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April 2019

Are You Obsessed with Healthy Eating?

Good for you to say “no thanks” to cookies with your afternoon coffee and have an apple instead. Making healthy food choices is smart. But can you take healthy eating too far? If you’re obsessed with eating only the foods you consider to be healthy, you may have an eating disorder called orthorexia.

Woman at grocery store, looking at food label

Orthorexia symptoms

People with orthorexia fixate on the nutritional quality of their food and obsess about “healthy eating” to the point where it actually damages their well-being. It’s not clear exactly what contributes to orthorexia. One factor may be a need to improve self-esteem or regain a sense of control. Orthorexia is not officially recognized as a mental disorder. But awareness about it is on the rise.

Signs you may have orthorexia include:

  • Compulsively checking nutrition labels and ingredient lists

  • Cutting out an increasing number of food groups, such as all sugar, dairy, or carbs, to the point of harm

  • Eating only a small group of foods on your “healthy” list

  • Worrying for hours about food that will be served at upcoming events

  • Feeling very distressed when “healthy” foods are not available

  • Obsessively following food and “healthy lifestyle” posts on social media

The problem with food restriction

If you limit the amount and variety of foods you eat, your body may not get the vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly. One of the main problems linked with orthorexia is malnutrition. Orthorexia can also cause many other issues, including:

  • Bloating, stomach pain, and constipation

  • Difficulty concentrating and sleeping

  • Decreased levels of sex hormones

  • Muscles breaking down

  • Dry skin and brittle hair

  • Iron deficiency

  • Fewer white blood cells for fighting infections  

Help is available

If you or someone you love has orthorexia, it’s important to seek professional help. Programs for eating disorders help people overcome problematic beliefs and learn how to eat well again. Love and support from family and friends are also important to recovery.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
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