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Health Food Obsession Gone Too Far: Orthorexia

If you're reading this site, chances are you're into eating healthy. While it's beneficial to be conscious about what you put in your mouth, it's not good to become so obsessed that your lifestyle goes from a healthy diet to an unhealthy fixation on a healthy diet. The condition is referred to as an eating disorder by some, known as orthorexia nervosa. Symptoms include sticking to a strict diet such as a raw food diet, making a list of foods that are off-limits, or nervously avoiding foods deemed unhealthy, such as those with artificial flavors, preservatives, or that aren't organic.

Being obsessed about eating healthy seems like a positive thing, but problems arise when a person's healthy lifestyle becomes so overwhelming that it pushes other activities and interests to the periphery, and interferes with relationships and day-to-day responsibilities. As the quality of their diet increases, the quality of their life decreases. It can ironically lead to unhealthy consequences like malnutrition or starvation (anorexia orthorexia).

This is not to say that those who have diet restrictions such as vegans or those following a macrobiotic diet have orthorexia. It has to do with the rigidness of the lifestyle, and whether or not it's actually detrimental to a person's health. While some mental health professionals classify orthorexia as an obsessive compulsive disorder, others think orthorexia isn't a real disorder at all. What do you think?

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Autumns_Elegy Autumns_Elegy 7 years
There are foods that I avoid (white bread, msg, raw fish and premade cold rolls) because I think there are healthier options. I can see how it can effect someones life so massively though.
sparklestar sparklestar 7 years
I avoid gluten and lactose wherever possible because it actually makes me ill. In a horrible sicky kind of way. I wouldn't jeapordize a meal because of it though and I'm flexible where there are no gluten free options available.
opentypeA opentypeA 7 years
Ah, ok, I see what you mean. Well, what they told me through my recovery is that our bodies do actually need SOME fat in order to absorb nutrients, so if you're ONLY eating fruits and vegetables (with no butter, salad dressing, etc.), after a long period of time your body isn't able to even absorb all of the good nutrients you just put in it. At least that's how it happened in my situation.
Allytta Allytta 7 years
tori, that is obvious like you said. the only topic i was wondering about was the extremes and how it leads to malnutrition. your posts didn't really reflect on that issue
Allytta Allytta 7 years
i think it's real. but how does it lead to malnutrition or anorexia? i'd love to hear some stories. is it because they can't find food worth eating and think everything is contaminated?
onlysourcherry onlysourcherry 7 years
ps, what's up with the girl's eyes in the picture of this post? Spooky!
fashionplate525 fashionplate525 7 years
Wild Magelet, thanks for sharing your story. I can totally relate and I it has been quite a challenge to get over the nervousness and anxiety of eating foods I deem "unhealthy" In the past, I have definitely avoided social situations b/c I knew there was going to be food there I would not (or could not) eat, and I think I missed many opportunities. Now that I live in another state, away from my family and friends, I realize how precious those moments are of sharing meals and my obsession with calories and fat became all I thought about. Needless to say, I definitely think this is a real disorder.
divinedebris divinedebris 7 years
I wish I was a bit more like this when it came to some of the choices I make. I let my cravings dictate what I eat too much of the time, mostly because I love sweets and a nice burger. :D
LifeguardSteph LifeguardSteph 7 years
GlowingMooon, Just so you know, after you eat, the acid in the foods makes your teeth temporarily softer and if you brush right after then you start to wear away your enamel. So I would definitely look in to cutting down on the teeth brushing after EVERY meal. Or at least wait 20 minutes for your teeth's structure to become un-weak. Or eat cheese after because the alkaline can partially neutralize the acid and prevent erosion.
Wild-Magelet Wild-Magelet 7 years
I absolutely believe that this is a real condition, and it's one that's taken over my life in the last couple of years. It's a form of an eating disorder. I started off wanting to lose weight in a healthy way by exercising and cutting out all junk food. I did lose weight, over fifty pounds, but it got to the point where I physically would be unable to put anything in my mouth that wasn't healthy. I started adhering to strict routines; I couldn't eat anything between meal times, even if I was so hungry all I could think about was food, and I had to have meals at their set times. I couldn't eat too many carbs, any refined sugars, and absolutely nothing with questionable additives and food chemicals. I became obsessive about food, couldn't go out to eat, couldn't eat food that other people had prepared, and wouldn't even eat vegetables if someone had used too much oil or any butter to cook them. A mix of anorexia and orthorexia, and it's been a living hell. A lack of fats, calories and proper nutrition contributed to an onset of clinical depression and resulted in my periods stopping. I'm still struggling to recover and it's a long road. One of the biggest things I still have an issue with is eating things that are processed with "non-food" additives. Obviously, it's HEALTHY to eat mostly whole foods and limit sweets, but it's NOT healthy when you physically can NOT put them in your mouth, even on special occasions in social situations, or when food and food anxiety begins to take over your thoughts and your life. I think that's the point. There's a difference between following a mostly healthful diet and mental illness, which is what an eating disorder is. I am now enjoying my chocolate again every day and marveling that I ever imagined (with totally misplaced pride) that I would "never eat it again". I still have a long way to go, but it's my goal to get to the point where I eat a very healthful and minimally processed diet, but can eat at a restaurant or anything that someone cooks with love for me - without guilt, or even thinking twice about it. Even if it's high in fat or calories, or contains something that wouldn't feature highly in Michael Pollen's mantra. Nutritious daily staples and occasional pleasurable splurges. THAT, to me, is healthy eating.
