What happens when the pursuit of wellness goes too far? Can you really be too healthy?

I think we can all agree that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and healthy eating pattern is crucial when it comes to living a long, healthy and happy life. However, the line can blur between healthy habits and an obsessive pursuit of perfection. This is where orthorexia nervosa, more simply known as orthorexia comes in.

What is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia has not been formally recognised as a distinct disorder in the UK. However, the condition is increasingly understood and addressed seriously by healthcare professionals. Individuals with orthorexia become fixated on consuming only the "purest," "cleanest," or what they perceive as the "healthiest" foods. This often involves strict limitations or extreme dietary practises, based on personal beliefs rather than scientific evidence.

Orthorexia can lead to the elimination of foods or food groups, without medical necessity, or without sufficient knowledge to recreate a healthy, balanced diet. The enjoyment of food often diminishes too which brings forth further worrying challenges. The primary concern becomes the perceived health benefits, sacrificing pleasure and social aspects of eating.

When faced with situations where their restricted diet or health habits cannot be followed (e.g. social gatherings, holidays, travel etc.), intense anxiety and distress can arise.

What is the research and current understanding of orthorexia?

While extensive research on orthorexia is ongoing, studies suggest some alarming trends.

* The influence of social media - The rise of health and wellness trends on social media platforms can contribute to distorted perceptions of healthy eating, potentially fuelling orthorexic tendencies.

* The link with other conditions - Orthorexia is often associated with other mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and eating disorders like anorexia nervosa.

What are the negative consequences of orthorexia?

* Strict dietary restrictions can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients, impacting overall health and well-being.

* Avoiding foods deemed "unhealthy" can lead to social isolation and difficulty participating in shared meals with friends and family.

* The constant preoccupation with food and guilt associated with perceived dietary transgressions can significantly impact mental health.

Is there help available in the UK?

If you suspect someone you know might be struggling with orthorexia, seeking professional help is crucial. Here are some resources to get started:

Beat Eating Disorders: This UK-based charity offers support and information for individuals with eating disorders, including those with symptoms similar to orthorexia. They provide:

Helpline: 0808 801 0677 (England)
Information resources: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
National Centre for Eating Disorders (NCFED): While their primary focus is on training professionals, they offer resources for individuals and families: https://nceedus.org/

Other Mental Health Resources:
Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/
Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/

Remember that true health encompasses a balanced approach to work, rest and play, and of course, food, physical exercise, and mental well-being.