One sweet potato, a piece of boiled chicken breast, several pieces of boiled broccoli and a handful of walnuts: This is what Liling Xiong usually eats. After giving birth to her first baby, she insisted on this “apparently healthy diet” for almost one year, until one day her fitness instructor Yuan Yao warned her she might have an eating disorder.
When talking about eating disorders, people may think about anorexia or bulimia. However, most people may haven’t realized that eating healthy food can also be unhealthy. People all want to eat well, but when healthy eating is taken too far, it could cause orthorexia, a new trend in eating disorders.
“Orthorexia is an eating disorder where ‘people have an unhealthy obsession with eating only foods they perceive to be healthy, pure or detoxifying’, ” said Gia Gulotta, a behavioral health counselor. “An individual with orthorexia will avoid certain foods, such as those containing animal products, fats, preservatives or other ingredients they consider to be unhealthy. ”
The interesting thing is that this unhealthy behavior begins with good intentions to want to be healthy, leading a nutritionally sound lifestyle. However, when people gradually becoming more obsessed with limiting foods, “they start to eliminating one food, then one group of foods, whole groups of foods, etc.” said Gulotta.
When Xiong was pregnant, she was worried about her body shape so she controlled her diet strictly. However, after giving birth, she weighed five pounds more than before she became pregnant, and she was unsatisfied about her belly fat, so she hired Yao as her professional fitness instructor.
Except making an exercise plan, Yao also made a detailed meal plan to help Xiong lose weight. It includes eating complex carbohydrates like brown rice, eating high protein but low fat meat like chicken breast, avoiding high sugar and high fat food like ice cream, and change the cooking methods from fry to boiling.
Under Yao’s instruction, Xiong lost about 5 pounds in two months and build beautiful abdominal muscles. Then, Yao told Xiong that she can go back to normal diet, however, Xiong found herself began to obsess with these food.
“When I decide what to eat, the first thing is to check the nutrition facts. If I find it is a high carbohydrate or high calories food or contains too much sugar, I won’t eat it because it is unhealthy,” said Xiong. “Even sometimes I really want to eat rice, chips, pork, ice cream or even fruit, I feel afraid to eat them.
Xiong’s case is not a single case. Yao said he had met several people like Xiong.
“The reason is simple. They consider the food which help them to build muscle and lose weight as good food. If you ask them to eat other food, like ice cream, they think it may cause them to gain weight so it is bad, ” said Yao.
Good food and bad food: many people like to tag food like this. However, there is no bad food, according to Sarah Stotz, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator.
“People like to blame food, like ‘pizza is high fat so I shouldn’t eat pizza’. But more often the problem is when we eat pizza, we eat too much pizza because it tastes good. If we can keep our diet in a portion control amount, there is no bad food,” said Stotz. “The badness is they way we behave about food. But people don’t like to think themselves are bad, so they just say fat is bad, carbohydrate is bad or gluten is bad. ”
Stotz said that foods are meant to serve a specific purpose. For example, carbohydrates provide fuel for our body, ingesting too much carbohydrate may lead to gain fat. However, lacking carbohydrate will cause body to find another fuel source, like muscle. Also, Without enough carbohydrates, the protein can not be transferred to muscle.
“Even you think you eat healthy food, the monotonous diet or unbalanced diet can cause malnutrition. My suggestions are to eat variety of food and control the portion and amount,” said Stotz. “50% of carbohydrate, 30% of fat, and 20% from protein will be great.”
Besides the harm to health, orthorexia may also cause serious mental problem, like anxiety disorder, according to Ann Weitzman-Swain, a Licensed Psychologist at Eating disorders Recovery Center of Athens.
“When people try to suppress their desires, they may feel stressful and even have more desires. I met some patients who have anxiety disorders because of it,” said Swain. “Suppressing the appetite is the same.”
Xiong’s experiences confirmed Swain’s words. She feels upset and anxious whenever she wants to eat something but forced herself to not to eat. Also, she said her obsession on healthy food have affected her relationship with friends.
“We used to have afternoon tea or eat hotpot together. But since I decide to lose weight, we haven’t had dinner for a long time,” said Xiong.
Considering the negative effects orthorexia may cause, Gulotta suggests that if people are noticing they are experiencing symptoms of orthorexia, they need to speak with eating disorder professional counseling about treatment options. To get more information, people can also check the official website of National Eating Disorders Association at https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.