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Eating Healthy or Orthorexia?

Orthorexia was not a term Julie had ever heard. But she did notice that her friend, Ella, talked a lot about eating healthy. It was almost as if she bragged about eating only what she considered “pure” foods. Her instagram was filled with photos and recipes.

Ella was basically obsessed with proper nutrition. So much so, that it was starting to create problems when the two friends went to dinner. It took Ella forever to order. She constantly complained about the items on restaurant menus and would only eat in a limited number of places.

This pathological obsession with proper nutrition has been called orthorexia. The term emerged around 1997 and literally means “correct diet” in Greek. The symptoms of this preoccupation have been around for years. But given all the emphasis on clean foods, warnings about problematic foods and ways to eat healthy, we are hearing the term more often. Move over dieting. It’s time for clean eating obsession.

American is loading up on organic, sugar-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, no pesticides and grass fed. As a result, some of us are developing restrictive diets and ritualized eating patterns. While orthorexia is not a formal clinical diagnosis, the fixation on the quality of food can be a gateway into eating disorders. A person can become fearful of eating because of what it may do to them if it doesn’t meet their healthy standards. And sometimes the thought is, “If I am afraid, I just won’t eat.”

So how do you help a person with orthorexia? A first step is to knock them off their “nutritional pedestal.” To do so, encourage a variety of foods. Point out the obsessive thoughts around eating only clean foods. Make the person aware that their thoughts around the quality of food are more than normal. You could even suggest counseling to deal with the distress and impairment the preoccupation causes in a person’s life. And point out the fine line between eating well and obsessing over pureness of foods. One is healthy, the other is obsession.

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