Jul 18, 2019 | Updated: 10:03 AM EDT

When Clean Eating Becomes an Unhealthy Obsession

May 14, 2019 01:30 PM EDT

When Clean Eating Becomes an Unhealthy Obsession
(Photo : Image by Nancy Mure from Pixabay)

According to researchers at York University's Faculty of Health, people with a history of an eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive traits, dieting, poor body image, and a drive for thinness are more likely to develop a pathological obsession with healthy eating or consuming only healthy food known as orthorexia nervosa (ON). Even when an essential part of a healthy lifestyle is eating healthy, for some people, this preoccupation with healthy eating can become physically and socially impairing.

In the initial exhaustive review of the psychosocial risk factors connected with orthorexia nervosa, psychology researchers at York University examined all studies published up until the end of 2018 in two accessible databases. The researchers reviewed studies that examined how orthorexia nervosa is related to psychosocial risk factors that predisposed or made a person vulnerable to or more likely to develop the condition. Then, they amalgamated all available findings for each risk factor in reaching conclusions about which psychosocial factors were most reliably associated with the situation.

The senior author of the study and an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, Jennifer Mills said that the long-term impact of these findings is that they will lead to better recognition among healthcare providers as well as members of the public that so-called eating can be unhealthy. It can lead to malnourishment or make it quite difficult to socialize with people in settings that involve eating. Also, it can be expensive and time-consuming. Mills explained further that when taken to the extreme, an obsession with clean eating can be a sign that the person is struggling to manage their mental health.

In the previous study, it was shown that unlike people with anorexia nervosa who restrict calories to maintain low body weight, individuals who have the condition have a fixation with the quality of food eaten and its preparation rather than the number of calories. Over time, these people spend increasing amounts of time and effort purchasing, planning, and preparing pure and healthy meals which eventually becomes an all-consuming obsession that interferes with other areas of life and results in weight loss.

Mills explained that in their research, they discovered rates of men and women who struggle with symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. They still think of eating disorders as being a problem that affects mostly young women. Due to that assumption, the signs and negative consequences of orthorexia nervosa can fly under the radar and not be noticed or taken seriously.

According to researchers, developing a consistent definition or orthorexia nervosa will make it easier for health researchers to create reliable measures and provide better diagnosis and treatment for the condition.

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