Healthy Eating or Orthorexia?
While not a recognized eating disorder, orthorexia plagues an increasing number of men and women each year. It occurs when a person becomes obsessed with healthy or pure eating, to the point of social isolation, malnutrition, and body dysmorphic disorder. But what’s the difference between healthy eating and orthorexia?
New Year's resolutions are built around it, doctors recommend it, friends and family commend it — but what really constitutes healthy eating? A balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods and sugars that provides your body with all of the nutrients it needs to survive will generally keep you healthy and thriving. Eating shouldn’t impede social relationships or normal daily functioning, but enhance it. Home-cooked meals and organic produce are often nice complements for healthy eating.
Healthy eating goes hand-in-hand with exercise and fitness. Many people who are conscious of their nutrition try to exercise frequently in order to maintain a healthy and toned body. Exercise and proper nutrition help manage weight and ward off diseases like diabetes and cancer. Running, weight-lifting, swimming, and yoga are popular physical activities.
Orthorexics focus all of their efforts on ensuring the high quality of their food. They banish certain foods from their diet in the name of health. Oftentimes these “forbidden foods” are unhealthy items such as excess alcohol, processed snacks, etc. But sometimes the deletions are made arbitrarily. Cutting out tropical fruits, orange fruits and vegetables, and/or farm-raised fish leaves you open to serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
When a person suffers from orthorexia, he or she may not feel comfortable eating out or eating food prepared by a friend because this person doesn’t know if any of the “forbidden foods” have been used. Avoiding social settings centered around eating isolates that person from friends and family, creating disruptions in otherwise healthy relationships. Orthorexics’ habits can disrupt daily functioning as they struggle to find items in the grocery store that fit their narrow limits.
Some orthorexics use the cover of healthy eating to mask an underlying struggle with anorexia. Changing your diet to be thin can be controversial, but changing your diet to be healthy is often looked at with approval. Orthorexics may also struggle with compulsive exercising if they have an unhealthy obsession with exercise. Exercise becomes dangerous when the body does not have enough of the proper nutrients to provide fuel and support for physical activities. Stress fractures, muscle tears, and headaches are common results of improper nutrition and exercise regimens.
The things to keep in mind about healthy eating versus orthorexia are that orthorexia disrupts the person’s health and daily functioning. The obsession with food purity becomes all-consuming. Healthy eating merely provides a wonderful starting point for a better lifestyle.