Psychology Explains How A Desire to Eat Healthy Can Become Unhealthy

Psychology Explains How A Desire to Eat Healthy Can Become Unhealthy



The choice to eat healthy can be multifaceted.  You can choose to eat specific healthy foods due to allergies, like gluten or lactose.

Or, you may choose any one of the various vegan diets for moral reasons. Those reasons may be related to the inhumane treatment of animals, the chemicals injected into the animals, or the overwhelming articles emphasizing the importance of increasing vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in our diet.

Of course, there is always the choice to eat healthy because you want your body to be a robust, clean, fighting machine.  Whichever your reasons are, eating primarily clean is a good life choice.  Until it’s not.  Psychology explains how eating healthy can become unhealthy.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders entail a variety of symptoms characterized by unusual or disturbing methods of eating.  Most of them consist of an obsession with food, body weight, or body image.




The most familiar of these are anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and anorexia bulimia.  We associate Anorexia with extreme calorie counting and excessive exercise.  Bulimia consists more of binge eating with forced vomiting.  Anorexia bulimia fluctuates between the two. Those who suffer from it display obsessive calorie counting mixed with binge eating and forced vomiting.

Excessive exercise generally stays constant. In any of these eating disorders, women or young girls are the primary candidates.  13% of youth by the age of 20 develop some form of an eating disorder.  Their views of their bodies become incredibly distorted.  What may start as trying to lose 10 pounds gains compliments. And that can quickly accelerate into being skin and bones while still feeling they are not thin enough.

There is a multitude of psychological and biological reasons which are the driving force behind eating disorders.  Thus far, nothing proves conclusive. Furthermore, science must assess each case individually for emotional, mental, and physical causes.

Introducing Orthorexia: The 20th-century eating disorder

The overwhelming articles focused on food, diets, exercise, probiotics, prebiotics, organic living, and more can be challenging to sort out when you are trying to decide how to become healthy.  Eating started a relatively straightforward concept.  “I am hungry, so I’ll get food, make food, and eat food.”


Then, we added knowledge about fats and various types of fat, which meats are leaner, unhealthy carbs, processed foods, and sugar. We learned how stress affects your digestion and how to augment your diet to rebalance your system. Also, knowledge about the importance of ridding your body of toxins to both help it operate better plus decrease aging came to the surface. Not to mention the 8 x 8 water rule, counting calories, and calculating BMI.

I could probably write 1500 words just on all the various methods science presents to people regarding how or why to eat differently.   Within those messages are the holistic, most organic, safe, and nutritious manners of preparing the food.  Proper preparation can almost be like a religious ritual with your body as the alter.

To add the cherry to the top, now you need to maintain this method while at work and out with friends who may not share your enthusiasm for your diet of choice.  Which restaurants allow you the most options or any options?  Should you pack a meal?  Remember, you need to get home in time to prep your food for meals tomorrow.

Healthy eating allows a balance

Despite all the confusing and never-ending information about diets out there, life is about balance.  This should include your diet, as well.  When your lifestyle of food choices, preparation, and exercise has consumed your life, your diet is no longer healthy.

Orthorexia Nervosa is the newest recognized eating disorder characterized by having an obsessive relationship with eating healthy.  Life is wholly focused on adhering to the strict regiment of your diet and lifestyle to the detriment of your social life, choices, and potentially your health.


Orthorexia Nervosa: Definition and symptoms

The term Orthorexia first became a recognized term in 1998.  It literally means “an obsession with proper or “healthy” eating,” as defined by the National Eating Disorder Association. While yet to be placed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), it is still accepted by many physicians as an eating disorder.

Symptoms of Orthorexia Nervosa

Being still relatively new, exact diagnostic criteria has not been officially established, but specific symptoms are recognized as warning signs:


  • Impulsive and consistent need to check the ingredient and nutrition list
  • The health of the ingredients become a source of concern
  • Decreasing more and more food groups or choices. Ie., no eggs, no meat, nothing in-organic, no gluten, no dairy, only cooked or raw vegetables, etc.  Only certain foods considered healthy enough or pure
  • Carrying over concern and ideology toward other people’s diets
  • Stressing over what foods may be available at a social event. This may occur not only hours before but carried over if the preferred options are not available.
  • Obsessed with following all the food and diet trends on social media
  • Potential body image concerns.
  • Eating Gluten-free, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Lacto-vegetarianism, or Pescatarian diets, which require strict adherence and not easily accommodated socially. (non-medical related)
  • Lack of flexibility in food choices
  • Unhealthy fear of processed foods
  • Needing to be perfect
  • Overly increased interest and consumption of nutritional supplements
  • Avoiding social events to reduce the anxiety of being pressured to eat other foods not seen as “healthy.”
  • Potential obsession with exercise

The danger of malnutrition stems from this condition

Due to the frequently food-limiting symptom of this diet, malnutrition often becomes a side effect of orthorexia.  A few of those symptoms are:


  • A decrease in testosterone in men
  • Constipation, bloating and nausea
  • Imbalance of electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, and chloride
  • Problems with the kidneys
  • Protein deficiency contributing to kidney and other organ disorders
  • Substance abuse and mental illness in the form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety can co-exist, potentially leading to increased risk of mortality.
  • It can lead to other eating disorders, specifically anorexia nervosa.

Study analysis of Orthorexia

Science Daily published a study performed at York University’s Faculty of Health.  The researchers had compiled all reviews of orthorexia up until 2018 from two major databases.  One of the scientists, Jennifer Mills, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, reported:

” When taken to the extreme, an obsession with clean eating can be a sign that the person is struggling to manage their mental health.”

The report stated that earlier reports had shown that while anorexia nervosa was about counting calories to reduce body weight to an extreme, orthorexia has a focus on the quality of the food and its preparation.  It becomes like a ritual in that more and more time is spent planning, purchasing, and preparing healthy meals.  This ritual becomes obsessive in daily life.

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