Healthy Goes Too Far

Young woman eating saladI educate my patients that healthy eating does not equal perfect eating 365 days a year. Yes, the majority of the time, we should be consuming fresh, minimally processed, whole foods; but that still gives us some wiggle room to have some less-nutritious foods as part of our diets . Sometimes, the whole healthy eating practice goes a little too far. While it’s not a clinical diagnosis, we can recognize that some individuals have orthorexia nervosa. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the term literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” This is when healthy eating goes to the extreme and becomes an obsession. People who suffer from this may not even allow “forbidden foods” in their household or may constantly turn down dinner dates or get-togethers because their specific types of food will not be offered there. While it’s difficult for me to call someone “too healthy”, the bigger concern occurs when these habits interfere with day-to-day activities. For some, this obsession can over consume one’s thoughts, impair relationships and has the potential to become physically dangerous if key nutrients are left out of the diet.

There is nothing wrong with eating healthy; however, if you or someone close to you is experiencing some of these symptoms, it may be time to seek professional help from a physician, dietitian and/or counselor.

When healthy becomes unhealthy:

• It takes up the bulk of  time and attention throughout the day.

• Extreme feelings of guilt and loathing occur if one deviates from the diet.

• The diet is used as an excuse to miss out on social interactions and life events.

• It seems beyond your ability to enjoy a meal prepared by a loved one, especially if it contains some forbidden foods.

• Holding yourself on a health food pedestal and over-ridiculing other people for their appearance, diet and habits.

Man Working OutThe same also is true for over-exercising. One quote that makes me cringe is, “Obsessed is a word that the lazy use to describe the dedicated.” The reason is because there are some people who are obsessed with exercise and it often becomes more harmful than helpful. I speak personally about this issue because I was an obsessive over-exerciser. Back in my late teens and early 20s, I was obsessed with running. If I didn’t run for an hour every day, I would become extremely moody, the thought of going running would flood my thoughts and I would find that I would restrict my calories if I didn’t run that day. It was interfering with my daily life and I would even run during harsher weather conditions (rain, heavy wind, hot temperatures).

Today, I exercise 1) because I enjoy it and 2) for the lifelong health benefits it provides me such as core strength, balance, flexibility, stress relief and reducing my risk for hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Before, I only exercised as a method to burn calories. Now, I see all my workouts as purposeful whether they are four minutes long or 45 minutes long. If I miss a day working out, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, every three months, I take a whole week off from exercising to help my body rebuild and to prevent overuse injuries.

Signs you’re over-exercising or obsessed with exercising :

• The worst thing in the world for you is the thought of going a day without exercising.

• Your performance decreases. This may apply to your endurance, power or strength while performing exercise.

• Persistent muscle soreness. This may indicate that you are overusing specific muscle groups and thus not allowing for enough recovery time.

• Elevated resting heart rate. Typically, exercise helps reduce your resting heart rate; however, if your body is under a constant state of physical stress, this can actually increase your resting heart rate.

• Insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns.

• Fat gain. Unfortunately, this effect will refuel the over-exercising. Many people experience weight loss with increased exercise levels; however, chronic stress, which can be a result of over-working the body, can increase cortisol levels,which leads to an increase in body fat storage. Many may notice that despite their constant efforts of working out and monitoring calories, their body continues to gain fat mass.

• Weakened immune system/frequent injuries.

• You’re always “on edge” or extremely moody.

Make sure to check in regularly with your dietitian or doctor and let them know about your eating and exercising habits so they can help you to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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