Orthorexia: What is it & why is it Unhealthy?

by Robert Phillips
man with orthorexia in chains slave to healthy food fixation

We all know that many health care professionals, nutritionist’s specifically, warn us about eating unhealthy foods. As a matter of fact, they all encourage us to eat only whole foods, and they warn us about the foods that are processed or preserved, including what they can do to our bodies. They encourage and they warn, and we tend to obey.

However, what happens if we obey to the point where it becomes an addiction? In other words, what happens if we allow this idea of eating healthy all the time to become our only way of life, in turn controlling everything we put into our mouths?

Listen, I get it. I understand. We should watch what we put into our body. If we consume the right foods, we’ll be better and happier selves. But, if you restrict yourself from eating too many types of foods, it will become an addiction. That addiction is not healthy, at all. As a matter of fact, it’s a huge problem. You may not believe me yet, but keep reading and you’ll soon be convinced.

I’ll kick things off with informing you that being obsessed with what you eat all the time is known as orthorexia nervosa, and it is a real issue. Read on to learn a little more about the condition.

What is orthorexia?

Orthorexia, in scientific terms, is an unhealthy focus on eating healthy foods that turns into a grand obsession. And, what’s worse is that the hundreds, even thousands, of people who have this problem don’t recognize it as a problem. The issue is spreading to more and more people each and every day due to social media applications such as Instagram and its inspirational, healthy eating icons you can follow.

I know what you’re thinking, “How is eating healthy a bad thing?” Well, it’s not entirely a bad thing. And many men eat healthy almost every day. It only becomes a problem when your obsession with your diet alters the foods you eat. For example, check out this scene and allow it to play out in your mind:

If you’re offered a nice steak with mushrooms, peppers, and onions, you won’t hesitate to eat it. However, what if a piece of bread or a small portion of potatoes is offered with the meal? Are you not going to eat it just because it doesn’t fit your specific criteria, even though it will give you nutrients and/or energy? It’s not as if bread and/or potatoes are THAT bad for you. If you want to talk about bad foods, go down the preservative aisle and try to tell me bread and potatoes are bad for you.

mental disorder orthorexia diagnosisAnyways, back to the technicalities. Orthorexia has a few better known ‘signs and symptoms,’ if you will. If a person reads all of the ingredients on every box while shopping for food items, they probably have the problem of orthorexia. Even still, if a person consumes a high caloric meal or food item, and they start to freak out that they’ve made a huge mistake by eating it, they probably have the problem orthorexia. An additional example would be entirely cutting out certain food groups, such as carbohydrates, for their own reasoning. Such reasoning could be that it’s high in calories.

So, who is at risk for orthorexia?

Generally, in today’s day and age, eating disorders such as orthorexia are more common in men. In fact, on average, 10% of men face an eating disorder at least once in their lives.

Specifically speaking, orthorexia tends to affect men that are healthy and active. For example, those that work out all the time or those that need to keep up with athletic appearances tend to adopt the problem of orthorexia.

Remember, eating clean is okay, as long as you don’t make it your life’s mission to do so.

Signs and Symptoms

Other than the few I mentioned above, there are additional signs and symptoms to watch out for. Check out the brief list below:

  • Severe obsession with checking nutritional labels and/or ingredients
  • Refusing to eat specific food groups, such as those with all sugars, all dairy, all meat, all carbohydrates, and all animal products
  • Obsessing over other peoples’ diets and what they consume
  • Spending an astronomical amount of time each day planning out what you’re next meals will consist of
  • Being worried or anxious when healthy food options are not offered
  • Not eating when healthy food options are not available
  • Following social media accounts obsessively that post about fitness and healthy eating
  • Feelings of guilt when straying away from your strict diet

Health Risks

I know this may hurt to hear, but everything should be consumed in moderation. That includes healthy eating (specific to what I described above).

In addition, believe it or not, eating a bunch of healthy foods nonstop is technically not the best thing for you. Just like eating a bunch of unhealthy foods is not good for you, same goes for healthy foods. I know, it may take a lot to convince you, but I am telling the truth.

man with orthorexia imprisoned by healthy food obsessionEating only healthy foods all the time actually throws your gut health off. This happens because the bacterium in your gut is no longer diverse. Having only a few types of bacteria in your gut and not the ultimate diversity groupings is actually quite unhealthy.

Surprisingly enough, only eating healthy foods all the time can throw your mood off. Allow me to explain. If you only eat healthy foods all the time, and you all of a sudden eat something that is not-so-healthy, you’ll promote digestive dysfunction. This will lead to things like mood swings and a brain fog due to the fact that you haven’t consumed such foods in such a long period of time.

How to get Help

If you have any of the above stated signs or symptoms, it may be time to seek help. Check out my suggestions below.

Be flexible when eating.

Eat food that’s outside your everyday, healthy diet, at least once a week. Now, I don’t mean take one itty bitty bite of something; Eat an entire piece of cake. Eat a cheeseburger with condiments on it. Eat some pasta salad. This will keep your body up to date with gut health, specifically.

Be honest with yourself.

Acknowledge that you have the problem. Understand how this problem is affecting you and the people surrounding you. For example, if you don’t want to go out to dinner with your significant other because you don’t want to eat the items provided on the menu, you need to understand orthorexia may be the problem.

Go out to eat.

Next time your significant other, friend, or family member asks you to go out to a restaurant, do it. Go out and have a good time. Don’t let unhealthy food stop you from living your life.

I hope the best for whoever is battling with this unhealthy obsession, but with my tips and tricks, you’ll be on the path to a healthier lifestyle, and a healthier gut!


By Jenny Lyn

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