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Health-nut or Orthorexic? When Healthy Eating Goes too Far



A balanced diet is thought to be the lynchpin of a healthy lifestyle. There are, however, individuals who can take healthy eating, to an unhealthy level. Orthorexia is an unofficial syndrome, that involves obsessive healthy eating. Orthorexics often have multiple diet restrictions and have a compulsion to eat only foods they consider to be “pure”. Eating a variety of whole foods is vital to maintain health. When you eat too restrictive of a diet, you’re inevitably starving your body of nutrients it needs. There are symptoms and signs you should look for, to see whether you or the healthy-eater in your life, have stepped over the often blurry line into orthorexia.

There are three main food groups orthorexics tend to avoid, all of which contain vitamins and minerals that human beings need to live. Gluten-intolerance, or allergies, are very popular these days, but not everyone who avoids gluten is celiac or even gluten-intolerant. If an individual insists on a gluten-free diet without consulting an allergist, they may suffer from orthorexia. Some other foods commonly avoided by orthorexics are eggs, meat, and dairy.  Being overly avoidant of fats in all forms is another key sign of orthorexia. While not every vegan, gluten-intolerant, or low-fat dieter suffers from orthorexia, if someone restricts all of those things from their diet, and shows other orthorexia symptoms, disordered eating becomes more likely.

Director of both the Eating Disorder and Anxiety programs at Linden Oaks at Edward in Naperville, IL, Dr. Steven Prinz, weighs in on the subject.

“Eventually, some patients with orthorexia will eat only a few select fruits and vegetables,” Dr. Prinz explains. “The danger is that they become deficient in protein, iron, B vitamins, and other essential nutrients. They lose an unhealthy amount of weight, even though that’s not their intention. They’re more concerned about the quality than the quantity of food.”

Obviously, eating healthy isn’t a bad thing. Just like everything else in life, however, you can overdo it. If you, or someone you love, appears to have gone a bit overboard when it comes to healthy eating and has a highly restrictive diet, keeps all of these symptoms in mind. It’s fine to limit your intake of animal products, carbs, and fats. Not eating these foods at all, however, can potentially lead to other health issues. It’s easy to ignore an issue that seems healthy on the surface, but having knowledge of it, and being aware, is important in avoiding these problems.