With the obesity epidemic raging out of control, not a day goes by when you don’t receive some kind of reminder to take care of your health, watch your diet or get more exercise. These prompts are not necessarily bad – in fact, they get a lot of people moving in the right direction. A healthy attitude towards life is essential. But can a good thing go too far?
Some experts say “yes”! Most of us have heard of eating disorders, most commonly anorexia and bulimia. But there’s a new disorder on the block and though probably not as life-threatening as starving or binging, addiction to healthy foods, when taken to extremes, can actually damage your health!
This pathological fixation on eating the proper foods all the time usually begins with the desire to overcome a chronic illness or to improve general health. Then before you know it your life becomes dominated by the effort to resist temptations leading to self-condemnation for lapses of self control and feelings of superiority over those who choose less pure diets.
Orthorexia, a term coined by Dr Steven Bratman, M.D. is a condition of growing proportions. Though rarely diagnosed by medical professionals due to its lack of clinical guidelines, orthorexia can have a significant negative impact on your daily life. In extreme cases it can lead to malnutrition, extreme weight loss and even death!
This food obsession is about control. These people know they can’t control every facet of their lives, so in an effort to gain some amount of power, they strictly adhere to their diet. Unlike anorexia and bulimia, it’s not about feeling fat it’s about feeling healthy and pure. A healthy diet becomes an obsession which begins overtake daily life.
Of course most of us when starting a new diet pay close attention to our food choices and daily intake for several weeks – this is not orthorexia – all change takes careful consideration until it becomes a habit. But when your diet becomes an obsession and your concerns become chronic, you may be treading on dangerous ground.
Orthorexics don’t think about food all the time, but a good portion of their day is spent agonizing over food choices. These people tend to spend three or more hours a day thinking about food. They plan ahead, skip foods they enjoy to eat right and feel huge amounts of guilt if they stray from their plan. Occasional lapses are seen as a sign of weakness and orthorexics can go to extremes when they have less than pure diets by making their choices increasingly strict and even fasting for unusual amounts of time. Sometimes these people become isolated from society since their diet is so unusual and difficult to follow it is not feasible to eat in public.
Health food addicts often choose a diet they think is optimal to achieve better health. It can range from avoiding cooked foods, carbohydrates, fats, dairy or anything related to animals to only eating fruits and vegetables – some people even liquefy all their food because they think juices cleanse the body. Avoidance of certain foods or food groups can lead to deficits in essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients your body needs to function properly – this is why chronic health food obsessions can be dangerous to your health.
Orthorexics tend to think about food and fixate on how it is prepared to avoid daily stressors or negative emotions. In essence, they allow food to rule their lives. Sure food is a necessary part of our survival, but you can’t eat healthy all the time – but this is not an option for the health food addict! And they tend to harshly criticize those who opt for a less-than-optimal diet, thus lending a hand to their social isolation.
People who have an unhealthy obsession with healthy foods may need some help to determine the underlying root of their fixation. Learning to work through emotions or difficult situations can make the transition to true healthy eating habits easier, though some may need the assistance of professional counseling and/or advice from a qualified medical professional such as their primary physician, a nutritionist or dietitian .
There’s no shame in wanting to improve your life – neither should there be any embarrassment in admitting you may need some help! Commitment to a healthier life is admirable but not at the expense of your overall wellbeing! So if you think you have a health food addiction, take the first step towards a true healthier life and ask for help because everyone deserves a chance!