Obsession with healthy eating can lead to increased health problem
with Elaine Hastings, RD
With obesity rates rising and health officials touting the importance of improved nutrition and exercise, it may be surprising to learn that an increased fixation on healthy eating can actually lead to an increased risk of health problems.
When your concern over the nutritional value of all your meals becomes an obsession, you may be at risk for developing orthorexia, an eating disorder characterized by an excessive focus on healthy eating. Unlike anorexics who are fixated on weight loss, orthorexics are overly concerned about the purity of food.
This disease can look a lot like healthy behavior at first, and may be hard to identify. Some warning signs of orthorexia include spending more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food, planning the day’s menus more than 24 hours in advance and taking more joy from how “good for you” a meal is than from the experience of eating it.
Orthorexics may obsess over nutrient ratios, become compulsive calorie counters and plan their meals meticulously by charts. They may avoid eating out or eating food that other people make. They often pay more attention to their food than to work, family and hobbies.
Many orthorexics experience a decrease in their quality of life as they become increasingly focused on improving the quality of their food intake. As a result, orthorexics often avoid activities they once enjoyed for fear of encountering “bad” foods. They may feel guilty if they deter from their healthy eating plan.
Just like those suffering from anorexia, orthorexics perceive that if they can control their diet, they can have more control over their life.
What can be done about orthorexia?
If you or someone you care about has one or more of the traits described above, please seek consultation from a medical professional such as your physician or a registered dietician. For most sufferers, psychological help from a caring and understanding professional is the key. The process can be a long one, because its combating ingrained beliefs. It can be hard for people with this problem to comprehend that their “healthy” diet is actually hurting their bodies, and the complications can be as serious as other eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa.
By cutting out too many foods from their diets, some sufferers are at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies or even starving themselves to death. Others may lose muscle and bone mass, permanently changing their bodies and their metabolism.
If you believe that you or someone you love may be obsessive about healthy eating, it might be time to get help.