Eating Up: Obsessed with healthy eating? Beware, you may be sick

28 July 2014 - 02:00 By Yolisa Mkele

If you switch on your TV or open a magazine, chances are it will only be a short while until you come across someone encouraging you to be healthy, to eat better.

Today's popular culture is inundated with studies, adverts and testimonials about the supreme benefits of healthy eating versus the potentially fatal pitfalls of a poor diet.

Cue orthorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that proves one should take food advice with a pinch of salt. When you're told not to eat dairy, red meat, wheat, anything processed, carbohydrates, and so on, it might just give you something more to think about before you don't eat.

Orthorexia, as it is more commonly known, is an eating disorder that results from an unhealthy obsession with eating healthily. What starts out as a logical decision to eat well soon spirals out of control as sufferers purge all foods not deemed pure enough from their diets.

Writing for the US-based National Eating Disorder Association, psychologist Karin Kratina said: "Eventually, food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers - an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating. The obsession can crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships, and become physically dangerous."

The condition gained prominence after Jordan Younger, a food blogger with more than 70000 Instagram followers, opened up about her struggles with the disorder.

"It escalated into something very unhealthy from something that began in a very healthy, mindful way," she said in an interview with the New York Daily News.

At her lowest point, Younger weighed 47kg and had stopped menstruating.

According the US's National Eating Disorder Association, orthorexia can stem from "a compulsion for complete control, escape from fears, wanting to be thin, improving self-esteem, searching for spirituality through food, and using food to create an identity."

Despite its increasing global profile, the condition is still relatively rare in South Africa.

A number of local psychologists who were asked to comment for this story knew little to nothing about the disorder, and had never treated someone with it.

The next time you're tempted to go on a juice diet, consider eating a fatty, non-free-range steak instead.

It may just save your life.