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Understanding Orthorexia: When Healthy Eating Goes Too Far

Today, we're diving into the fascinating world of orthorexia - the not-so-healthy obsession with healthy eating.

Let's start with the basics.

Orthorexia Nervosa is a term coined by Dr. Steven Bratman in 1997, describing an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.

Picture this: kale-infused dreams, quinoa-induced nightmares, and chia seed confessions. Sounds like a wild ride, doesn't it?

So, what does the science say about orthorexia?

Orthorexia is not yet recognized as a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, it shares similarities with other eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

It is characterised by an excessive preoccupation with consuming only "pure" and "healthy" foods, often leading to restrictive eating patterns and an overwhelming focus on the quality of food. A study published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders found that orthorexia nervosa is associated with a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies and impaired psychological and physical well-being.

While it's important to be mindful of the nutritional quality of the foods we consume, orthorexia takes this concern to an extreme level. This condition can result in potential malnourishment, osteoporosis, weakened immune function, and a heightened risk of foodborne illnesses due to a fixation on consuming only raw or unprocessed foods.

All those kale chips might not be doing you as much good as you thought.

Picture this: You're at a dinner party, and the host proudly presents a gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, joy-free salad. You start to wonder if it is the salad or your social life that lacks nutrients.

But humour aside, orthorexia is a serious condition.

The psychological impact of orthorexia on mental health is profound. Individuals affected by orthorexia often experience significant distress, anxiety, guilt, and shame surrounding their food choices. This preoccupation with dietary purity can lead to social isolation, impaired social functioning, and diminished enjoyment in social gatherings or communal meals. It can also contribute to distorted beliefs about the relationship between diet and health, leading to rigid thinking and impaired cognitive flexibility.

To avoid the potential negative impacts of orthorexia, it's essential to cultivate a balanced and flexible approach to healthy eating:

  1. Developing a Healthy Relationship with Food: Focus on enjoying a wide variety of foods that provide essential nutrients while allowing for flexibility and enjoyment in eating experiences.

  2. Mindful Eating: Embrace mindful eating practices by being present and attentive to the sensory experiences and nourishment that food provides.

  3. Embracing Moderation: Strive for balance and moderation in food choices, allowing for occasional indulgences without guilt or anxiety.

  4. Promoting Positive Body Image: Foster a positive body image and self-compassion, recognizing that health and well-being encompass physical, mental, and emotional aspects.

  5. Seeking Professional Guidance: Consult with a qualified healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian or nutritionist, to establish a balanced and individualised approach to nutrition.

How do you navigate the fine line between mindful eating and obsessive restriction?

Ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Are you able to enjoy a meal without over-analyzing its nutritional content?

  2. How often do you turn down social gatherings because of food-related concerns?

  3. Can you identify when your pursuit of healthy eating starts to interfere with your emotional well-being?

  4. What would your life look like if you found a balanced approach to eating that nourished both your body and soul?

  5. Are you open to seeking support and guidance if your relationship with food has become unhealthy?

While it's important to prioritise nutrition and health, an excessively rigid focus on "clean eating" can lead to detrimental physical and mental health outcomes. By adopting a balanced and mindful approach to food, we can maintain a healthy relationship with nutrition and overall well-being.


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