There's so much talk about healthy eating in our society that it may be hard to believe that you can be "too healthy." However, a growing number of nutrition and health experts (me included), have seen a concerning trend emerging. There are some people who are so concerned about eating "healthy" or the "right" things that the focus on their diet begins to affect other aspects of their lives.
The term "orthorexia" was coined in the 1990s by a doctor trying to describe an obsession with healthy eating that he was seeing with some of his clients. Orthorexia is not an eating disorder, and it is not a clinical term or a medical diagnosis, but it is a type of disordered eating.
We all want to improve our health by eating well, but people struggling with orthorexia take it to the extreme. They often have a long list of "bad" foods and/or ingredients that they won't allow themselves to have. They may avoid social situations where it would be difficult for them to eat "healthy." Much of their time may be spent planning or thinking about food and their meals. Orthorexia tends to be very individualized, there's no one diet people suffering from it follow.
Unfortunately our society's love of fad diets and weight loss "secrets" creates a dangerous environment where disordered and restrictive eating patterns flourish. When diets are restrictive the risk for nutrient deficiency is much higher. When you only eat a handful of foods, it's very difficult to get all the nutrients your body needs to thrive.
I often talk about healthy eating as an art form, because I believe it looks different for everyone. However, one thing all healthy diets have in common is variety and balance. Eating should be a joyful experience, it should never cause you anxiety or feelings of guilt. We eat to fuel our bodies in order to live the lives we want. We shouldn't be spending hours thinking and worrying about the food we consume.
In the media I see so many "studies" and fad diets that seem to push us toward a very restrictive diet. Even with myself I occasionally notice thoughts that, if focused on, could eventually lead me down the path of disordered eating. As a society, I think it's important for us to start focusing on healing our relationship with food. If you ever have a question or concern about what foods are "good" or "bad" try to ignore the noise of fad diets and go right to an expert (a Registered Dietitian).
If you, or someone you know, are suffering from an eating disorder help is available. Reach out to the National Eating Disorder Association at 1-800-831-2237.
Taryn is a Los Angeles based Registered Dietitian who's passionate about helping you be your healthiest you.