This study shows when clean eating turns into a full-on eating disorder

Your friend who’s always on a cleanse or stridently avoids certain ingredients in the name of wellness, or certain celebrities we see as “quirky” in their out-there eating choices (hello, Gwyneth Paltrow and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey) may actually have orthorexia – symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet.

Orthorexia has dark origins, a new study shows from researchers at York University’s Faculty of Health finds. People with a constellation of symptoms such as a history of an eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive traits, a history of dieting, poor body image, and a yearning to be thin are more likely to develop the “pathological” obsession with healthy eating or putting only pure food into their body, which is the definition of orthorexia nervosa. In short, there are psychological risk factors for developing orthorexia.

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To carry out this review, York University psychology researchers examined all studies published until the end of 2018 in two major databases.

“The long-term impact of these findings is that they will lead to better recognition among healthcare providers as well as members of the public that so-called healthy eating can, in fact, be unhealthy. It can lead to malnourishment or make it very difficult to socialize with people in settings that involve eating. I can also be expensive and time-consuming,” said Jennifer Mills, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and the senior author of the study, in a release.

Relatedly, Gwyneth Paltrow told Jonathan Ross in 2012 that she would “rather smoke crack than eat cheese from a can.” Her website, Goop, sells a pack of nine “Sweetie-Pie Bar” Beauty Food Collagen Protein Bars by Kalumi for $53.91.

Previous research shows that unlike people with anorexia, who are concerned with restricting calories, those with orthorexia are concerned with the quality and preparation of their food, which takes up more and more of their time and often results in weight loss. The current research on orthorexia is limited, as it is not recognized in psychiatric manuals.

Men suffer from orthorexia as well. In the news, a famous figure with suspicious eating habits is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who practices intermittent fasting and says he only eats one meal per day.

Orthorexia affects both genders, says Mills: “We still think of eating disorders as being a problem that affects mostly young women. Because of that assumption, the symptoms and negative consequences of orthorexia nervosa can fly under the radar and not be noticed or taken seriously.”

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