Can one be too healthy
The answer is a simple, yes.
It is a condition and it is called “orthorexia” which is an obsession with “healthy” eating. The quality and purity of food becomes a fixation e.g. eating “clean”, organic, preservative/ additive free etc. A person suffering from orthorexia, similar to a person suffering from anorexia, will begin to spend an excessive amount of time on meal planning and food preparation. As with other eating disorders, self-punishment occurs when one feels that he/she has “cheated” on his/her diet.
People with orthorexia nervosa often become very critical of how other people eat and are often very underweight. Although orthorexia is not established as an eating disorder, it often occurs in conjunction with an eating disorder or psychological condition such as OCD.
People with Orthorexia are often deficient in many nutrients since they cut out a number of foods from their diets. Social isolation is common, as sufferers tend to spend more time planning their meals and avoiding any situations that could potentially affect their diet e.g. going a restaurant or a dinner party. People with orthorexia also lose their hunger cues and their ability to realize how much food their bodies need.
What do I do if I suspect I / someone I know has orthorexia?
In 2004, researchers at the University of Rome found that 6.9% of the 400 participants studied suffered from orthorexia, with more men suffering from it than women and with a higher occurrence among people with a lower level of education.
If you think you or someone you know has orthorexia, ask them the following questions:
- Do you feel that your focus on healthfulness is severely limiting your ability to enjoy food?
- Is your diet impacting the time that you spend with loved ones or on enjoyable activities?
- When you stray from your self-prescribed diet, do you feel a great deal of shame or remorse?
- Do you feel more in control and able to deal with daily stress when following the correct diet?
- Do you find yourself judging others for how they eat and sometimes verbalizing your disapproval?
- Do you often take your own food with you to social events or any other place where you might get hungry and need to eat?
- Do you plan your meals several days or weeks in advance?
- Does your self-esteem depend on your ability to stick to your diet plan?
- Do you often feel an uncontrollable desire to eat when feeling nervous, excited, happy, or guilty?
Treatment for orthorexia nervosa:
Treatment is often similar to that of other eating disorders including psychological therapy, an eating plan by a Dietitian, correction of nutritional deficiencies and physical rehabilitation once the person is strong enough.
By Gabriella Burbaitzky
References and recommended readings
Bratman S. What is orthorexia? Orthrexia.com website. http://www.orthorexia.com/. Accessed August 1, 2014.
Cochrane K. When healthy eating turns into a disease. The Guardian website. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2006/oct/10/food.healthandwellbeing. Published October 9, 2006. Accessed August 1, 2014.
Donini LM, Marsili D, Graziani MP, Imbriale M, Cannella C. Orthorexia nervosa: a preliminary study with a proposal for diagnosis and an attempt to measure the dimension of the phenomenon. Eat Weight Disord. 2004;9(2):151-157.
Donini LM, Marsili D, Graziani MP, Imbriale M, Cannella C. Orthorexia nervosa: validation of a diagnosis questionnaire. Eat Weight Disord. 2005;10(2):e28-e32.
Kratina K. Orthorexia nervosa. National Eating Disorders Association website. http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa. Accessed August 1, 2014.