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Are You Obsessed with Eating Healthy? Could It Be Orthorexia Nervosa?

People who are obsessed with healthy eating may be suffering from orthorexia nervosa. Keep reading to learn the warning signs.

Healthy Eating: It’s something we’re all concerned about but when does obsessing cross the line?

It can be difficult to differentiate “healthy eating” from orthorexia therefore it’s important to know the warning signs as obsessing with healthy eating can lead to serious eating disorders. Orthorexia is a self-deprecating behavior and like other eating disorders, such as bulimia or anorexia, can have severe consequences.

Keep reading to learn about the dangers of orthorexia and what you can do to overcome it.

What is Orthorexia?

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, orthorexia is defined as an “obsession with proper or ‘healthful’ eating.” The term was first coined in 1998 and is relatively new to professionals who are treating behaviors related to obsessions with food or body image.

More commonly known issues that have stemmed from obsessive self-deprecating behaviors include bulimia, binge eating, and anorexia nervosa. Although orthorexia is an eating disorder, it is considerably harder to diagnose than its counterparts because it’s hard to differentiate between normal and problematic behavior when it comes to healthy eating.

People who suffer from orthorexia tend to be obsessive and are dominated by their fear of eating foods that they perceive to be unhealthy. This behavior can result in severe weight loss, malnutrition, isolation, and under-diagnosis of other obsessive and anxiety disorders.

Orthorexia versus Healthy Eating

When diagnosing orthorexia, it is important to distinguish what separates orthorexia from healthy eating. Incorporating healthy eating habits such as eating a balanced diet and exercising to improve your health is NOT orthorexia. Orthorexia nervosa stems from an obsession with the theory that healthy eating and exercise defines, controls, and commands attention in all aspects of life.

Theories such as these can result in social isolation or psychological disturbances such as depression, guilt, anxiety, fear of social interaction, or the belief that value is found in the practices of “clean” or healthy eating practices and exercise. With orthorexia, the boundary of the individual’s relationship with food is crossed and their daily life becomes impaired. Instead, for someone who suffers from orthorexia, their goal stops being healthy and becomes counterproductive leading to deficiency, fear of food, and an overall less healthy lifestyle.

Risks: What To Look For

A healthy lifestyle can become so restrictive that it can cause fear or anxiety about unhealthy choices. This fear then turns into an obsession and leads to paranoia about eating the wrong foods.

If you have orthorexia, you might:

  • Worry about food quality
  • Avoid eating out or eating food prepared by others
  • Fear of getting sick
  • Show physical signs of malnutrition
  • Bury yourself in food research
  • Refuse to eat certain foods
  • Fear losing control when eating
  • Be overly critical of your friend’s food choices
  • Become highly self-critical

Treatment

Although currently there are no clinical treatments designed to specifically treat orthorexia, many health professionals and eating disorder experts treat orthorexia as a variety of anorexia and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Eating disorders require treatment from qualified and properly trained health professionals. If you or someone you know may be suffering from symptoms and signs of orthorexia nervosa, seek help from your healthcare professional immediately.

For more healthy food ideas or dietary advice, consult with a registered dietitian or a healthcare provider. Be sure to check out our blog for more healthy lifestyle content.

Be Well. Eat Well.

Sarah Wilcox MS RD LD