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October 2019 Question of the Month: Can “Clean Eating” Go Wrong?

A focus on healthy food is positive unless it becomes an obsession.

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Although eating nutritious food is an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle, for some people a preoccupation with so-called “clean eating” can become physically and socially damaging. In what appears to be the first extensive review of data on the psychosocial risk factors associated with orthorexia nervosa (an obsession with eating only healthy food), psychology researchers from York University in Canada say those who have a history of an eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive traits, poor body image and a drive for thinness are more likely to develop this unhealthy fixation on consuming clean foods.

The study authors stress that fixating on the quality of food can become unhealthy if it starts to affect mental health, leads to the elimination of food groups (and a possible spiral into nutrient deficiencies) or greatly alters how a person socializes with people when food is involved. Social media, where beautifully presented clean food is celebrated and anything less pure is vilified, is likely contributing to the rising numbers of people with orthorexia. Though eating disorders are most often associated with women, this research found about equal rates of an all-consuming obsession with healthy eating among both sexes.

Have you noticed any of your clients fixating on eating only healthy foods? How do you handle a situation when you’re working with a client you think might have orthorexic tendencies? Do you educate clients on the importance of allowing for occasional “vice” foods in their diet?

Send your answers to Sandy Todd Webster at [email protected]

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