Orthorexia: When healthy becomes too healthy

What happens when the desire to be healthy turns obsessive? How to recognise orthorexia.

Being too healthy… it sounds like a misnomer, doesn’t it? Being healthy is a highly desirable trait – surely you can’t have too much of good thing?

A healthy diet and lifestyle can be characterised by eating foods that meets a person’s nutritional needs, being active for at least 30 minutes a day and being mentally healthy. But what happens when the desire to become healthy turns into an obsession, and a person is consumed by the need to eat and live in a certain way?

Gaining some attention over the past few years is a condition where an individual has a drive to eat or live in a way they see as ‘perfect’. This term is called orthorexia and by some accounts, the incidence is rising. While orthorexia is yet to be officially recognised as an eating disorder, health professionals are recognising these behaviours as being part of the eating disorder spectrum.

“They might strive for a perfectly ‘clean’ diet, shunning all food they have not made themselves.”

 

Orthorexia is where a person obsesses about being healthy and has a fixation on righteous eating. They might strive for a perfectly ‘clean’ diet, shunning all food they have not made themselves, or they may only eat raw vegan foods in the belief they are superior to cooked food. They experience psychological distress when they cannot fulfil the set rules they have created around their diet.

It is when diet and exercise habits negatively affect other areas of life such as relationships and mental health, that obsessively healthy eating becomes a problem.

A person with orthorexia may experience nutritional deficiencies because they only eat a limited range of foods, they can feel low in energy and tired for the same reason, and avoid social events for fear of having to eat foods outside of their comfort range.

Health is a catchphrase in media, and anyone, qualified or not, can preach about ‘healthy eating’. There is an increase of Insta-gurus posting photos of meals and being applauded and admired for their disciplined eating, which can encourage and inspire others to do the same, regardless of whether it’s healthy or not.

What are the signs of orthorexia?

Many people are fitness fanatics and eat healthily, making it hard to determine when being a health nut can cross over into something more dangerous. A few signs and symptoms of a person experiencing orthorexia can include:

  • Avoiding social occasions for fear of having to eat food you haven’t made yourself.
  • Feeling tired and low in energy.
  • Only eating a limited range of foods.
  • Never eating chocolate or other food deemed ‘unhealthy’.
  • Exercising for two or more hours a day.
  • Loss of period for females.
  • Feeling in control or superior when eating the way you are ‘supposed’ to eat.

If you are experiencing several of the signs above, seek advice from your health practitioner or Accredited Practising Dietitian.

 

Recommended reading - Eat like an athlete

Health Check

Taking your health into your own hands

It is important for us to manage our health in order to maximise our wellness and perform our best.

Read more
Recipes

Lean green vegetable soup recipe

Get your green fix with this zucchini and spinach soup, infused with fresh coriander.

Read more
Community

Healthy eating made easy

Simple tips to make healthy eating easy.

Read more
Experts

How to stay hydrated

Don’t wait for thirst to hit: keep fluids up throughout the day for optimal mind and body function.

Read more
Lifestyle

Healthy eating: A party season survival guide

Here's how to relish the odd festive indulgence – without too much New Year’s health regret.

Read more
Lifestyle

The secrets of a healthy lifestyle

Healthy lifestyles are born from habit. Here's how to create your own healthy habits today.

Read more
Recipes

Food to fuel your run

Whether you’re training, racing or recovering, what you eat plays a vital role.

Read more
Recipes

Workout recovery meal ideas

Enrich your fitness training with replenishing, post-exercise meals.

Read more
Community

Top four run and café combos

Exercising on the weekend is great. Take it slow, unwind from a busy week and find your rhythm.

Read more
Recipes

5 post-exercise weeknight dinners

You've earned it. Refuel after your workout with a nourishing dinner full of veggies and protein.

Read more

For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are instructions on how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.