From: Patti Verbanas, Rutgers University
Published September 16, 2015 07:33 AM

Eating Healthy not always as healthy as you might think

In their quest for healthy eating, many Americans are turning to restrictive diets – from vegan to Paleo to low-carb – that they believe are the most “pure” or beneficial. But when people decide to go beyond these and severely limit the types of foods they consume, they could be putting themselves at risk for nutritional deficiencies.

People who obsessively refine and restrict their diet to conform to their ideal of what is healthy could be suffering from orthorexia nervosa – which translates from Greek as “correct appetite.”

Although not an officially recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), orthorexia can be likened to clinically defined eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, says Charlotte Markey, a Rutgers University–Camden psychologist who teaches a course titled “The Psychology of Eating” and studies eating behaviors, body image and weight management. She is the author of Smart People Don’t Diet: How the Latest Science Can Help You Lose Weight Permanently.

Rutgers Today spoke with Markey about this condition, how to identify it and how it is best treated.

Rutgers Today: What is orthorexia?

Markey: Orthorexia is a form of maladaptive eating that can begin with good intentions: People start eliminating foods they consider “impure” or “bad” – sweets, sugars, carbohydrates – and before they know it, they are eating a highly limited diet. They think there is room for improvement and that they can always eat “healthier.” They cut out sugar, then salt, then wheat, then dairy, and so on.

They become obsessed with what they should not be eating and keep whittling down the foods they will allow – which often impacts them socially since food is such a part of our social experiences. Since they think they are doing the “right” thing, they don’t question that there might be a negative impact to their health.

Rutgers Today: What are the dangers of orthorexia?

Markey: What people don’t realize is that many of those foods they are restricting, like carbohydrates, which are an important source of energy, really do serve a function. When diets become so restrictive, more than nutritional deficiencies can result: Orthorexics also can experience low energy and are at risk for depression. In severe cases, orthorexia eventually leads to malnourishment when critical nutrients are eliminated from the diet.

Plate of vegetables image via Shutterstock.

Read more at Rutgers University.

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