Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 11th 2014 Contents A28
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Saturday, October 11, 2014
Three years ago, after suffering from chronic
abdominal pain, digestive problems and a crushing
breakup that left her depressed and sluggish, Ashley
Bailey started researching whether "clean eating"
could help her feel better.
After learning that some people are intolerant to
dairy, she cut milk and cheese from her diet and was
relieved when her heartburn disappeared. But she didn t
stop there. Convinced she could detox her body even
more, she researched other food groups that had been
implicated in health problems and within a year had
eliminated gluten, grains, meat, starchy vegetables and
What started out as a genuine interest in becoming
healthier quickly developed into an obsession. "I had
extreme anxiety about everything I ate and became
acutely aware of how every ingredient made my body
feel," says Bailey, 28, who works in software development
in Boulder, Colorado. Eating out felt like torture because
she couldn t control how the food was prepared. Were
the spices organic? Was the chicken raised in cages?
Was sugar added to the sauce? Was a dish really gluten-
"I broke down crying once because I could taste so
many different flavours, and I didn t know what they
all were or where the ingredients were sourced," she
says. In her quest for food purity, the five foot four
Bailey consumed so few calories she dropped to 92
pounds. Her moment of truth arrived a year ago when
she saw a picture of herself from Christmas in which
her collarbone was jutting out. "I called my sister and
said, I think I have an eating disorder, " she says.
Extreme health, gone wrong
If you follow a certain style of eating, like vegan, raw
or organic, it takes vigilance and dedication to stick to
it. Yet mental health experts are increasingly worried
about people who take healthy eating to an extreme,
developing such a restrictive diet it threatens their
health and even relationships.
There s now a name for people dangerously addicted
to all things healthy---a sufferer of orthorexia nervosa.
Characterised by disordered eating fueled by a desire
for "clean" or "healthy" foods, those diagnosed with
the condition are overly pre-occupied with the nutritional
makeup of what they eat. They rigidly avoid any food
they deem to be "unhealthy," or spend excessive amounts
of time and money in search of the "most pure" foods.
"It s different than going overboard because you
want to be skinny," explains Thomas Dunn, associate
professor of psychology at the University of Northern
Colorado and co-author of a recent paper in Psycho-
somatics that outlines diagnostic criteria for the disorder.
"Rather, it s linked to people who are trying to be as
healthy as they can be."
The condition is under-studied, and no one knows
how widespread it is. ("Avoidant/ Restrictive Food
Intake Disorder" is orthorexia s closest cousin in the
latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders). But it s on the rise in our ever-
expanding food culture that now offers shoppers several
kinds of kale, even in suburban supermarkets, says
"Some people can border on the irrational and only
eat salmon prepared from this one place in Washington
that was cooked over a cedar plank," he says. "If you re
losing friends because no one wants to go out with
you because you re such a horrendous pain in the ass
about where and what you ll eat, you have a problem."
Eating well...or eating obsessively?
The line between being careful about what you eat
and being obsessive is difficult to distinguish. Especially
in the United States, where fast food restaurants are
abundant and two-thirds of people are overweight or
obese. Do you run the risk of being labelled orthorexic
if you refuse to eat at most mainstream restaurants,
where nearly every sauce or salad dressing contains
soybean oil or high-fructose corn syrup? Or will you
be labelled "too extreme" if you choose to buy only
local, organic produce?
According to Sondra Kronberg, nutritional director
of the Eating Disorder Treatment Collaborative, it
depends on how much the fixation interferes with your
quality of life, and your ability to be social and function.
When healthy eating
becomes an obsession
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and advice
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