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ORTHOREXIA: Healthy Food Junkies

ORTHOREXIA: Healthy Food Junkies

Orthorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by having an obsession with healthy eating. The word was coined out by Steven Bratman, MD, author of Health Food Junkies-Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obession with Healthful Eating.Bratman began studying the condition after personally becoming obsessed with health foods. “I suffered from a psychological obsession with food,” he said in a 20/20 interview in 2008. “When I was involved with this, it took up way too much of my life experiences when there were other things I could have been doing.”

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating healthy, but when it becomes an obsession then it’s a disorder in progress with consequences. While most of us follow healthy eating, I always try to help my clients understand the value of food (from protein, carb, vegetables and fat) and build a healthy relationship with eating to prevent unhealthy-healthy lifestyle where they have to constantly worry and obsess about healthy food or eating right. Healthy living is not about eliminating food, but making healthier food choices. I’ve had discussion with fitness coaches that say they will never eat white rice, white flour etc. No need to argue or make them understand. Who wants to argue with a fitness coach?

According to Bratman, orthorexia starts to negatively impact many areas of an individual’s life and, in some cases, might lead to severe malnutrition or death, as the person increasingly eliminates food types from his or her diet. According to Sondra Kronberg, MS, RD, CDN, a national liaison for the National Eating Disorders Association and the cofounder and nutritional director of the Eating Disorder Associates Treatment & Referral Centers and Eating Wellness Programs of New York Orthorexia could easily begin as simple healthy habits but then spiral out of control, “The person takes something that’s normally considered healthy and good for their body and takes it to the extreme,” she says. “They wind up with disordered thinking and psychological torment. The behavior becomes restrictive to the degree that it begins to interfere with the person’s quality of life. And what starts out as something they are controlling becomes something that controls them.” Unlike anorexia or bulimia, orthorexia is not about the desire to become thin. “The driving force seems to be a desire to eat a perfectly healthy or even ‘pure’ diet,” says Deborah Kauffmann, RD, LDN, owner of Mindfulness Based Nutrition Counseling in Baltimore. “For instance organically grown vegetables and fruits may be thought of as ‘safe foods’ [for both those with anorexia and orthorexia] because they are seen as healthy and low in calories. But artificial sweeteners and diet frozen meals, which usually seem acceptable to someone with anorexia, would not be seen as acceptable to someone with orthorexic tendencies.

Conversely, expeller-pressed canola oil may be acceptable to someone with orthorexia but not someone with anorexia because of the fear of weight gain due to eating fat.” The dangerous thing about orthorexia is that children are picking up some of these. Kids who watch their parents obsess over certain foods may mimic that behavior. And well-intentioned parents who strictly limit their children’s sugar intake or try to feed them only organic foods may instill a sense of fear in their children that other foods are “bad” or that scary things could happen if they eat them.

According to D. Milton Stokes, MPH, RD, CDN, owner of One Source Nutrition, LLC in Connecticut parents must be very careful with the behavior they exhibit around their kids and also keep an eye on whether they are too involved with their children’s diet. Parents can easily make the transition from being helpful and healthy to giving their children a complex about what they’re eating. “Kids have a natural appetite regulation,” says Stokes. “They eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. That gets interrupted when mom starts pushing more or less food. Everyone should rely more on that physiological hunger rather than turning eating into something emotional.” The only way to prevent these is developing a healthy relationship with food and teaching kids how to eat in moderation instead of tagging food bad or good. No on should feel guilty eating food, as long as we eat in moderation.

Key is MODERATION, have respect for food. Frequently eating trans fatty foods such as French fries or processed snacks is not a healthy behavior, but neither is becoming obsessive about avoiding them or being scared to be around such foods.

WARNING SIGNS If you have a client, who follows a particularly restrictive diet, try to gain a sense of their feelings about food and whether they’re behaving obsessively. “In other words, if they go to a party and they’re only serving fried foods, are they going to be devastated? Are they not going to eat all night? These are signs that their behavior is extreme,” warns Tribole. “Some people may have this intense fear that fat is bad and will kill them, so they avoid it at all costs,” Trbole says. “But in fact, fat can be healthy, particularly unsaturated fats, [which] may actually be able to protect our heart and lower our cholesterol. We don’t need much fat, but we do need some. It’s important for the health of our skin and our hair. Though not officially a diagnosed term, I believe it’s very important for dietitian to know about it.

According to Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, owner of a California-based nutrition counselling practice and author of seven books, including Healthy Homestyle Cooking and Intuitive Eating. “If a client likes to always eat healthy, the question is whether it’s helping or hurting them. Is it something that affects their social life? For instance, are they no longer seeing their friends because they can’t go out to dinner? This is the type of indication that eating healthy is becoming an unhealthy obsession.” This makes a lot of sense, I remember a client called me sometime ago, that she normally hang out with coworkers every last Friday of the month but she’s unsure whether to go. I asked her why, she said because she doesn’t want to mess up her diet. My advice to her was go out and have fun, you cannot shut out your friends because you’re losing weight. Drink, eat but don’t overdo it. If your diet is making you live in isolation, then its time you switch.

Orthorexia may be an emerging condition, but dietitians should realize that they have the power to prevent it from becoming a more widespread issue. Kronberg notes, “We’re on the front line, so it’s crucial that we’re able to recognize early on when there’s a problem.”   ……. A review of Lindsey work


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