Understanding your mental and emotional relationship with food.

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Relationships with food can be complicated. Too much food or too little food can be harmful, there are good fats and bad fats, and a huge difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. But can there be such a thing as eating too healthy? Cue the arguments again detoxification and supplement crazes.

The Problem of Eating Too Healthy

Coined by Dr. Steven Bratman, MD, the term Orthorexia Nervosa describes an obsession with eating healthy food. While it is not recognized as an official diagnosis in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it is certainly something that is on the rise, and that the public should be aware of.  

“To qualify as a diagnosable condition, in my opinion, the person would have to exhibit more extreme behaviours” than simply wanting to be healthy, says Dr. Jonah Lusis, ND, co-owner and co-founder of Toronto Centre for Naturopathic Medicine. This would include an unhealthy “obsession with the foods they consume resulting in an inability to participate in normal, innocuous activities” like attending restaurants or family dinners.

Linking Diet, Body Image and Mental Health

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The concern for these individuals doesn’t stem from their determination to be healthy, but from the mental connection of healthy eating to self-esteem. As soon as this association is made it begins to resemble a mental illness.

“I would group it with other eating disorders that are often associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa,” says Dr. Lusis whose areas of expertise include cleansing and detoxification, as well as previous experience in weight management programs and personal training.

Treatment for Orthorexia Nervosa

While there is no known cause for this condition, in Dr. Lusis’ opinion, it does require quite extensive treatment. To begin with, he says that “Some form of mindfulness training, either cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), or cognitive exercises” to re-wire the patient’s emotional relationship with food.

Any behaviour or habit that becomes extreme and obsessive will likely become harmful either mentally or physically. People suffering from Orthorexia Nervosa may not even be aware of it. As Dr. Lusis points out “orthorexic behaviour presumably improves physical health,” however, once it becomes obsessive, it is time for help.