certain “rules” or patterns within your food fixation that control how you feel. If you’re suffering from orthorexia, you may feel emotional turmoil when your “rules” are broken, but superficial happiness when your obsession has brought results. Over time, your emotions and how you feel may begin to depend solely around your healthy eating fixation.

3. You Judge Others Over Their Eating Habits

As part of your obsession with eating healthy, it may become harder to see others in your life living differently. People with orthorexia may begin to judge family and friends over their eating habits and lifestyle. You may even restrict your social situations so that you do not need to be around “unclean” food or people who do not share your same “rules.” Judgments make way to secretly feeling “better than” others and providing an excuse to isolate from them.

4. You Go to Extensive Lengths to Achieve a “Healthy” Lifestyle

Not only do you begin to cut out foods or practice certain dietary rules with orthorexia, but you may go to extensive lengths to meet these guidelines you have established with yourself. You may develop irrational concerns over-prepping and cleaning your food, as well as techniques for preparing it. You may also spend extensive time planning, researching, and meal-prepping. The lengths used to achieve your idea of a healthy diet may distance you from other aspects of your life.

5. You Avoid Going Out to Eat or Eating Food Prepared By Others

People with orthorexia must feel control over their diets. And if you are obsessed with ingredients, food, and how it’s prepared, you may feel a genuine fear over losing control over your diet. This may mean that you begin refusing to eat food made or prepared by others, or refusing to eat at a restaurant.

6. Specific Foods and Food Groups Start Being Eliminated From Your Diet

In an effort to achieve the healthiest diet possible, you may begin cutting out foods altogether. Anything that you deem unworthy of your “healthy” lifestyle may be cut out of your diet. You may become obsessive over checking labels and eliminating ingredients, foods, and food groups in an effort to meet your rule-based diet and lifestyle. The society we live in is perpetuating an orthorexic mindset by perpetuating fear-based thoughts around food.

7. Lingering Fears of Food, Sickness, or Disease Exist

With orthorexia, you may feel obsessive over your diet and health due to an overwhelming fear of being “unhealthy.” In order to gain control of the situation, people with orthorexia aim to control their health through their diets. You may have orthorexia if you become fixated on the fear of sickness, disease, and unhealthiness, and the need to control your health through any means necessary.

8. You Obsess Over Social Media and Unrealistic Expectations

Today’s world provides you with an array of unrealistic expectations. Whether it’s weight, body image, or lifestyle, it’s easy to compare yourself to millions of others. This can be especially true for younger generations, with over 1/2 of teenage girls and nearly 1/3 of teenage boys using unhealthy weight control behaviors. Those with orthorexia become fixated on these expectations put forth through social media and today’s society. However, orthorexia is not defined by a person’s desire to reach a certain body type, but rather to reach a certain “healthy” lifestyle. You may also find yourself relying on these presences, which can perpetuate misinformation about healthy eating.

9. You Experience a Vicious Cycle of Feelings

With the orthorexia condition, the obsession with your diet begins to control your emotions. But this creates an imbalance and a vicious cycle, where you may experience mood swings; often switching between feelings of shame and self-loathing to feelings of euphoria, depending on how your “lifestyle” is going. The more depressed and anxious you feel, the farther into your obsession you may go to retrieve more euphoric feelings.

10. The Physical Signs of Malnutrition Begin as Result of an Unbalanced Diet

The physical signs of orthorexia differ per person and situation. But over time, your obsession with foods, restrictions, and routines will force your body into a state of imbalance and malnutrition. You may begin to feel fatigued or weaker than normal. You may also lose weight, feel tired more often, feel cold, and take longer to recover from common illnesses and viruses. Left untreated, malnutrition can lead to a host of severe physical and psychological problems.

Without proper care, orthorexia can cause traumatic consequences to your mental and physical health, as well as control the happiness of your personal, work, and social life. If you’re experiencing any of these orthorexia symptoms or think you may have concerns about an eating disorder, please seek help from a trusted professional.

The eating disorder specialists at Center For Discovery will support you with a free consultation and free support groups to see how we can help you start the journey to transform your life.