Thursday, April 21, 2022
Healthy eating is a term on the lips of many people these days. With obesity on the rise and being such a large problem around the world, encouraging healthy eating is on the agenda for every health practitioner, in the press and all over the internet. Eating the right foods has countless health benefits but what happens when it goes too far?
Obesity is by far the biggest lifestyle-related health issue today and the damaging effects of this disease are well documented. As people become more aware of the foods they eat and the impact they have on the body, many people are turning towards much healthier lifestyles, cutting out processed foods and foods high in fat and sugar. While these changes are much welcomed, healthy eating can go to the extreme and result in an eating disorder called orthorexia Nervosa.
The term orthorexia was coined by Dr Steven Bratman in 1996, who was conducting research into the obsession surrounding healthy or raw eating. Orthorexia means an obsession with eating “healthy” or “righteous” foods. A sufferer would be defined as someone who takes “healthy eating” to dangerous extremes, limiting the foods they deem healthy to the point where they are barely eating. Similar to other eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, orthorexia can lead to malnutrition and in extreme cases, death.
Dr Bratman advocates healthy eating and does not define orthorexia as individuals who are conscious about the foods they eat. Being conscious about the food we eat is good, as avoiding processed foods, gluten and even whole categories of foods, such as dairy, meat or carbohydrates can offer health benefits.
However, orthorexia is used to describe individuals who take healthy eating to an obsessive, psychologically limiting and sometimes physically dangerous extreme. Sufferers of orthorexia will place a disproportionate amount of importance on food and spend much of their time planning meals, thinking about food or worrying about eating the wrong things.
Orthorexia can seriously limit a person’s food intake and also affect their ability to socialise as they worry about where they can eat and if they will be able to resist any temptation.
Orthorexia can a have seriously damaging impact on a person’s health, warns this Daily Mail article. While healthy eating offers increased vitamins, minerals, energy levels and overall wellbeing, orthorexia is quite the opposite. Those suffering from orthorexia can end up limiting their food intake to such a degree that it can lead to malnourishment. An obsession over only eating foods considered “raw” or “pure” can result in only a handful of foods being eaten each day. Sufferers of this disorder are depriving themselves of certain food groups which the body relies on to function and maintain optimum health. Those who suffer from orthorexia will experience extreme and dangerous weight loss, dry and discoloured skin, poor dental health, fatigue and often depression or anxiety.
Obsessive behaviour regarding a strict and exclusive diet can have a big impact on mental wellbeing. Sufferers of orthorexia will feel anxious even thinking about a meal out or going to a weekly shop. A fear of certain foods will become predominant leading to the sufferer only including one or two food products in each meal. Extreme obsessiveness about the foods which are deemed “pure” can have an impact on social relationships with friends and family, as the individual finds themselves focussing solely on foods and declining offers to meet with friends for fear of being faced with “banned” food.
To lead a truly healthy lifestyle, it is important to include foods from all food groups. As the saying goes, “everything is fine in moderation”. The body needs the vitamins and nutrients it receives from eating foods from a variety of groups. Even “fatty” foods can be beneficial as the body needs some level of fat to be able to absorb vitamins. Lean meat and dairy products are excellent sources of this. Eating healthy should include a variety and including vitamin and nutrient-rich foods from all food groups, as this helps the body to maintain optimum health and well-being.
Obsessive behaviour in any form is not healthy, but extreme obsessing over food can lead to serious health consequences. The media and internet are constantly full of the latest trends and fads promoting clean and raw eating. The popularity of social media does nothing to help curb the never-ending stream of this latest fad diet. However, eating healthily consists of more than just limiting yourself to a set group of foods.
If you want to eat healthier but are unsure where to start, seek advice from a GP or pharmacist who will be able to advise you on eating healthily, the right way.