When healthy eating becomes an obsession?

As a Wellness Coach, I advocate to my clients to eat whole unprocessed foods as a staple with obviously the option to introduce their favorite foods (that are not necessarily healthy) as part of a sustainable overall healthy lifestyle. Some would call it the 80/20 rule, I avoid rules so I just call it: Living life!

It is not uncommon in the process of getting healthier (or in general) for people to develop an unhealthy relationship with food known as orthorexia nervosa- eating disorder described as an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Unlike other eating disorders, people with orthorexia are concerned more about the food quality than the quantity and they are rarely focused on weight loss. In many cases, orthorexia starts in a simple desire to eat healthy and live a better, healthier lifestyle.

Here are some of the warning signs to pay attention to:

  1. Judging other people’s food choices
  2. Checking compulsively nutritional labels
  3. Meals not prepared by them trigger anxiety (you don’t know how and with what ingredients meals are made)
  4. Eating only one group of foods that you consider healthy and nothing outside of it
  5. Anxiety with social outings
  6. Not eating food made by others and taking hours to make their own food
  7. Anxiety when healthy foods are not available
  8. Feeling guilty when eating outside of their usual super strict healthy diet
  9. Extreme dietary rules: won’t eat unless it’s healthy, organic
  10. Extreme mentality of “good” vs “bad” foods

This kind of disorder when left untreated can lead to malnutrition and need to supplement a lot, but also it starts affecting your mood, relationships, socializing. Orthorexia can cause extreme irrational concerns and those can affect your mood and abrupt change in emotions. Constantly thinking if the food choices made are healthy can create very long stressful rituals around food: shopping, preparation and eating. 

It is not uncommon that this kind of eating disorder leads to social isolation- eating out in restaurants, meeting at people’s homes become a torture because of all the food restrictions and rules what they can and can’t eat. Ultimately, people just start avoiding any social meet ups in order not to get triggered. 

If you think you might be suffering from orthorexia talk to your doctor, therapist or confide in someone you trust. Seek out professional help and they can help you rebuild a healthy relationship with food. Working with a professional you will get the knowledge what foods serve you, which one don’t and build habits around food so that it doesn’t consume all your thoughts on a daily basis. 

Understanding the underlying issues why you would cut certain foods (unless allergy or intolerance) is the first step to create a balanced approach to eating. 

As a general rule of thumb: If what you eat is causing you more distress and feeling out of balance, then it’s time to make a change even if in your mind you think you are doing the right thing.