Today, thanks to social media, we have access to more health information more than we ever had. We have more prompts for healthy eating, a good thing, until it becomes an obsession. Let me explain. Are you constantly thinking about food? Do you spend more money than is necessary on food? Do you have a hard time deciding what to eat because you stress about if it’s healthy enough? Most importantly, do you have a hard time meeting friends, or visiting other people because, well, they won’t have the healthy food for you?
Obsessed with Healthy Eating?
Scientists have continually suggested the obsession with healthy eating as an eating disorder, while others consider it a behavioral complex. Orthorexia Nervosa (ON) which was originally coined by Steven Bratman in 1997, is the name given to the fixation on healthy eating. Unlike people with other eating disorders whose focus primarily is achieving a certain ideal body weight, people with ON’s focus is achieving an ideal health status. They will therefore eliminate certain foods that may risk their perception of ideal health such as foods containing preservatives, color additives, foods produced with pesticides or genetically modified, excessive fats, sugar, and salt. They also have a list of foods they consider acceptable (healthy), and they have a particular obsession with the food preparation process. They will prefer certain materials such as earthenware, ceramic or wooden products over aluminum, and will spend a lot of time planning meals and purchasing food. Very restrictive and strict patterns. The unfortunate thing is as many of these practices are unsustainable, they will more often than not violate these self-set rules resulting in exaggerated emotional distress such as feelings of fear, guilt, shame, and further restrictions to reinforce adherence.
What Causes Orthorexia Nervosa
For many people, a health condition often triggers behavior change. The desire to change the disease outcome or reverse the condition all together can lead to an obsession with healthy eating. Some studies also suggest that people with obsessive and perfectionist personalities could be more susceptible to extreme behaviors, including eating, while individuals’ beliefs about food and medicine can also influence eating behavior. People who believe in food as medicine and who also have health concerns are especially more likely to have an obsession with healthy eating. But Orthorexia Nervosa can also be influenced by other external factors. Family, friends, and spouses who are themselves very strict with their diets can encourage similar behavior. Further, groups and movements for instance wellness clubs, while they provide a support system, can also trigger an obsession for those people already vulnerable to obsessive behavior and eating disorders. Past traumas can also drive people to obsessive behaviors, including eating, while some religious beliefs also propagate restrictive feeding behaviors. Orthorexia Nervosa is also influenced by other societal influences. For instance, healthy eating has become sensationalized so that society is itself orthorexic. Further, health is promoted as an individual responsibility, which puts undue pressure on individuals, making them vulnerable to extreme behaviors in pursuit of health.
Food is to Be Enjoyed
Now as you can probably already imagine, this lifestyle can still be the joy of living. While it is important to eat healthily, food is also to be enjoyed. The key isn’t in restriction, rigid lists of what to and not have, but rather in moderation. Studies have shown that people with symptoms can over time develop malnutrition, unintended weight loss, and experience fatigue and emotional instability. Further, it can cause social isolation, diminished quality of life, and stigma. Given that, our aim should be to have a healthy relationship with food.
In this relationship, you may avoid certain foods, but you can also choose to have them without feeling guilty. We discourage descriptions such as ‘cheat days, because they subtly propagate shame and guilt, and instead, encourage intentional and sustainable healthy choices.
Our focus is a balanced way of life.