These days, a food is either classified as good or bad: Vegetables and fruit are righteous and “clean,” while cookies, ice cream and french fries are sinful, guilty pleasures. But in an era of hyper-focused diets — keto, Paleo, vegan, Mediterranean — these lines are getting blurred. Depending on who you ask, certain fruits and veggies have too much sugar, butter is a superfood, milk is a toxin and wheat — even the whole-grain variety — causes a belly pooch and flagging energy.
An unintended consequence of this food shaming is that, for some people, the quest to clean up their diets goes way overboard and they head down a path toward disordered eating. Maybe your initial goal was to kick your sugar habit, but you are now obsessed with reading labels and completely avoid anything sweet. Or perhaps a well-intentioned goal to banish processed foods now manifests as an irrational fear of anything sold in a package. Regardless of how you arrived there, you might be eating too clean — and are ironically now putting your health at risk.
A NEW NERVOSA
While healthy eating is important for your overall health and fitness gains, it is not uncommon to take it too far. “Orthorexia nervosa occurs when someone goes overboard in their quest for healthful eating to the point where it becomes pathological,” says Thom Dunn, Ph.D., professor of psychological sciences at the University of Northern Colorado.
He explains that an individual with orthorexia genuinely believes that they are working toward healthy eating by restricting and avoiding certain foods in the hopes of sidestepping various diseases or diet-related symptoms and end up creating overly stringent and rigid rules based on their perception of what clean eating should be. Individuals with orthorexia also may use their diet to achieve a feeling of perfection, purity or superiority. “They can be preachy about eating and may feel judgmental toward those who don’t follow their narrow definition of a healthful diet,” Dunn adds.
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September - October 2019