When Healthy Eating Becomes Obsessive: Doctors Warn About Rise in ‘Orthorexia’ – NBC Bay Area

Doctors in Dallas are warning parents about an emerging trend they’re seeing in their offices: children and teens who take healthy eating to the extreme fueled by what they see on social media.

They warn the trend could lead to physical or mental illness.

Psychologists at Children’s Health in Dallas say more young people are coming in for medical attention after taking their obsession for clean eating to the extreme, leading to a condition called orthorexia.

“People will narrow the foods that they eat down to a small group of things, based on these ideas of, in their minds, what is clean or unclean or what is healthy of unhealthy,” said Children’s Health psychologist and UT Southwestern assistant professor of psychology Dr. Andy McGarrahan.

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McGarrahan said the term “orthorexia,” was first coined about 20 years ago and the condition includes symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet. 

And while orthorexia is not yet formally recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual,  awareness about the condition is on the rise, according to the National Eating Disorder Association.

The group notes on its website that “being aware of and concerned with the nutritional quality of the food you eat isn’t a problem in and of itself.” But people who suffer from orthorexia become so fixated on so-called healthy eating they limit the variety of foods consumed, leading to malnutrition.

McGarrahan says teenagers can restrict food groups that contain nutrients their growing bodies need.

“Your body wants a balance. It doesn’t just want kale and broccoli,” McGarrahan said.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, teens should be getting an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables, fat, protein and carbs.

McGarrahan said orthorexia can be dangerous for people with a family history of eating disorders.

He warns parents that if their child begins to withdraw from activities to avoid food, or always wants to eat by him or herself, the child’s obsession may have manifested into a mental health disorder.

The National Eating Disorders Association has a list of orthorexia warning signs here.