Can your diet be too healthy?

When you’re following a healthy diet, occasional cheat days where you indulge in your favourite treats are fine, but what happens when you feel guilty every single time you go off plan?

Are you a health nut?

When you have an eating disorder, you tend to constantly think about what, when and how much you should be eating. Proper nutrition from your diet is more than just a boost of energy and a slim body; it’s for the benefit of your organs and tissues. Healthy food plays a role in your body working efficiently. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and lean proteins are all essential parts of a balanced diet.

In the extreme, though, an obsession with eating foods that you consider healthy and overdoing the exercise can lead to a condition called orthorexia.

Orthorexia

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, orthorexia is an obsession with proper or healthy eating. Being aware of and concerned with the nutritional quality of the food you eat isn’t the problem; it’s when you become fixated on so-called “healthy eating” that it starts to damage your health and wellbeing.

These kinds of diets can sometimes become so strict that they have health-related consequences, including malnutrition, social isolation, and severe psychological strain. Studies have shown that many with orthorexia may also have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The term orthorexia nervosa was introduced by American doctor Steven Bratman in the late ‘90s. He believed that the medical condition has two stages. The first is simply choosing to eat a healthy diet. The second is “an intensification of that pursuit into an unhealthy obsession.”

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Warning signs and symptoms

  • Excessive concern about the ingredient list and nutritional labels.
  • Increasingly cutting out whole food groups (all sugar, dairy, meat, carbs and all animal products).
  • Being unable to eat anything else besides the narrow food groups that you’ve deemed healthy.
  • An unusual interest in the health of what others eat.
  • Feeling stressed when “healthy” foods aren’t available.
  • Obsessively following food and healthy lifestyle blogs or social media.
  • An increased concern about your body image.

Get help

Your doctor may refer you to a nutritionist who will be able to help with orthorexia. The condition also has an emotional aspect, and you may be asked to see a mental health professional. You will need external help to see that this obsessive fixation on food is doing your health more harm than good.

You’ll need to train yourself to think differently about it, and once you do, your journey to healthy living will become beneficial in a more positive and sustainable way.

While there may be no clinical treatments available specifically for orthorexia, eating disorder experts treat orthorexia somewhat like anorexia and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder. In this case, treatment may involve psychotherapy to increase the variety of foods you eat and exposure to anxiety-provoking foods, as well as investigating ways of managing body weight.

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