Orthorexia: When eating clean goes too far

St. Petersburg, Florida - It's everywhere: Organic. Clean eating. Farm-to-table. It's a trend that is taking over our grocery stores and restaurants. While health experts say a healthier lifestyle is important, for some, it can turn into an obsession.

"It becomes a problem when it really starts to interfere with your daily life. You're no longer able to be a part of your normal working job, or be a part of your family at normal meals, when you start to see changes in weight which can occur because of that limited food choice," says clinical dietitian Kourtney Gordon.

She says it's called "orthorexia." Although it's not a medical term, it's a disorder she sees often at Fairwinds Treatment Center in Clearwater.

"It's not really about body image and body weight like anorexia and bulimia is, it's about more looking at the quality of the food and making sure that it's in the purest form, more whole, less processed, less ingredients."

Rebecca Cooper is recovered from this condition, but it's something she deals with on a day-to-day basis.

"It's amazing, but with recovery, it's like, I eat three meals a day, I exercise three times a week, and most importantly, the obsessive thoughts are gone."

Those thoughts started for Cooper when she was 13.

"It was just an obsession with, 'Is the food pure? Is it clean? Is it without preservatives?' It sounds like a good thing, but the obsession that was going on in my head, that was the thing that really took over my life."

Where is the line between eating healthy and taking it a step too far?

"That's a tough question, because as a dietitian, I pay attention to are you getting enough fruits, vegetables, grains, and to get all the nutrients that you need. Your list of food that you'll eat will decrease over time; it could interfere with social gatherings, not wanting to eat with family, not wanting to go out to eat because of the ingredients of the food or part of the processing that might be there," says Gordon.

Cooper says it took about a year to get over those feelings and be comfortable in her own skin. Now she's dedicated her life to helping other people get through those awful times.

"If this applies to you, to know there is 100 percent recovery, it is possible to be able, with time, exercise moderately, eat normally and not have those obsessive thoughts."

Cooper says it takes a team to get through any eating disorder. She has started "Rebecca's House" where people can get help with these kinds of issues.

There are also local organizations, like Fairwinds Treatment Center to help you or someone you know.


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