It is Possible to be Too Healthy
Written by: Lindsey Childs, Dining Diplomat, Applied Nutrition Major
The National Eating Disorder Association, abbreviated NEDA, is a nonprofit organization that assists individuals and families who have been affected by eating disorders. The organization provides resources to support those suffering with eating disorders while researching prevention and treatment for those suffering. Every year, NEDA hosts National Eating Disorder Awareness week to educate the public on eating disorders as well as share inspirational stories to give hope to those struggling. In recognition of NEDA week, the following post will discuss a lesser known form of eating disorder: orthorexia.
Some of the most common, and most socially accepted, methods of self-care are to eat healthy and get sufficient physical activity. Not only will engaging in these activities promote a positive mindset, it will also lower the chances of developing chronic illnesses and supporting bodily functions. However, just like anything else, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. A hyperfixation on eating clean foods can lead to a condition known as orthorexia nervosa.
Orthorexia is an eating disorder characterized by an extreme and unhealthy obsession with eating healthy foods. One suffering from orthorexia is likely to gauge their daily happiness based on the quality of the foods they have eaten that day, feelings of anxiety at social events over fear of not finding food, and viewing foods as either “dirty” or “clean.” Orthorexia differs from other eating disorders in that it is a focus on the quality of the foods eaten, not the quantity. However, while those suffering from orthorexia are not always trying to lose weight, the severe dietary restrictions imposed upon themselves may result in significant weight loss. Despite the widespread recognition that orthorexia has gained in the past 20 years, it is still not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association nor the DSM-5 as an eating disorder.
When accounting for the extreme physical, social, mental, and emotional effects of orthorexia, researchers have concluded that 1% of the American population suffers from this condition- a statistic that aligns with the rate of other eating disorders. Part of the problem with diagnosing orthorexia is that the criteria is not agreed upon, leading to confusion with diagnosis. To be diagnosed with orthorexia, the diagnostic criteria curated by physician Steve Bratman include:
- Compulsory actions that display restriction of foods in the interest of promoting one’s health.
- Deviation from the restrictive diet incites anxiety, guilt, and shame; feeling “dirty” after eating “dirty” foods.
- Restricting the diet to the point of eliminating entire food groups or going on “cleanses” intended to detox the body as opposed to losing weight.
- Compromised social, academic, or work performance due to beliefs about a healthy diet.
- Associating a positive body image and self-esteem with the quality of the foods one eats.
Overcoming orthorexia may seem impossible; how would one calculate the balance between a not healthy diet and a too healthy one? Luckily, those battling orthorexia are not alone. There are a plethora of treatments to help one overcome this disorder such as behavior remodeling through counseling, dietary analysis with a registered dietitian, and seeking a community of support within family, friends, and organizations. The NC State Counseling center and the NEDA website are great resources for people who need help. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Bratman, Steven. “The Authorized Bratman Orthorexia Self-Test.” Orthorexia, 8 June 2017, https://www.orthorexia.com/.
Division of Nutrition. “Benefits of Physical Activity.” CDC, 22 Jan. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm.
National Eating Disorder Association. “NEDA Feeding Hope- About Us.” National Eating Disorder Association, 25 Feb. 2021, https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-involved/nedawareness.
Petre, Alina. “Orthorexia: When Healthy Eating Becomes a Disorder.” Healthline, 2 Apr. 2020, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/orthorexia-nervosa-101#treatment.
All pictures used are from @ncstatedining on Instagram.