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Eating Disorders: What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Dr. Weston tackles some tough issues this week, focusing on how an obsession with something healthy can become unhealthy.

He recently lost a friend to a rare and terrible disease. It was an ugly, wrenching experience watching her literally waste away. She probably knew more than most doctors about healthy diets, but ended up dying of chronic malnutrition. In the end she was just skin and bones; it wasn’t anorexia or bulimia, but an inordinate and extreme fixation on healthy eating, which is called Orthorexia Nervosa or O.N. Granted, it’s uncommon for people to take it to this level, but it’s very common to see people going to extremes to a lesser degree, which still represents a problem.

When it comes to diet and nutrition, there is good, better, best, and even excellent, but there is no perfection. A person can become so extreme in their fixation concerning food or its method of preparation that they lose all balance. This may sound crazy, but O.N. can be just as bad as those who eat a ton of highly processed food. It’s extremely important to do our best to eat healthy, natural foods if we want to be healthy and strong, but with some control and caution.

How do you know if you’ve crossed the line from healthy eating habits into an eating disorder of extremism or even Orthorexia Nervosa? You might just have a problem if you:

  • Spend an inordinate amount of time thinking, planning, and fretting about your next meal.
  • Perfection in eating has become a compulsion or addiction that has enslaved you to a habit or practice.
  • Experience real anxiety or fear when you have to alter your perfect diet.
  • Dietary requirements start affecting your relationships, making you feel socially isolated.
  • Dietary requirements affect your work, play, and vacation time.
  • You analyze and reanalyze every food item.
  • Find people comment that you look sick or tired.
  • Can’t find any place to eat that measures up to your strict requirements.
  • Become judgmental and critical of anyone who isn’t doing it just like you.
  • Your food orientation has become the defining characteristic to yourself and others.
  • You feel hungry and unenergetic all the time.

picnic_couple_happy_basket_blanket_spring_grass_field_trees_country_walk_picWe all know that food is extremely important; in fact it is a matter of life and death. That being said, diet is a very personal decision. You controlling what you eat is a healthy process, whereas if what you eat is controlling you, whether it’s the highest quality or over-processed junk food, that may qualify as an eating disorder.

  • Get as informed about nutrition as you can, always be learning.
  • Recognize there is no such thing as perfection.
  • Be flexible. If you make mistakes, you can fix them.
  • Try to keep emotion out of the process; passion is different than preachy.
  • Listen to your body. Do you feel better with more energy?
  • Try to maintain balance in your life.
  • Have a sense of humor. What, where, how, when you eat shouldn’t cause stress and anxiety.
  • Eat for health and enjoyment; it’s a choice, not a prison sentence.

Eat healthy!

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