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Extreme Healthy Eating: The Dangers Of Orthorexia

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Orthorexia (also known as 'orthoexia') is an eating disorder developed when people take healthy eating to the point of obsession. While on the surface it may seem constructive to have an extremely healthy diet, orthorexia is a mental health issue and can interfere with many aspects of daily life.

Orthorexics exhibit some of the same controlling eating habits as people with other eating disorders, but are unique in their obsession with nutrition and health.

Healthy eating is essential to a long, happy life, but orthorexia is a serious eating disorder that can actually harm the body more than it helps. Orthorexics tend to restrict their diets to only the essential vitamins and minerals needed on a daily basis, which can lead to nutritional deficits and create a lot of mental stress.

Moderation is essential for a truly healthy diet and lifestyle.

Unlike anorexics and bulimics, orthorexics obsess over the quality, not quantity of food. They also are less concerned about weight loss than they are about having the “perfect” diet.

A trip to the grocery store can be extremely stressful for an orthorexic. They can spend hours obsessing over nutrition facts, scanning food labels, and spending large sums of money at health food stores. In extreme cases, orthorexics develop a fear of certain foods, including healthy options like produce, because they have been exposed to pesticides or potentially harmful chemicals.

Everyone has a unique approach to how they eat, but a quirk differs from a disorder in that disorders interfere with daily life. Orthorexics, like anorexics and bulimics, may feel uncomfortable eating with friends or ordering from restaurants. In addition, they may refuse to eat home-cooked meals for fear of unknown ingredients in the food. Such habits can lead to social isolation, stress, and self-harming habits.

Some orthorexics also develop extreme exercise regimens. In addition to a carefully monitored diet, many feel the need to burn off excess calories and fat by working out excessively. It is common for orthorexics to create an imaginary mental number of how much time should be devoted to exercise during the week, and go out of their way to reach their goal.

While moderate exercise is very healthy for the body, extreme exercise mimics an addition, where people can get physically dependent on the hormones the body produces while working out (specifically troponin, which signals damage to the heart). Over time, this can cause scar tissue on the heart, making it more vulnerable to abnormal heart rhythms.

The key to a healthy lifestyle is balance.

A healthy diet is only beneficial if it doesn’t cause stress or obsession, and exercise can be harmful once it changes the functions of essential organs. Orthorexia is not only harmful to the body, but psychologically a sign of greater mental illness. If you’re worried that you or a loved one has orthorexia, please contact a treatment center near you and try to improve on moderating health habits.