Orthorexia: The Unhealthy Habit of Stressing Over Your Health
We all know it is important to eat healthy, but can our growing concern for healthy eating actually cause us ill health? According to some experts, obsession over healthy eating can actually lead to many health issues and is known as a condition called Orthorexia.
What is orthorexia? Orthorexia is a medical condition in which the sufferer systematically avoids specific foods in the belief that they are harmful. It is a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet. Orthorexia sufferers often display signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders that frequently co-occur with anorexia or other eating disorders.
A person with orthorexia will be obsessed with defining and maintaining the perfect diet, rather than an ideal weight. They will fixate on eating foods that give them a feeling of being pure and healthy, and may avoid numerous foods.
The Harmful Effects of Orthorexia on Health and Everyday Life
One of the issues that arise with such an obsession with healthy eating is that one may avoid certain nutrient groups altogether, or one may put oneself into such a state of mental and emotional stress that they actually hinder their physical health.
Someone suffering from Orthorexia may have an obsessive concern over the relationship between food choices and health concerns such as asthma, digestive problems, low mood, anxiety or allergies, etc. and may increasingly avoid foods that are actually healthy for them. It is not uncommon for someone suffering from this condition to drastically reduce their opinions of acceptable food choices to the point that they eventually consume fewer than 10 foods.
There is nothing wrong with making smart dietary choices, however, when we become too strict and obsessive over what we are eating, it can not only create stress in the body and mind, which itself is linked to many health issues, but it can also cause emotional disturbances and feelings of guilt and shame whenever one deviates from their strict dietary guidelines.
Such an obsession with food may begin to hinder everyday activities. Strict dietary rules and beliefs about food may lead one to become socially isolated, and result in anxiety or panic attacks in extreme cases. Worsening emotional symptoms can indicate the disease may be progressing into a serious eating disorder.
One may dramatically increase the amount of time spent thinking about food, feel more esteemed and proud of their diet while judging and criticizing others for their dietary choices, fear that eating away from home will make it impossible to comply with their diet, distance themselves from friends or family members who do not share similar views about food, avoid eating food bought or prepared by others, and may even worsen depression, mood swings or anxiety in some people.
Preventing the Development of Orthorexia
Orthorexia is actually a fairly common eating disorder, especially in the modern world where so many different sources of information tell us what we should and shouldn’t eat, often completely conflicting with one another. It is likely that you may notice some of these qualities of dietary obsession in yourself. The important thing is that we become aware of this condition and signs of orthorexia so that we don’t allow it to develop into an extreme eating disorder. It is important for us to know that being too concerned about our diet is actually unhealthy, especially when it leads to stress, guilt, and other behavioral changes that affect our mental and physical health and relationships.
While it is, of course, a very beneficial thing to be educated about nutrition, what our bodies need for health, and what toxic substances we should avoid, one should not become so obsessed with following a strict regimen that they isolate themselves, stress over their diet, struggle with emotions of guilt and shame, etc. It is important that you approach your healthy lifestyle in a relaxed and enjoyable way, as obsessing and stressing over your health is actually quite unhealthy, and may lead to more serious health issues if allowed to progress to an extreme.