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Orthorexia: Taking healthy eating to a whole new level

Orthorexia is a relatively new term for a disorder where a person becomes obsessed with the “perfect diet” and the cleanliness of food, eating on a highly regulated regime.

Recent studies were unable to determine who can fall into the orthorexic trap, but in my experience as a health coach,women are a high-risk group.

Orthorexics can be under pressure to stay fit and young while experiencing life stress on an intense, long-lasting level.  Not managing the pressure may lead them to cope in drastic ways, feeling they have to walk the tightrope between looking good and meeting the demands of a hectic lifestyle.

Harming your health
Can healthy eating actually harm your health? Caring about what you eat is a great thing, but when it turns into an obsession and a hunt for perfection, you can do permanent damage to your body on several levels.  A very restrictive diet means you may miss out on nutrients your body needs. 

Here are some of the foods orthorexics tend to restrict, or completely remove from their diets:

Dairy, meats, and eggs: Cutting out these foods could mean you’re not getting B12, needed for proper brain function and red blood cell production. Strict vegans should consult their doctors on how to get this vital vitamin into their diets.

Gluten and grains: Gluten-free diets are all the rage these a days, but experts estimate only 6 percent of the population may be be affected by gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. Whole grains contain high levels of minerals that we need (like magnesium, which is needed for healthy bones and nerves; and manganese, which is needed for healthy heart function). Eating whole grains may provide the balance your body needs to stay fit.  If you suspect you have issues with gluten, it’s better to get a medical test instead of missing out on this nourishing 'food group.'

Fat: Good quality fats, found in foods like olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, grass-fed beef, grass-fed dairy and pasture-raised eggs are a must for the body.  They keep skin healthy, cushion and protect vital organs, insulate the body against heat loss, protect nerve tissue, and help regulate women's menstrual cycles. Getting enough fat in your diet also means you feel full longer and have a better absorption rate of fat-soluble vitamins like A and D.

Mind over matter
Apart from missing out on nutrients, the health of your mind and the quality of your thoughts can have a huge impact on your body. 

Placing yourself under regular mental stress can trigger stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Normally, these hormones are meant to fire when you’re in a threatening situation to boost energy supply for immediately action.  But when your mind believes there is a constant threat, even low levels of these hormones, like cortisol for example, can “suppress the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes,” just to name a few mentioned in this article.

You should always check with your health care provider before starting any new type of diet regimen. 

Don’t let the “fear factor” rule your plate. If you think you or a loved one has orthorexia,  seek the help of a psychiatrist. Be good to yourself. Add healthy, fun ways to cope with stress. 

For more from Jennifer, you can visit her website at SkinnyChef.com.

Jennifer is a trained chef, certified health coach, and healthy cooking celebrity whose mission is to show families that healthy cooking can be fresh, fun and flavorful. She is the author of several best-selling books. Visit her website at skinnychef.com.