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A Healthy Eating Obsession May Indicate Deeper Mental Health Problems

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A healthy eating obsession certainly doesn’t sound like anything to worry about. After all, we could all use a few improvements to our nutrition. By placing a substantial focus on it, it can only mean that we’re going to do more for our bodies, right? According to researchers at York University, it may be more problematic than it seems.

Psychological Problems and Healthy Eating Obsession

Associate professor Jennifer Mills from the university’s psychology department was a co-writer of the healthy eating obsession study paper.

She described the condition called orthorexia nervosa. It is a form of healthy eating obsession that is, in fact, unhealthy. The results of the study were published in the Appetite journal.

After an academic literature review regarding orthorexia nervosa, the study authors discovered that people who have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, a history of eating disorders, who are prone to perfectionism or who have other psychological and behavioral inclinations were at an increased risk of developing a healthy eating obsession.

Going Too Far With Nutrition

“There is nothing wrong with healthy eating. Healthy eating is something we should all aspire to,” said Mills. However, she also pointed out that it’s important to remain “aware that mental-health difficulties can manifest through food.”

Moreover, as “clean diets” have become increasingly popular, this has only expanded the risk of obsessing over eating nutritiously. Equally, the rise in the risk of these types of disorder have also increased the interest among medical and research experts to research it. The spotlight is being placed on the side effects of being pathologically preoccupied with nutrition.

Eating Disorder Risk

Another problem with a healthy eating obsession is that this condition overlaps with the risk factors for other types of eating disorders. The symptoms of the condition can include poor body image among others. That can be a top motivator both in driving their obsessions with nutrition , but also in sending people in the direction of conditions such as anorexia and bulimia.

In this version of an eating disorder, the obsession is with the quality of food, not the quantity of it. That said it can still be broadly problematic. This can involve eliminating a growing number of types of food from what they will eat. These commonly include:

  • Saturated fat
  • Sugar
  • Animal-based food products
  • Artificial preservatives
  • Artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners
  • Gluten

This condition appears to occur equally in men and women. This makes it very different from other types of eating disorder as those usually affect girls and women more than boys and men. It more closely mirrors obsessive-compulsive disorders and anxiety which have a comparable prevalence across genders.