Orthorexia: When Clean Eating Becomes an Obsession

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Everyday, we are bombarded with messages that tell us  how adherence to a clean diet will lead us to live a pure and virtuous life. While striving to maintain a healthy lifestyle is not a problem in and of itself, it can quickly turn into an obsession. Orthorexia is the name given to this obsession, when “clean eating” becomes a form of fear or even punishment.

Orthorexia is classified as an unhealthy fixation on consuming only healthy, “good” foods. On the surface, it is hard to see how this is a problem. Aren’t we told that we should only be consuming whole foods such as fruits and vegetables while avoiding things such as processed meats and refined sugars? Aren’t vegans praised as being the ideal images of healthy living, while regular old omnivores are criticized for their consumption of dairy and meat? So then, how is a preoccupation with clean eating a problem?

With Orthorexia, the preoccupation becomes so severe that it affects the psychical, mental, emotional, and social health of the sufferer. No longer striving for a lifestyle that emphasizes balance, those with orthorexia become obsessed with eating only the purest of foods and can even end up deciding on eating only a couple of items they deem “safe”. While many people choose to cut certain foods out of their diets for various religious, personal, or health reasons, orthorexics take it to the extreme by removing so many groups that they are left with only a very limited number of options. By limiting themselves so severely, they run the risk of depriving their bodies of the essential nutrients they need to thrive and survive.

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While Orthorexics do not run the risk of becoming malnourished to same extent as anorexics due to the fact that they still eat an adequate amount, the effect of the restrictions are still evident sometimes physically and  always mentally. Socially, orthorexics find themselves extremely isolated owing to their inflexibility in their eating habits. A trip out to dinner or a movie date becomes a source of panic for an orthorexic as they lose partial control over the sort of food that will be available to them. The spectrum of food becomes very narrow, with everything falling into either the “good” category or the”bad” category. The drive to make sure they consume only “good” foods leads them to spend hours planning out everything from meals to grocery shopping lists. With orthorexia, the obsession takes over and the sufferer’s pursuit for ultimate well-being turns sour.

There is no problem with striving to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If you eat, drink, sleep, and exercise all in the proper balance, then you’re fine. Society has made us believe that there is one, ultimate vision of health that we must all strive to achieve and that is what has led to the development of this unfortunate disease. Our society’s obsession with dieting has skewed our perceptions and has created more problems than it has truly solved. However, the more awareness we bring to the problem, the more likely we are to forge paths ahead of this problem. Even though it is currently not recognized by the DSM-V as a concrete disorder, it is still very real. Life is short and the best way to live it is by just freakin’ living. If you find yourself growing overly concerned with your diet, pull back and remind yourself that food is just food. It is very easy to become obsessed and more times than not, we don’t even realize it until we’re in deep. By raising awareness about Orthorexia, we can hopefully prevent more people from falling in its well-disguised clutches.


What do you think the fine line is between healthy eating and Orthorexia?

Find out more about how to stay balanced and positive here.

All images via Thinktock


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