Healthy eating can be taken too far. In fact, there is a name for it: orthorexia nervosa. The term literally means “a fixation on righteous eating,” and was coined in 1996. This condition can be serious, and even result in severe health problems.
Symptoms include sticking to a very strict diet, such as only eating raw foods or nervously avoiding foods that are considered to be unhealthy. While an obsession with healthy eating may seem like a good thing, it can become a problem when one’s healthy lifestyle becomes so important that it takes over one’s life, interfering with relationships and responsibilities.
Quality of life often decreases when a fixation over quality of diet increases. Eventually it can result in malnutrition, or one may develop anorexia nervosa, a condition that leads to dangerous weight loss.
This doesn’t mean people who have diet restrictions, like vegans, necessarily have orthorexia; it has more to do with how rigid their lifestyle is, and whether or not it is harmful to their health.
For example, one young woman who had to undergo treatment for an obsession with achieving dietary perfection said healthy eating began as a pursuit she felt passionate about, but it gradually began to consume her every waking hour. She initially started cutting out meat, followed by sugar and all processed foods.
Ultimately, she limited herself to eating only raw fruits and vegetables and a few sprouted grains. It wasn’t until she fainted at work that she decided to seek help. Her physician diagnosed her with severe iron-deficient anemia and referred her to a psychologist specializing in eating disorders.
An unhealthy dietary fixation can lead to harmful side effects such as depression, lack of energy, a slower metabolism, weight gain and malnutrition. The National Eating Disorders Association and other health experts recommend the following tips to avoid developing orthorexia.
Listen to your body. Don’t eat just when you think you should eat. Instead, eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. End when you’re satisfied, but not stuffed. Don’t let yourself become stressed out if you eat a little too much or not enough.
Prepare your own meals. If you take time to cook your own meals, it may help you develop a healthy respect and appreciation for food, as well as the time it takes to prepare it. It may also prevent you from overanalyzing everything about it, such as how many calories, carbs or fats it contains.
Be active by taking part in things you enjoy. Many people who are obsessed with healthy eating also develop an exercise obsession. Focus on activities you enjoy, that evoke the feeling you had as a child perhaps when you rode a bike or played in the park. Some ideas include hiking with a friend, dancing, or taking a walk in a scenic area, like on the beach or a nature trail.
Avoiding an unhealthy dietary fixation doesn’t mean going back to junk food. For example, if you avoided all foods that contain fat, instead focus on foods that contain healthy fats like nuts and seeds, coconut or olive oil. If you followed a strict raw diet, consider transitioning to one that is about 80 percent raw rather than 100 percent.
While our society tends to praise dieting and being thin, a fixation on healthy eating can easily be overlooked or even considered commendable. But if you feel as if you are desperate to manage your healthy lifestyle to a point of perfection, it is probably time to seek professional help. Remember that balance is key!
-The Alternative Daily