Eating Healthy—Until You’re Sick

When does your desire to eat right become an unhealthy obsession?

With growing obesity rates in America, healthy living and “eating clean” have become inherent parts of many people’s daily lives. But the innocent act of trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle can become a harmful preoccupation with food; it’s a condition called Orthorexia. 

“Orthorexia is an obsession with healthy or righteous eating,” says Elizabeth DeRobertis, a Registered Dietitian and founder of The Nutrition Center at Scarsdale Medical Group. “This condition starts as a desire to live a healthy lifestyle. Unlike other eating disorders, however, the focus is on pure food and their health benefits, not weight.” 

Symptoms of Orthorexia include limitations on foods that are acceptable to consume, eating food only prepared by oneself, extreme feelings of guilt for “cheating,” and excessive planning of meals in advance. These symptoms can become problematic when they start to affect everyday life, causing sufferers to avoid social interactions involving food or neglecting their responsibilities, says DeRobertis. 

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Orthorexia is not currently classified as a disease, but, for those who believe they have it, there are still ways of receiving treatment. DeRobertis suggests seeking out professional help, specifically an eating disorder specialist. “Orthorexia is often a co-occurring disorder, so treatment can include psychological and medicinal care,” she says. “The psychological aspect focuses on guiding people to become less obsessed with their eating.”

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