Your doctor has probably told you to eat foods that are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, salt and sugar. But obsessing over every ounce of food that ends up in your mouth— a condition called orthorexia —can hide an underlying mental disorder in addition to possibly not being healthy.
In these cases, identifying the symptoms is the most difficult. People who have it usually look healthy. Therefore, it is very difficult to tell when they cross the line that separates a good habit from a bad habit. So the question is, what is that limit?
What is a healthy diet?
Healthy eating has a complete, varied and balanced diet. There is no food that contains all the nutrients the body needs. That is why it is so important to include all the different food groups in our dishes (fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, etc.). They are all essential and we need to eat the amounts our bodies need.
For this reason, it is very healthy to eat a varied diet and try some of everything. In this way you can provide your body with the energy it needs for daily life and optimal functioning.
How can healthy food be unhealthy?
Anything in extremes can be harmful. In this case, while we may think healthy eating is a great behavior, it becomes an obsession when your life revolves around it. Orthorexia is the name of this behavior. It was identified in 2000, although many still do not recognize it.
In this behavioral disorder, people develop extremely strict eating habits to control the nutritional components of food while demonizing certain foods.
People with orthorexia will eat only organically grown food: no GMOs, chemicals, pesticides or herbicides. They eat only natural foods with no preservatives, sugar or fat.
For example, people with orthorexia probably won’t want to eat bacon just because they can see the white bits of fat. They won’t eat a certain soup if they hear that the vegetables are not organic.
The World Health Organization does not yet recognize it as a disease. But it has strong implications for one’s physical and psychological well-being. Studies have shown that behind that obsessive conscientiousness is usually a mental disorder.
Serious health consequences
Eating disorders are usually progressive. Maybe they stopped eating processed products first. Little by little, as the disorder develops, they will cut out necessary nutrients from their diet, such as anything not organic.
They are becoming more demanding and strict with all things food. They exclude food groups and usually don’t replace them correctly with others, which translates to nutrient deficiencies in the long run. If the matter is very serious and their obsession is out of control, chances are they are suffering from malnutrition.
How can you detect an eating disorder?
Usually , people with orthorexia spend hours and hours planning their meals in detail. They analyze everything they ingest and avoid eating foods that have not passed their strict qualifications. If they don’t stick to their diet for whatever reason, they often feel very guilty.
They tend to isolate themselves socially. Not knowing what is served in dishes keeps them from eating out. Therefore, in order not to feel this lack of control, they always cook for themselves.
It is difficult for them to enjoy food. They focus more on the qualities of what they eat than on their smell, taste or texture. However, those who suffer from othorexia have trouble recognizing that they have a problem. Part of the reason is that a “healthy lifestyle” is socially acceptable.
The psychological profile of people with orthorexia
People who are most prone to developing obsessions usually have some very characteristic personality traits. People who tend to obsess over how much and how they eat also tend to have a high need for control in other aspects of their lives.
This obsession with control often leads to feelings of anxiety. And people deal with fear in very different ways: one of the most classic ways is to ‘attack the fridge’.
In addition, they have excessive perfectionism in all aspects of their lives (work, family, social), accompanied by a high level of anxiety. Their friends and acquaintances describe them as strict, sensitive, inflexible and very law-abiding people.
How Orthorexia Compares to Classic Eating Disorders
In addition to the above risks, the truth is that orthorexia can be a gateway for other eating disorders, such as anorexia. Although they are closely related, the differences between the two are obvious.
People with anorexia are afraid of gaining weight and their physical self-image has changed. Therefore, they are not obsessed with the organic origin of a food, but rather the amount of calories and fat it contains.
Maintaining a healthy diet is good for you, it’s true. It can keep you at a healthy weight for your height, control your cholesterol and help prevent certain cardiovascular diseases. However, all of these benefits are negated when food control becomes an obsession.