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Orthorexia Nervosa: When Eating Healthy Is the Problem

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Eating too healthy? That can’t be possible…. or at least I didn’t think so.

That was, however, until I was diagnosed with orthorexia.

Orthorexia nervosa, otherwise known as the “clean eating disorder,” is an obsession with clean or proper eating. It involves compulsively reading ingredient lists, excessive meal-planning, and severe distress when “healthy” foods are not available. It can also involve significant dietary shifts, such as cutting out entire food groups, like carbs or dairy.

Before being diagnosed with orthorexia, I suffered with bulimia nervosa for years. I went from uncontrollably eating to meticulously monitoring every food that entered my body. In a way, I thought that this effort to be healthy signified progress away from my struggles with disordered eating. Unfortunately, this was only the start of a very long journey.

At 18 years old, I remember feeling like my bulimic past was behind me, and three years later, I am so happy to say that it is. I have not relapsed in nearly four years, and it feels great. When I was going through the healing process, I knew that I needed to make a serious change to my eating habits if I wanted to change my lifestyle, so I did all that I thought I could. I strictly controlled every food that entered my body. I made a list of foods to stay away from.

I remember hearing at parties and gatherings things like, “I wish I had the self-control that you have,” or “Wow, you eat so healthy! How do you do it?”

If only they knew.

But that’s the problem. Healthy eating isn’t seen as a bad thing. In fact, it’s viewed as quite the opposite. With thousands of health food bloggers and fitness gurus at our fingertips, health fads are at an all-time high. Hundreds of documentaries and studies are being released, telling us the dangers of eating unhealthy, processed foods. Healthy recipes and restaurants are present in abundance! This is all great, really, but coupled with the importance of healthy eating should be the dangers it presents as well.

When my parents and closest friends believed that I was being vigilant about the foods that were entering my body to prevent a relapse, they never thought that my caution could have developed into an eating disorder. Frankly, neither did I.

Obviously, I can’t go back in time, and honestly, I wouldn’t want to! Surviving through my struggles and healing my broken relationship with food has made me so strong. But of course, I do wonder how my story might be different if the dangers of orthorexia were taught in middle school health class, or if diet trends came with a warning stamp. I am here to give you the warning I never had. Healthy living goes so far beyond healthy eating.

I still battle orthorexia every day; I don’t know if my mind will ever be entirely freed of its grip on my relationship with food. What I do know, however, is that I get stronger every day. I have learned how to cope with this disorder, and for anyone else who might be struggling, I’m here to tell you that you are not alone, and I promise that it gets easier. The list I am providing below is only tips that have worked for me. These are not, in any way, a replacement for therapy or counseling. These are simply things I do in my day-to-day life to help heal my mindset surrounding food.

1. Face Your Food Fears

There are still certain foods that were on my “stay away from” list that I am hesitant to eat. One of the most beneficial activities I have discovered for myself is to choose one food that I avoid, write it down, and then write a few sentences explaining why I avoid eating it. Then, I write a short paragraph logically explaining to myself why my fears aren’t realistic. I try to do this a few times a week, and it has truly transformed the way I look at certain foods.

2. Listen to Your Body

Somedays, you aren’t going to want to eat salads and drink green juice, and that’s OK. One of the most powerful things I have learned is balance. If you go a few days eating more junk food than you normally would, do not beat yourself up! Eventually, once your body has been fully satiated of whatever food it was craving, it will begin to crave healthy foods again. Your body will naturally balance itself out; it knows what it needs, so just trust it!

3. Don’t Restrict

If you are craving a cinnamon roll, eat a cinnamon roll. Don’t try to satisfy the craving with something else. I have found that if I restrict myself of something I have deemed “unhealthy”, I end up eating worse than I would have had I just eaten what I initially wanted!

4. Give Yourself Grace

After all, we’re only human. We all make mistakes, and by setting an expectation for yourself to eat perfectly, you are setting yourself up for failure. A motto that I am learning to live by is to do the very best you can in the situation that you are in. If you find yourself in a scenario where you can’t eat exactly how you would like to, do your best to choose the healthiest option available, remind yourself that you did the very best you could have, and let it go. I have found an immense amount of peace in this small action.


In short, healthy eating is an amazing lifestyle choice and can be instrumental in living a balanced life. However, it can very quickly become unhealthy. If you notice you struggle a bit with food control, try the tips I suggested above. If your thoughts are consumed by planning your next meal or reading ingredient lists, the very best thing you can do for yourself is to seek professional help. I hope this article sheds light on orthorexia and can provide guidance for anyone who might be struggling with it as well.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Ally Roy is a freelance writer and lifestyle blogger. After struggling with eating disorders and body image issues for years, Ally is passionate about sharing her personal anecdotes with her online following. She hopes to spread a positive message promoting holistic health and remind her audience that they are not alone in their struggles.

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The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios only.

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