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Surprising Science

Orthorexia Takes Healthy Eating to an Unhealthy Extreme

Our relationship with food has evolved to a point of complexity as some people strive to find the "perfect" diet and eat right to the point of obsession.

Our relationship with food has evolved to a point of complexity as some people strive to find the “perfect” diet. Indeed, studies and individual testimonies have shown how powerful a balanced diet can be to help us stay healthy in mind and body. But Jen Schwartz from Popular Science writes that researchers are bringing attention to an eating disorder that’s causing some people to go overboard with healthy eating: it’s called orthorexia.

The authors write in their paper:

“Although more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese and would likely benefit from healthy modifications to their diets and lifestyles, there seems to be a smaller group of individuals for whom ‘healthy’ eating can become a dangerous and extreme fixation.”

It’s uncertain how many people suffer from orthorexia since the term was first coined in 1997 by Doctor Steven Bratman to describe his own food-related anxieties. The disease is described as an unhealthy fixation that drives people to control their eating habits, and to only consume what they deem as “pure” foods. With a nation driving to create a healthier America, Sondra Kronberg from the National Eating Disorder Association told Schwartz:

“Our culture is promoting health now, which is great. But people of certain temperaments take healthy eating to an extreme.”

The name of the game is always moderation in anything in life, but sometimes a fixation on any activity, from exercising to eating, can come about from deeper psychological issues — a need to control a situation. While a disorder like orthorexia doesn’t seem terrible — a fixation on eating healthy foods — this obsession sometimes causes people to isolate themselves. Like, they won’t go out to eat somewhere they aren’t able to prep or regulate what’s in the food. In other cases, it has caused people to lose unhealthy amounts of weight, becoming malnourished after hearing certain key foods have bad qualities. Kronberg says it’s important to not get wrapped up in every health pro-and-con study, or take it over the edge. She says:

“Sometimes you’re at a party and there are fries. Your body really can handle that one meal.”

As with anything health-related, it’s important to bring questions to your doctor.

Read more at Popular Science.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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