Being obsessed with clean eating can be a sign you are struggling to manage your mental health

Being obsessed with clean eating like that peddled by Instagram stars can be a sign you are struggling to manage your mental health, a new report warns.

The condition in which a person is fixated with preparing and eating only healthy food is known as orthorexia nervosa.

Experts say that previous eating disorders or an obsession increase the risk of someone developing the condition.

But researchers found even a diet as common as vegetarianism could raise the risk of people suffering from orthorexia nervosa.

The team, from York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, says their findings shed further light on those who are at risk and can help healthcare providers further identify those have the disorder so they can receive treatment.

Previous research has shown individuals with orthorexia nervosa are obsessed with the quality of the food being prepared and eaten rather than the number of calories.

The time and effort spent planning, purchasing and preparing healthy meals soon interferes with other facets of the person’s life.

However, there is no formal diagnostic criteria unlike other eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia.

Therefore, it’s unknown how many people actually suffer from the condition.  

For the review, published in the journal Appetite, the team looked at all studies published on the subject through the end of 2018 in two databases. 

Researchers looked at all the psychosocial risk factors made someone vulnerable or more likely to develop orthorexia nervosa. 

They found that lacto-vegetarians – people who don’t eat meat or eggs but do eat dairy products – were at the highest risk.

Also at a great risk for developing orthorexia nervosa were people who are on a strict eating schedule as well as being a vegetarian or a vegan.

Additionally, those with a history of eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive traits and fixation with body image were also at high risk of suffering from orthorexia. 

‘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 healthy eating can, in fact, be unhealthy,’ said senior author Dr Jennifer Mills, an associate professor of psychology at York University.  

‘It can lead to malnourishment or make it very difficult to socialize with people in settings that involve eating. It can also be expensive and time-consuming.

‘When taken to the extreme, an obsession with clean eating can be a sign that the person is struggling to manage their mental health.’ 

Researchers also found that equal rates of men and women were likely to struggle with the eating disorder. 

This is vastly different from eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, where boys and men make up about 10 percent of those affected, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

‘We still think of eating disorders as being a problem that affects mostly young women,’ said Dr Mills.

‘Because of that assumption, the symptoms and negative consequences of orthorexia nervosa can fly under the radar and not be noticed or taken seriously.’

The team says developing a formal definition for orthorexia nervosa will make it easier for healthcare providers to diagnose and treat people suffering from it.


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