Can you become too focused on eating clean and eating healthy as a mountain biker or other athlete? Did it start innocently as avoiding one or two items such as gluten or dairy? But now you don’t eat red meat, fried foods, foods containing too much sugar or fat? Do you often avoid going out with friends because nothing on the menu fits into your healthy diet? You may be suffering from a condition called Orthorexia Nervosa.
What is Orthorexia Nervosa?
Orthorexia Nervosa is characterized by disordered eating behaviors generated by a pathologic obsession with biologically pure and healthy nutrition. This fixation on healthy eating is often associated with significant dietary restrictions. As a result, malnutrition becomes a risk due to cutting out so many nutrients. In addition, these individuals generally suffer from increased stress and anxiety and higher levels of social isolation.
Due to the diet industry, health messaging, and social media, Orthorexia is rising. It is especially harmful to growing teens and can develop into an eating disorder if not detected and treated early.
Characteristics of Orthorexia Nervosa
Consider the following characteristics of Orthorexia and see if they describe you.
How varied is your diet?
- Do you only eat chicken as your protein source? Do you eat the same thing every single day? Is your food dry and bland? Boring? Does it lack in taste?
Do you sort foods into good and bad?
- Do you label certain foods as good? For example, chicken, steamed vegetables, fruit.
- Do you label certain foods as bad and avoid them at all costs? For example, ice cream, cake, potato chips, or foods like avocado, peanut butter, or any foods with added sugar.
How flexible are you when it comes to food?
- Do you pack your food when going to birthday parties or other outings? Are you able to eat out with friends? If you run out of something for dinner, like quinoa or brown rice, are you able to eat bread or white rice instead?
- Are you able to be spontaneous with friends and go out for ice cream?
Do you have many food rules?
- Do you only eat x, y, or z cooked in a certain way, otherwise your anxiety skyrockets? For instance, steamed veggies cooked with no oil and plain chicken?
What to do if you or a friend may have Orthorexia
Try incorporating the foods you labeled earlier as “bad” into your diet more often. Exposure to these “fear” foods can make them less scary.
Remember, one food cannot make you fat, unhealthy, or make you gain weight.
Reach out to a Registered Dietitian or therapist who specializes in Disordered Eating/Eating Disorders.
Emily is a Sports Dietitian who is passionate about helping others improve their health and athletic performance through proper nutrition. She races cyclocross professionally. She lives in Roanoke, VA with her husband Kerry and their beagle Sherman.
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