CAN AN OBSESSION WITH HEALTHY EATING BECOME UNHEALTHY?
Orthorexia nervosa in not currently seen as a clinical psychological diagnosis, however, there are many people suffering from it's characteristic symptoms. Are you one of them?
What is Orthorexia Nervosa?
Orthorexia nervosa is characterised by an obsession with eating foods that are clean, righteous, or pure. It is being fixated on only eating foods that meet a certain set of food rules, and this can be seen to impact on psychological and nutritional health.
Here are a few questions you could ask yourself to gain some understanding about the symptoms of orthorexia nervosa.
Do you spend an excessive amount of time in reading about, acquiring, and preparing food to obtain the right quality that you desire?
Do you spend a large proportion of your income on clean eating?
Are you constantly worried about consuming foods that you believe to be impure and feel stressed about eating foods that are not allowed?
Do you feel good and in control when you are able to stick to your clean diet?
Do you feel disgusted or guilty after consuming foods that you feel are unhealthy, or foods that are not included in your diet?
Do you feel like you just can’t bring yourself to eat foods that are made by others and avoid eating out?
Do you often find it difficult to accept other people’s food patterns and habits?
Those with orthorexia are constantly preoccupied with food, spending most of their time on planning, preparing and following strict diets. They may follow a specific pattern with cooking, or have rules around how food must be prepared in order for it to be clean or pure. There may be a component of feeling superior when they are able to follow their food beliefs precisely. Individuals may also experience feelings of guilt or disgust if they consume food that they believe is unhealthy or unclean. A characteristic that differentiates orthorexia from other eating disorders is that, although multifaceted, it is not motivated by weight loss or changing body shape. Individuals with orthorexia are more concerned with the quality of the food they are consuming rather than being fixated on the quantity.
For those with orthorexia nervosa, the meaning of “healthy” and “quality” in food is entirely determined by the individual themselves, and may involve the complete avoidance of fat, preservatives, food-additives, animal products, or following a specific dietary pattern. Individuals with orthorexia nervosa decide for themselves what is considered healthy or clean.
Why is Orthorexia Nervosa a concern?
When we make decisions about food we are not just thinking about health. We might think about time, convenience, religion, culture, social norms, cost, enjoyment, satisfaction, hunger/ fullness, taste, mood etc. Decisions around food are complicated and when we only consider one factor, our definition of health, there can be implications for the remainder of our lives. How do these food rules impact on eating with those that you live with? How do these rules impact on your ability to eat socially or enjoy social situations where food is present? Are you able to be flexible about your food choices? What happens if plans around eating change?
Although those with orthorexia nervosa may be eating clean foods, they may not be considering nutritional adequacy and making sure they are giving their bodies the nutrients that it needs to work properly. Are you ensuring that if you are taking certain foods from your diet, that you are replacing those nutrients lost with an alternative?
The intention of this article is not to discourage you from making healthy choices. What it is trying to do is help you to identify if those clean choices may actually be having a negative impact on your life. Our relationship with food is such an important component of long term health. We need to foster this relationship as much as we can and identify early on if there is anything that may be compromising it. We can live our lives nourishing our bodies, enjoying food and eating free from food rules. Eating is a really important part of our lives, and we do it several times a day, but it shouldn’t be the only focus.
If the above sounds like you or you’re worried that you might be heading down this path, get in touch with a psychologist or mindful dietitian. We’re here to help you through this really tricky path.
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Alternatively, feel free to call Belinda on 0412 785 828 to discuss it further.
xx Belinda & Charmaine