Orthorexia: Are You Taking Healthy Too Far?Article posted in: Lifestyle
Is there really such a thing as being too healthy? The experts say yes—if achieving good health has become an obsession, it may actually be doing you more harm than good. When the urge to eat healthy foods becomes a fixation, there may be an eating disorder in the works.
Not officially recognized as an eating disorder (it’s classified under “other specified feeding or eating disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), orthorexia is a term coined by Steven Bratman, MD, author of Health Food Junkies—Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating, to describe the obsession with healthy eating. He began studying orthorexia following what he has called his own “psychological obsession with food.”
Like other eating disorders, orthorexia begins to negatively impact many areas of an individual’s life and can even lead to malnutrition or death if one’s diet becomes too limited due to the desire to eat healthy. While eating healthy is a wonderful thing for your body, if it becomes an obsession, the stress and food deprivation could begin to do actual harm. Orthorexia is all about “crossing a line” and it’s important to understand what behaviors might be considered normal and what ones might be going too far. If you’re concerned that your healthy eating behaviors are crossing a line, ask yourself the following three questions:Do you feel anxious?
If you’re experiencing anxiety about the food you eat, it’s possible that you’re exhibiting orthorexic tendencies. There’s a difference between some mild guilt over a splurge and feeling extreme concern that ruins your day. Consider how much time you spend worrying about what you ate as well as exactly how worried you felt? If you feel like your thoughts about eating healthy are becoming obsessive or making you anxious, it might be time to try and modify your behavior—or seek professional help from a dietitian.
Does food affect your behavior?
If daily decisions are made based on food, you need to consider whether your relationship to food might be controlling your life. For example, an orthorexic behavior might be skipping out on social activities because of the unhealthy food that will be served there. Another example would be if your “healthy food prep” is taking so long that it consumes all of your free time. You might pass up social activities because of having to meticulously measure and prep your food. Take an honest look at how your time is spent. Write down your daily schedule. If healthy food shopping or prep is taking up such a large portion of your time that it’s drastically affecting your schedule (ie: cancelling social activities), you might be exhibiting some health obsessions that cross the line.
Small changes like eliminating sodium or trans fats are positive, healthy changes. But an orthorexic may start out with small eliminations and in time find that they’ve cut so many things out of their diet that they’re barely eating. In extreme cases they may eat so little that they become malnourished. This can also happen with anorexia. But the main difference between anorexia and orthorexia is that anorexics limit their calories based on an obsession with being thin. Orthorexics limit what they eat based on an obsession with being healthy. Experts say they also link their eating with being “pure,” “good,” or “clean.” If you desire to eat cleaner, that can be a wonderful change. But if you find you’ve become a bit obsessed with the concept of being “pure” or “clean,” you may have crossed a line. The best thing you can do is be honest with yourself. Because orthorexic behaviors often occur in private, it sometimes goes unnoticed by friends or family. If you feel any indication that your desire to be healthy is becoming more of an unhealthy obsession, reach out for help.