Everyone can benefit from eating healthier food but can it actually backfire when taken to the extreme?

By Kaye Lopez | Photo by Travis Yewell/Unsplash

First off, let’s all agree that eating a healthy diet based on nutrient-dense foods is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make for yourself. Science has proven time again that a healthy, well-balanced diet, and limited intake of refined sugars and processed foods can do wonders to our health, well-being, longevity, and quality of life.

We are advised to fill our shopping carts with organic, non-GMO ingredients we can cook at home and to avoid buying convenient but less healthy alternatives. Even dining out can be tricky because we have no access to nutrition labels and, therefore, have no control over what goes into into our bodies. While these are all sound, science-based, and nutritionist-approved advice, there are certain individuals who are predisposed to obsessive-compulsive behavior that could lead to a relatively new eating disorder called “orthorexia nervosa.”

What Is Orthorexia?

Although the term itself has evolved for the past 20 years, it has not yet been recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders that clinicians use to identify and treat eating disorders. It currently falls under the category Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). It has, however, been acknowledged by the National Eating Disorders Association, a non-profit organization based in the US.  Although orthorexia shares similar characteristics with anorexia, the obsessive traits of orthorexics focus more on their fixation on quality and purity of the food rather than weight-loss. And although it lacks the body image obsession and secretive behavior seen among anorexics and the compulsion to binge and purge among bulimics, they have some commonalities such as perfectionism, rigid thinking, and depression.

Although orthorexia shares similar characteristics with anorexia, the obsessive traits of orthorexics focus more on their fixation on quality and purity of the food rather than weight-loss. And although it lacks the body image obsession and secretive behavior seen among anorexics and the compulsion to binge and purge among bulimics, they have some commonalities such as perfectionism, rigid thinking, and depression

What Are the Red Flags?

While it may be difficult for the untrained eye to identify when clean eating as part of a healthy lifestyle has taken a downward turn to an unhealthy obsession, there are some tell-tale signs. The key trait to watch out for is the restrictive nature of the eating disorder. Signs like strictly cutting out entire food groups or certain foods within a food group are dangerous because it can lead to nutritional deficiencies and potentially serious illnesses down the road. When someone no longer eats out with friends or socializing for fear of loss of control over the food they eat or the time spent on planning and restricting, the quality of life and relationships can suffer as well.

Practice the 80/20 Rule for a Flexible Clean Eating Plan

While clean eating can help prevent diseases and manage weight, there’s no need to panic if it’s not organic. There’s always room for that healthy salad made with non-organic ingredients at your favorite restaurant; and a little party serving some genetically modified snacks most likely will not kill anybody. So focus on progress, not perfection.  Eat healthy 80 percent of the time and live a little for the remaining 20 percent. Maintain this balanced and non-restrictive relationship with food so you can eat your way to health, happiness, and overall wellness.       

Have some female-specific training questions, feedback, or suggestions for future articles? Please feel free to drop me a note on the comments section below or on any of our social media platforms.  You can also email me directly at [email protected].

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