Orthorexia – when healthy eating becomes an eating disorder

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Orthorexia – when healthy eating becomes an eating disorder

As the New Year gets into full swing, so many of us will commit to that whole it’s a 'new year, new me' thing. It's admirable – people end up hitting the gym, eating clean, and becoming the best version of themselves that they believe they can be. But what about when people take things too far?

Obviously, not everyone's resolution is to lose weight, tone up, or get fit. But this is becoming more and more common. Getting healthier is never a bad thing, but unfortunately, when this becomes an obsession, you run the risk of carrying all the same mentalities of something pretty serious… eating disorders.

When the need to be healthy takes over your life, this is a very real phenomenon called ‘Orthorexia’. What was wrong with the old versions of us? And why are we so preoccupied with change, as though that has all the answers?

Whilst the current mantra seen all over Instagram when it comes to exercise and dieting seems to be 'strong not skinny’ – intending to be a positive message – some people are taking this too far, in ironically the same way as those whose obsession is with being skinny. That’s because Orthorexia is an eating disorder, too. People can and should be happy at any size, but health (physically and mentally) plays a big part in that, too.

I’ve been around people that had similar symptoms, but the problem is it’s often left undiagnosed. Instead of rushing them to get help like with other eating issues, it’s massively masked behind clever lingo proclaiming certain behaviours to be a ‘lifestyle’ not a diet, and so on. After all, they’re not starving themselves, and they’re in fact eating all the things we’ve always been told we should! When people are congratulating them on their abs and telling them how amazing their dedication to weight lifting is, it reinforces the idea that they’re doing something great.

Don’t get me wrong. Usually, that IS great. There’s a fine line, really. A lot of us could probably do with a few sessions down at the gym, maybe a Zumba class or two. For me, personally, I think I should spend some more time working out next year, just because it really does make you feel good! But when it gets to the point that the idea of a piece of birthday cake scares you, or your exercise regime is controlling your life… then you might need to admit there’s an issue.

Sometimes, it starts innocently. You might cut out certain things from your diet because you hear that they cause cancer, or make your allergies worse. Some people go vegan, or get rid of chemicals from their diets. All of these things are commendable; but some people are hiding behind these ways of life, and using them as excuses when there are deeper issues at hand. Perhaps the real reason they avoid dairy is because they’re scared of gaining weight, and so on.

Often, a person with Orthorexia will absorb what they eat and their fitness regime into every aspect of their life. They no longer compartmentalise these things, until it consumes every other activity. Social gatherings are cancelled in favour of the gym; whilst birthdays are missed because the menu isn’t healthy enough. Calories, macros, nutrients are talked about constantly, whilst pictures of the gym and health foods are all they post.

Thankfully, a lot of doctors are starting to recognise the reality of Orthorexia and can help to distinguish the difference between just being health conscious and being borderline dangerous about nutrition and working out. Whilst your body may be in great condition if you’re dealing with the latter, that’s actually not really ideal for your mind.

If your plan is to get into shape for 2017; that’s awesome! Don’t be discouraged for a second. Just make sure that you’re taking things slowly and doing things in moderation. Enjoy it! Don’t let it become a chore.

There’s enough hard work in life without adding to the burden. When you do it right, exercise actually has a really positive impact. Just be sure to take a break, eat well, and promise you’ll have a word with someone if you think it’s all getting a bit much.

Remember, we’re all individual, and the ‘right’ amount is different for everyone and so we shouldn’t judge. But a general rule of thumb is that if you’re obsessing and fixating, it might be time to slow down a bit.