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 7 years
As a very healthy eater, I don't think I have orthorexia. For me, it's about a COMMITMENT to healthy eating, than an obsession. During the holidays, I stray from that commitment, and I'm fine with it. This leads me to think that I'm not obsessed with healthy eating. It's just a commitment I honor most of the time. However, I think I'm borderline OCD when it comes to my teeth. I MUST brush and floss after every meal. There is NO peace in my heart until I do. Is there name for that condition?? :)
chloe-bella chloe-bella 7 years
I see where you're coming from, Lauren. I'm a healthy eater myself, but the girl I worked with would literally join in on any conversation and automatically turn it to "healthy eating" and/or exercise in some way. The idea of "healthiness," especially healthy foods was something she was fixated on 24/7, and it was quite obviously not normal. Looking back, it could have also been a cover for an eating disorder.
Spectra Spectra 7 years
I think maybe sometimes people probably think I have orthorexia. I follow a pretty strict regimen most of the time...not a lot of processed foods, no cheese, no red meats, etc. and I like it when I have control over what I'm eating. I think it's more of an OCD thing than a true eating disorder, but that doesn't mean it's normal either. I know I have OCD tendencies in other areas of my life (like how I HAVE to drink my coffee a certain way out of a certain mug every day, or how I have to calculate my gas tank mileage every time I fill up), so maybe it extends into my food world as well. I do agree that if the way you eat is affecting your daily life, it's definitely not normal. But I wouldn't go so far as to describe it as a true eating disorder; it's probably more of a mental health issue.
opentypeA opentypeA 7 years
I was anorexic, but I definitely had many orthorexia characteristics. I HAD to eat the recommended daily number of servings of each food group (except sweets!) and I ate sooo slowly, no matter what. And I'm already vegetarian, so meat was off the list as well as anything that wasn't "pure" (the word i gave it in my head, but basically I only ate raw fruits and vegetables -- nothing altered, not even minorly like salsa). I remember sitting in the cardiologist's office with my mom (I had a 35-40 bpm heartrate due to lack of calories and fat to support my body) and I would take nibbles off of a baggie of baby carrots I brought because I didn't feel I had gotten in enough vegetables. It's past the point where it's simply a "healthy" diet -- at that point, it's anything but.
Vanonymous Vanonymous 7 years
Also to anon #5... you call what you're on as a "paranoid healthy diet"... if it leaves you paranoid, it's not healthy. Just saying...
lilxmissxmolly lilxmissxmolly 7 years
to anon: no one is saying that's wrong. what's wrong is when it starts to interfere with your other activities and relationships, just like other eating disorders. as an anorexic, i refused to go anywhere with friends because i was afraid there MIGHT be food there, and it was easier to "avoid the temptation".
Kellie1982 Kellie1982 7 years
@lauren1001 - on your comment about being happy...being truly happy does not have to resort to eating unhealthy foods just because it is presented to you. For me and for many others that I know...being truly happy is turning down things that are not good for health and body and being able to walk away. Food should not control anyone's life. And by control I mean giving you a craving so bad that you can't turn it down or by allowing someone else's eating habits to influence yours, (i.e. someone taking you out to eat @ an unhealthy restaurant or presenting you with donuts, etc.). Also, if a family member or friend presents food to you that is unhealthy and you don't want to eat it...then that person should respect your choice and move on. Anything beyond that is an annoyance. So what if selfishness yields healthy results? Anyway - I realize the article is meant to describe the extreme clean diet but I had to add my $.02. I think it's NOT EATING that is a problem. What someone chooses (or refuses) is a personal choice. So many people mindlessly put things into their mouths and bodies and they have no idea where it came from. I respect someone who takes the trouble to choose healthy or even completely clean diets.
Kimpossible Kimpossible 7 years
I agree with deanna024. Any obsession is unhealthy. Passion is one thing but when it crosses the line to obsession it's time to get help or at least rethink your lifestyle choices.
deanna024 deanna024 7 years
I think that anything that becomes an obsession in an unhealthy way and leads a person to dysfunction (avoiding people and situations) or panicking about food choices available is not a good thing -- whether you're eating healthy or not.
CashBunny CashBunny 7 years
I think that taking healthy habits too far can be a serious issue, however I would not classify it as a disease like I would Alchoholism, Bulimia, Anorexia, and Drug addiction.
darc5204 darc5204 7 years
While I strongly support making healthy choices most of the time, if a diet doesn't allow you to have an occasional meal with friends or makes it extremely inconvenient for you to be away from home, the quality of life hit isn't worth it.
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