These are the 10 signs your ‘clean’, ‘pure’ eating has gone too far, according to a dietitian.
There is nothing wrong with eating healthy – indeed eating plenty of fresh food, fruits and vegetables and controlling our intake of bad fats, sugar and processed food is recommended for weight control, disease prevention and longevity.
But what happens when things go too far – when cutting back on processed foods leads to a total ban on all sugar; or when eating fewer carbs suddenly becomes cutting them out altogether, or your avoidance of high calorie foods becomes a complete avoidance of eating out and socialising over food?
Suddenly healthy eating looks a lot more like disordered eating and that can be a significant health issue impacting both our physical and psychological health.
Enter orthorexia, a term first described by an American doctor in the late 1990’s, who was seeing an increasing number of female patients in practice presenting with a number of eating disorder related symptoms including eating only an extremely limited variety of foods and maintaining an extremely low body weight without satisfying the criteria for a clinical eating disorder.
These girls were obsessed with only consuming foods that were ‘pure’ and ‘healthy’, and as a result tended to consume only extremely low calorie, unprocessed foods, which in turn kept their body weight extremely low. Unlike sufferers of a clinical eating disorder, these girls were not malnourished, as their diets were packed full of nutritious food choices, but their weight was low, they looked exceptionally thin and low mood was common.
While healthy is generally a good thing, when diet and exercise habits negatively impact other areas of life, whether it be relationships, mood or being able to maintain a life outside of the lifestyle choice, is when obsessively healthy eating becomes an issue. In these instances, such dietary restriction is only a hop, skip and jump away from a clinical eating disorder and proactive steps do need to be taken to create balance from a nutrient, exercise and general life perspective.
The key thing to understand when healthy eating becomes an obsession is what the need for such extreme healthy eating is representing – is it the ultimate need for control; anxiety management or even avoidance of socialising or life in general?
Inevitably obsessive food behaviour which occupies much time and energy tends to simply be masking something else – often issues that require exploration, counselling and support to target the underlying cause as opposed to any specific dietary intervention.
As mental health issues including anxiety and depression continue to rise, so too does the incidence of obsessive eating behaviours – this is not a coincidence.
As such, for those experiencing these symptoms, professional support from qualified professionals such as psychologists is necessary to treat the underlying triggers leading to overly restrictive eating, and to help normalise an individual’s eating patterns long term.
Unfortunately as the concepts of pure, idealistic and unsustainable models of healthy eating continue to be preached by those who are not qualified to do so, the incidence of conditions such as orthorexia is likely to increase.
The key for us as a society to be more aware of these risks, be mindful of the warning signs in those closest to us, and provide the necessary support early on to help prevent those at risk from damaging their bodies, simply because of an unhealthy obsession with all things healthy. Like anything in life, a little is good and more is not necessarily better and this too extends for how hard we like to push healthy eating.
10 signs your healthy eating may have gone too far
1) You skip social occasions for fear of having to eat food you have not prepared.
2) Your skin is dull and your hair is falling out.
3) If you’re a woman, you have lost your period.
4) You feel constantly tired.
5) You have been experiencing recurrent injuries.
6) You will only eat a very limited range of foods.
7) You never eat cake or enjoy a drink.
8) You are exercising for more than two hours a day.
9) People are constantly commenting that you look too thin.
10) You are still not happy with your body no matter what you eat or how much you exercise.
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