When Clean Eating Goes Too Far
Based on avoiding ‘unhealthy food’, the concept of cleaning eating covers a broad range of dietary guidelines. Depending on your definition of a healthy diet, it could involve avoiding all animal products, not eating processed food, or sticking to a strict diet of fruits and vegetables. Although eating well is usually a good thing, taking an obsession with healthy eating too far can have serious consequences for your health.
Being fixated on eating healthy food is a condition known as orthorexia (or orthorexia nervosa). Unlike other eating disorders, people with orthorexia tend to focus on the quality of the food they eat, rather than the quantity. If you’re not sure how to stop thinking about food, learn more about this condition below.
Warning Signs and Symptoms
It’s important to remember there are clear differences between following a healthy diet and having orthorexia. Those with orthorexia may struggle to control their relationship with food and will often engage in behaviour that goes far beyond the normal practices of someone trying to stick to a healthy diet.
These are some of the behaviours associated with orthorexia:
- Avoiding entire food groups with no exceptions
- Experiencing extreme anxiety about how food is prepared
- Emotional eating
- Criticising the eating habits of others
- Avoiding social events where food may be served
- Dedicating unreasonable amounts of time to meal prepping
- Feeling shame and guilt when consuming food categorised as unhealthy.
Recognising these symptoms for what they are will allow you to seek help.
If you’re struggling with orthorexia or another eating disorder, please visit the Butterfly Foundation for support and information.
The underlying causes of orthorexia are complex. Some people are simply prone to perfectionist tendencies, which can make them more susceptible to obsessive eating habits. Others use food to feel a sense of control over their lives or change their eating habits in response to stress or trauma.
Body image issues also play a significant role in this condition, particularly among young people. According to Mission Australia’s annual youth survey, body image ranks among the top four issues that worry people aged 15 - 19.
How to Overcome Obsessive Eating
Overcoming orthorexia can be a long and difficult process, but help is available. If your eating habits are impacting your day-to-day life, seek support from a health professional. No matter how long you’ve struggled with orthorexia, it’s never too late to unlearn obsessive eating behaviours. Educating yourself about food and learning to recognise unhealthy eating patterns can also help with your recovery.
If you’re interested in helping people improve their health through food education, consider enrolling in AIPT’s nutrition courses.
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