Today, Friday, February 15, 2019

Healthy Eating- Can It Go Too Far?

Developing healthy eating habits is one of the easiest ways that people can be proactive about their health. Studies have shown that eating well can reduce one's risk of developing obesity issues, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. In fact, a recent study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health discovered that encouraging healthy dietary habits in children under the age of 5 could save as much as $65 billion in future health care costs. As it turns out, it looks like the saying is true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound (or more) of cure.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

But what happens when people take eating healthy eating to an extreme level? Is there such a thing as eating “too healthy”? According to Dr. Steven Bratman, the answer is yes, and there's even a term for it: orthorexia nervosa. Translated literally, the phrase means “fixation on righteous eating,” and is starting to become a more and more common psychological affliction, particularly among teens. Bratman first described the disorder in the Yoga Journal in 1997, saying:

Orthorexia begins, innocently enough, as a desire to overcome chronic illness or to improve general health. But because it requires considerable willpower to adopt a diet that differs radically from the food habits of childhood and the surrounding culture, few accomplish the change gracefully. Most must resort to an iron self-discipline bolstered by a hefty dose of superiority over those who eat junk food. Over time, what to eat, how much, and the consequences of dietary indiscretion come to occupy a greater and greater proportion of the orthorexic's day.

Essentially, almost anyone interested in developing healthy eating habits is at risk for developing orthorexia nervosa. Much like anorexics or bulimics take dieting to an extreme, orthorexics place such an emphasis on healthy eating that one slip up can have serious psychological ramifications. One slice of pizza can send an orthorexic into a downward spiral, complete with self-punishment that can include fasting for days on end and developing even stricter dietary habits.

Although many comparisons can be drawn between orthorexia nervosa and eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, there are some significant variations that make them very different. While an anorexic is motivated by the desire to lose weight or stay slim, an orthorexic is driven to feel as pure, healthy and natural as possible. “Anorexics seem to always think they're fat, but orthoexics know they're thin, but they want to be pure,” described Bratman.

How Do You Know if You're Orthorexic?

How does a person know if they are orthorexic, or just making informed decisions about their diet? Below are some of the symptoms that Bratman listed in his book, Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating:

  • Spending too much time thinking about eating healthy - Do you spend more than three hours everyday thinking about what you can and cannot eat?
  • More and more limitations - Do you find that you're becoming more and more strict with what you will and will not eat? Do you feel like your healthy eating lifestyle is snowballing into a bigger and bigger problem?
  • Planning menus far in advance - Do you plan your breakfast, lunch and dinner menus more than a week in advance?
  • Feeling guilty - If you stray from your diet, even a little, do you feel a sense of guilt or self-loathing?
  • Never eating out - Is your diet so strict that eating out becomes almost impossible? Do you constantly worry about how the food is being prepared (with oil, artificial cooking spray, etc.)? Do your dietary restrictions keep you from even eating at a friend or family member's home?
  • Virtue vs. Pleasure - Is the virtue that you feel about the things that you eat more important to you than the pleasure you receive from actually eating them?
  • Control - Do your eating habits make you feel as though you have more control over your life in general? If you stray from your diet, do you feel as though you're losing grasp of other aspects of your life?
  • Self Esteem linked to food - Do you feel better about yourself when you eat healthy? Do you judge other people by what they eat, and look down on them if they don't share your feelings about healthy eating? --
  • Distance from friends and family - Do your eating habits make it difficult for you to connect with others, even friends and family? Since you started your diet, have you distanced yourself from the people with whom you were once close?

It is important to note that not all people who experience some of these symptoms are orthorexic. Like most disorders, there are varying degrees of severity, and eating healthy is only a bad thing if it starts affecting other areas of your life.

Healthy Eating Tips

How can you eat healthy without breaking the orthorexic barrier? Like almost all things, it's about moderation. Many people find that eating healthy is about cutting back on the “bad” foods that they enjoy, rather than completely cutting them out of their diets. Here are some basic healthy eating tips:

  • Add color - Eating different colors of produce ensures that you get a wide variety phytochemicals, which can fight all kinds of diseases.
  • Eat whole grains - Besides reducing the risk of heart disease and several different types of cancer, they have also been shown to combat inflammatory diseases, like cancer.
  • Eat good fat - Not all fats are bad. In fact, the mono- and polyunsaturated fats found in nuts, avocados and fish are actually good for you.

Healthy eating is a good first step to take toward a healthy lifestyle, but there are definitely other things to consider, as well. Other lifestyle modifications, like limiting sun exposure, getting (or remaining) smoke-free and sleeping at least seven hours a night can all contribute to a decreased risk of disease and greater longevity.

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