When does ‘Clean Eating’ become an eating disorder?

There is growing concern that clean eating and healthy eating are not synonymous / File Photo

As the end of the semester approaches, students might be considering what their new year’s resolutions might be. Many vow to finally get healthy, to go to gym and put themselves on a ‘clean’ diet. These resolutions are all well and good until they cross a line. Clean eating, as it turns out, may actually be a sign of disordered eating. It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference.

So, what is clean eating? Unlike other diets, it doesn’t specifically restrict the types of food you can eat, such as protein, carbs, sweets, etc. Clean eating demands that its followers instead think about where their food came from; the path it took from farm to table. The idea is that anything manufactured or processed is not good for you and should not be eaten. This includes packaged food, processed sugars, most juices and soft drinks, and just about anything that is easy to access for the general public. Fitness magazine says clean eating is “about eating whole foods, or “real” foods — those that are un- or minimally processed, refined, and handled, making them as close to their natural form as possible.” Likely, this is not something you’re going to get at the local Walmart. And yet, people still aim to eat this way. At what point does refusing to eat what everyone else eats become a problem?

James Heathers, PhD, of Precision Nutrition calls clean eating, “just the latest in a long line of crazy ways to moralize what we eat,” and points out that people have been writing books about how and what you should eat since the invention of the printing press. Eventually, people become fixated on what they eat. This translates quickly to an eating disorder experts call ‘Orthorexia’ which means a “fixation on righteous eating.” So, that friend who is always telling you about the very complicated food they eat might actually have a real problem.

Eating healthy and diversifying what you eat is a good thing. Obsessively following a diet plan because of pressure to do what is right, or what is ‘good’ for you, is not. If you think you or a friend might have a problem with disordered eating, there is help. Personally counseling services on campus can help lead you in the right direction.

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