It starts at the bookstore. You’re scrolling through the latest books in the health and wellness section when your eyes divert to the eye-popping title “Eat This Not That.” A simple solution, you think, to your unhealthy woes. A quick purchase for simple advice. You quickly make it to the grocery store to grab some kale chips in lieu of your regular potato chip snack. And you’re off for the day.

Things begin to escalate in a month or so when you find yourself at a restaurant only agreeing to the organic kale salad without dressing. A salad with dressing would be an injustice to your near-perfect eating habits and a failure you can’t live with. So you settle for the tiny fruit bowl instead.

What was once an innocent pursuit towards becoming a little healthier can unknowingly turn into a destructive habit. Though it is not clinically recognized as a diagnosis, this disorder has a name and it’s called orthorexia nervosa. It’s more common than you think and it may even be affecting you.

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Defining the Disorder

What is orthorexia? Orthorexia directly translates to a “fixation on righteous eating.” NEDA, the National Eating Disorder Association, defines orthorexia as “an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating”. It sounds like an oxymoron and it is. Getting caught up in a lifestyle dedicated to healthy living can end up restricting energy as well as variety in your diet- causing more harm than good.

Orthorexia develops in two stages. The first is adopting a conception of what healthy foods are to you. The second is the elimination of many foods deemed unsuitable for your health standards. It’s important to be aware of these stages and the early signs of orthorexia so you can make sure that your health conscious habits aren’t manifesting into something that can take a toll on your body, physically and mentally.

Clear Clues

As illustrated before, the beginning stages of orthorexia are gradual. Paying attention to your inner dialogue may give you better insight. Some of the following thoughts and actions are early signs of orthorexia. Keep in mind the cases may vary for everyone- one or all of these might suit you.

You uncontrollably worry about food quality

You wonder if the oats in the granola bar were rolled in flour. Or you’re wondering if the restaurant uses organic ingredients in their squash soup. You have to realize that organic food is great, but the soup will still provide your body with the nutrients, regardless. Getting enough nutrients and calories is key, organics are secondary.

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You can’t eat a meal prepared by someone else

You’re trying your best not to be rude but there is no way you can eat that chicken parm without knowing how it was made or what it was made with. You feel like you have lack of control. Impulsive thoughts like these can decrease the pleasure that comes with sharing dinner with family and friends. Take time to relax and focus on spending time with those around you. One meal won’t hurt. And an enjoyable evening will make you happier long term than the food on your plate.

You’re constantly looking for reasons that food is unhealthy for you

You’re at the store looking for bread when you remember that Facebook post from the other day. Your friend shared an article about the chemical-driven wheat industry. You decide right there to cross off all wheat-containing foods. You believe that you’re saving yourself from all of the other “side effects” that go along with eating bread. Social media can be a major contributing factor to your food restrictions. But crossing foods off your list is not the answer. You need to do what’s right for your body.

You experience self-loathing when you stray from “healthy” foods

This is a tough one because the fight is internal. No food is bad for you. It gives your body the nutrients it needs to support itself. There’s an expression that goes “everything looks like a nail when all you have is a hammer”. This expression has always stuck with me because it’s an interesting way to look for the good instead of the bad in everything. Look for the good in food instead of seeking ways to bring it down.

Take care of your body, and equally as important, take care of you mind. Don’t deprive yourself of the nutrients you need to live to your full potential. So stop labeling foods as “bad” or “good”. There is no such thing, only better choices than others. “Slip-ups” are not the end of the world. No one is perfect! Enjoy your food, love your body and live your life. Life’s too short to sweat the petty things.

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