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Orthorexia: An Unhealthy Obsession with Healthy Eating

From the Show: Naturally Savvy
Summary: We're constantly reminded that, as a nation, we need to eat healthier. But, is there a point where healthy eating goes too far?
Air Date: 4/8/15
Duration: 10
Host: Andrea Donsky, RHN and Lisa Davis, MPH
Guest Bio: Ashley Koff, RD
Ashley-KoffAshley Koff is an internationally-renowned registered dietitian who believes better nutrition is simple and is on a mission to help anyone achieve their personal health goals by providing simple but highly effective tips and strategies. A self-described “Qualitarian,” Koff emphasizes the value of quality nutritional choices in achieving optimal health and has developed tools such as The AKA Qualitarian Nutrition Plan and The AKA Personal Shopper to help facilitate this.

Koff is widely sought after for her knowledge and ability to translate nutrition science into practical and motivating messages and appears regularly in the National Media, has authored two books and speaks frequently on the topic of better quality choices for better health.
Orthorexia: An Unhealthy Obsession with Healthy Eating
We're constantly reminded that as a nation, we need to eat healthier. From the rising rates of obesity and diabetes, to the prevalence of heart disease (the number-one killer of both men and women), the root of the problem is most often diet.

Too much processed sugar, an unending list of food additives and preservatives, unidentifiable GMOs... they all can contribute to disease and early death. The focus for a long, healthy life is on good fats, lots of vegetables, plenty of water, and, depending on who you ask, lean protein. 

But, is there a point when eating healthy goes too far?

According to Registered Dietitian, Ashley Koff, the answer to that is a definite yes.

The quest for healthy eating, when taken too far, is called orthorexia.

You may recognize the "orexia" part of the word from anorexia, one of the most widely recognized eating disorders. Orthorexia, while not yet considered a true eating disorder by the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), is a form of disordered eating in which you become focused and fixated on "righteous eating."

The National Eating Disorders Association website (NEDA) gives the following synopsis of the disorder:

Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.” An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diets and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake. Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers; an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating. The obsession with healthy eating can crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships, and become physically dangerous.

If you think you might have fallen into the orthorexia trap, how can you address your pattern of eating?

Koff joins Andrea and Lisa to share the symptoms and signs of orthorexia, how healthy eating can morph into this disorder, and where you can seek help.