March is National Nutrition Month. For those of us who are dietitians and nutritionists, National Nutrition Month is typically a time to ask folks to think a bit more about food, nutrition, healthy eating, etc. So, it might be a little odd that I am choosing to write about the possible dangers of paying too much attention to the food you eat!
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe that what you eat—when, how, and with whom you eat—can make a tremendous difference in your physical and mental health, as well as your overall enjoyment of life. However, we are seeing a disturbing trend, particularly online, that promotes strict adherence to a rigid set of food rules as the path to health and moral purity. This is the world of “clean eating.”
The concept of “eating clean” has its origins in the early days of alternative medicine. People would become obsessed with obtaining health and curing disease through the strident adherence to various dietary strategies. Dr. Steven Bratman, an alternative medicine physician at the time, noted that many of his more diet-focused patients were “inadvertently harming themselves psychologically through excessive focus on food.” Also, their “exuberant pursuit of physical health had spawned a rigid, fearful and self-punishing lifestyle that caused more harm than good.” He created a name for this hyperfocus on food and obsession with eating the “right” food—“Orthorexia Nervosa” (1).