November 11, 2020

Orthorexia: When Clean Eating Becomes Disordered Eating

Orthorexia is a common but little understood form of disordered eating. In this post, we share 10 signs you may be struggling with orthorexia and what to do about it.

By Charis Stiles, LCSW|Adulting

Many of us try to eat “clean” and healthy foods and sometimes that “clean eating” can tip over the edge into disordered eating. 

It’s normal to want to eat well, and to eat in a way that supports our overall health. 

However, we can become obsessed with food and become too restrictive with our eating. 

This is called orthorexia, and it can have damaging effects on our bodies.

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So how do you know if your “clean eating” is a problem? Here are ten signs you may be struggling with orthorexia.

1. You’re hyper-focused on food. Do you think about what you’re going to eat for dinner when you’re eating breakfast? Are you reading recipe books or searching Pinterest for new diets to follow? It’s one thing to enjoy cooking and discovering new foods. It’s quite different when all we talk about and think about is what we ate that day or what we should eat next.

2. You often feel hungry or have difficulty identifying hunger cues. Disordered eating disconnects us from our sense of hunger or satiety. If you find yourself often hungry during the day, then you’re probably not eating enough. If you can no longer tell when you’re hungry or full, that may be a sign that you’re disconnected from your body. 

3. You have near-constant cravings or desires to binge. Binges almost always follow some form of restriction. This is actually body wisdom indicating you probably have not been eating enough. Our bodies don’t like to starve and so binge episodes can be seen as the body’s way of surviving and warding off starvation. No matter how many calories you are eating, your body may still require more! (And don’t get me started on how our conception of how many calories we should eat every day is mistaken! Look up the Minnesota Starvation Experiment if you’re interested to learn more!)

4. You have a fear of having certain food in the house because you’ll be tempted to eat all of it. Do you feel “out of control” around certain foods? What would happen if you gave yourself permission to eat that food whenever you pleased? Notice if this question brings up fear and if so what the fear is about. 

5. You feel like you’re being “good” when you go to bed still hungry. Starving yourself is actually NOT morally superior. It may feel like you have strong self-discipline, but really you are harming your body by keeping it in starvation mode. This will likely lead to stronger cravings and more intense fears around bingeing. It can have harmful physical effects on our bodies also.

6. Certain foods are “good” and certain foods are “bad”.  Food is neutral, period. The morality we’ve attached to food is arbitrary and has ties to classist and even racist attitudes. Watch the language you use with food, especially around children. 

7. You find yourself judging other people for what they eat.  Here again is assigning morality to food or eating habits. No one is better or worse of a person for what or how they eat. 

8. You feel shame when you eat “bad” food or eat past the point of feeling full. Shame is a strong indicator that our relationship to food is disordered. If food is neutral and if we are eating in a way that is attuned to our bodies, then there is no need to feel shame even if we eat past fullness. 

9. When eating out with others, you only order salads or appetizers. Are you afraid of what others will think of you if you order that burger or that pasta? Is there a sense of competition with others about how well you are sticking to your diet? Are you afraid to eat out because it may be hard to “eat clean” enough?

10. Feeling the need to hide from others when you eat something “naughty” like cookies. Is there a thrill when you eat something you’re “not supposed” to? Is it exciting to sneak to the kitchen at night to eat in secret? 

These all may be signs of disordered eating and there can be real physical harm done when we are eating too little or too restrictively. 

Ultimately, it’s important to find a way of eating that is attuned to your body’s needs. 

Not every person needs to eat in the same way, and we require different foods and different amounts of foods throughout our weeks. 

The important thing is to find more peace with food and to feel less afraid of listening to our body’s messages. 

Therapy can be helpful with this by exploring our relationships with our bodies and helping us find more body trust. 

Our team at Evergreen Counseling can help you with this. We have therapists trained in treating disordered eating, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders. 

Please feel free to reach out to us to set up a Personalized Matching Consultation with our Clinical Intake Coordinator so we can match you with the best therapist for your situation.

Medical Disclaimer

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