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Can clean eating be taken too far?

Can a person ever be TOO healthy?

The short answer is no.

However, it’s becoming more and more common for a desire to be healthy, to turn into a dangerous obsession with “clean eating”. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy, there can be a fine line between eating in a healthy way and a disordered one.

This intense preoccupation with the purity of foods is known as Orthorexia, and even though it is not recognized as an eating disorder as of yet, it’s well on it’s way.

Orthorexia is defined as a “fixation on healthy eating” and it’s more dangerous than most people realize.

How can eating healthy foods be dangerous?

Any behavior done to an extreme, causing adverse effects on our physical, emotional or psychological health, is no longer a healthy one. A diet should be based on balance, not fear and restriction.

Signs and symptoms that a quest to be healthy may be taking a scary turn:

1. A person will cut several foods or even complete foods groups out of their diet and are fearful of eating anything prepared by someone else.

2. They feel guilty for eating foods that aren’t “pure”.

3. They avoid social situations where you cannot control how the food will be prepared.

4. Concern develops around the connection of certain foods and negative health effects. “I ate grains and I’m tired, so it must be the grains making me tired.” This is a way to validate cutting out foods.

5. Sufferers of orthorexia also want others to eat clean. This creates rifts in personal relationships. Even if they don’t intend it or are not conscious of it, they may give off a sense of superiority and appear judgmental of others’ choices.

Unfortunately, it can be very challenging to recover from Orthorexia because of the constant messages we hear telling us what NOT to eat, so reintroducing foods deemed as “bad” can result in feelings of failure and shame.

Some tips:

Sometimes, Orthorexia can lose its power when the behavior is confronted and acknowledged. Understanding the source of the behavior can ease it. Is there a fear of being unhealthy? A need to fit in? Recognizing the hidden motivations can help change the relationship around food.

Many people, however, will need help from an eating disorder specialist, along with nutritional and anxiety counseling. It’s helpful to understand how restricting certain foods can actually lead to health issues and be completely counterproductive.

It can also be helpful to list the ways their diet and the need for control are impacting their friends and family.

Another thing to consider is the effect on lifetime goals, personal and professional. Are these attainable while pursuing a life of “perfection” and “Clean eating”?

Lastly, having a loving support group is invaluable. It’s important to be surrounded by people who care and want them to be healthy and happy above everything else.

Wanting to be healthy is important. Wanting to be perfect, is dangerous.

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