Skip to main content

Vancouver Coastal Health

Vancouver Coastal Health provides health care services through a network of hospitals, primary care clinics, community health centres and residential care homes. Search our health care services in Vancouver, Richmond, North and West Vancouver and along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Sunshine Coast and BC's Central Coast.

Emergency care

Overdose response

Health topics



Orthorexia – taking healthy eating to an unhealthy extreme, and another way to look at food – taking healthy eating to an unhealthy extreme, and another way to look at food <p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">As a dietitian working with children, youth, and families for over 20 years, I have observed orthorexia, a phenomenon where healthy eating becomes an unhealthy obsession. Most current nutrition research supports the notion that eating a diet based on whole, minimally-processed foods is "healthy". However, someone who suffers from orthorexia may fixate on the quality of food they eat and worry about "unclean" foods such as packaged or processed foods. This can lead to diets that are so restrictive that nutrient deficiencies arise.</p><h2 class="phsa-rteElement-Header2">Where does healthy eating end and disordered eating begin? </h2><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">The answer may vary depending on the individual. I would say that eating is a problem when enthusiasm for healthy eating turns to an obsession; when planning/preparing food interferes with one's life (work, school, social, and other endeavours); or when eating is associated with excessive guilt and self-loathing. </p><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">Another question to consider is, "Do you think healthy eating is defined by what you include in your diet, or by what you exclude?"</p><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">When a person tells me that they cut out all added sugar from their diets and then they felt much better, I ask them what they ate instead. So if you cut out all cookies, cakes, sugary drinks, and instead eat salads, fruit, nuts, and seeds, then you not only eliminate sugar but you add a lot of fibre, nutrients, and phytochemicals into your diet. It's hard to determine whether that improved sense of wellbeing is due to the elimination of sugar/fat/sodium or the addition of nutrient-dense, quality foods.  </p><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">The reality is that healthy eating is defined by both what we include and exclude in our diets.<br></p><h2 class="phsa-rteElement-Header2">Healthy eating has many factors<br></h2><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">Whether a particular food is healthy or unhealthy depends on how much of it you eat, how often you eat that particular food, and then the rest of your diet. The totality of the other foods that you eat matter more than one particular food! That is, one's whole dietary pattern is more important than one single food. To be healthy, we need to eat a variety of foods, and it is best to vary our meals and snacks. By choosing a variety of foods from the different food groups, you are more likely to get the different nutrients your body needs without getting an excess of any one nutrient.</p><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">Rather than thinking of a food as "good" or "bad", I like to think of foods as nutrient-dense, or helping to meet our nutritional needs and improve our health. "Always" or "Everyday" foods versus "Sometimes" foods are examples of language without a moralistic tone when talking about eating. </p><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">Healthy eating differs from restrictive dieting in several ways. The chart below compares Healthy Eating with Dieting, and you can see that the quality, quantity, purpose, approach and language used differ. <br></p><table cellspacing="0" width="100%" class=" phsa-rteTable-default"><tbody><tr class="phsa-rteTableEvenRow-default"><td class="phsa-rteTableEvenCol-default" style="width:50%;"><h2 class="phsa-rteElement-Header2">Healthy eating<br></h2></td><td class="phsa-rteTableOddCol-default" style="width:50%;"><h2 class="phsa-rteElement-Header2">Dieting<br></h2></td></tr><tr class="phsa-rteTableOddRow-default"><td class="phsa-rteTableEvenCol-default">Adequete, meets nutritional needs<br></td><td class="phsa-rteTableOddCol-default">Restrictive, restrained eating<br></td></tr><tr class="phsa-rteTableEvenRow-default"><td class="phsa-rteTableEvenCol-default">Balanced, inclusive<br></td><td class="phsa-rteTableOddCol-default">Omits certain foods or food groups<br></td></tr><tr class="phsa-rteTableOddRow-default"><td class="phsa-rteTableEvenCol-default">Improved quality<br></td><td class="phsa-rteTableOddCol-default">Limited quantity <br></td></tr><tr class="phsa-rteTableEvenRow-default"><td class="phsa-rteTableEvenCol-default">Freedom and flexibility<br></td><td class="phsa-rteTableOddCol-default">Rigid rules<br></td></tr><tr class="phsa-rteTableOddRow-default"><td class="phsa-rteTableEvenCol-default" rowspan="1">"Everyday foods, sometimes foods", all foods can fit<br></td><td class="phsa-rteTableOddCol-default" rowspan="1">"Good food, bad food"<br></td></tr><tr class="phsa-rteTableEvenRow-default"><td class="phsa-rteTableEvenCol-default" rowspan="1">Enjoyable, positive mood<br></td><td class="phsa-rteTableOddCol-default" rowspan="1">Unsatisfying, negative mood<br></td></tr><tr class="phsa-rteTableOddRow-default"><td class="phsa-rteTableEvenCol-default" rowspan="1">Based on internal cues of hunger and satiety<br></td><td class="phsa-rteTableOddCol-default" rowspan="1">Based on external controls (e.g. calorie counting)<br></td></tr><tr class="phsa-rteTableEvenRow-default"><td class="phsa-rteTableEvenCol-default" rowspan="1">Long term<br></td><td class="phsa-rteTableOddCol-default" rowspan="1">Short term<br></td></tr></tbody></table><h2 class="phsa-rteElement-Header2">Three questions to ask<br></h2><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">To determine if you are taking "healthy eating" too far, you can ask yourself these questions about your eating:</p><ol class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph"><li><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">Does my way of eating promote health? What does health mean to me? <br></p></li><li><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">Is my current approach helping me to meet my goals (what are my goals)? <br></p></li><li><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">Are my behaviours and attitudes around food consistent with good physical, mental, and emotional health?<br></p></li></ol><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">Health is a resource for everyday living. Being healthy enables us to learn, work, play, and do the things that are important to us. Therefore, eating well helps us to feel good, grow optimally, learn well, and to perform. Food is more than nutrients. Health is more than what you eat.<br></p><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">Being a dietitian, I emphasize more nutritious foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, vegetables, and other nutrient dense foods. At the same time, there is always room for dessert in moderation. It is important to recognize that food is social, cultural, and has many meanings and roles in addition to promoting physical health. Food nourishes, strengthens, and connects us. Both how and what we eat are important to our overall health.<br></p><h2 class="phsa-rteElement-Header2">Learn more<br></h2><ul class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph"><li><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">If you have questions about nutrition, you can reach a dietitian by contacting Dietitian Services at Healthlink BC, at 8-1-1, or <a href="" target="_blank"></a></p></li><li><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph"><a href="" target="_blank" style="background-color:#ffffff;"><img class="ms-asset-icon ms-rtePosition-4" src="/_layouts/images/icpdf.png" alt="" />Digging Up the Dirt on Dieting—The Truth About Dieting and Healthier Alternatives</a> - A VCH handout for youth and adults<br></p></li><li><p class="phsa-rteElement-Paragraph">For more information about developing eating competence, <a href="">read Ellyn Satter's article</a><br></p></li></ul><div><p class="phsa-rteElement-References">Written by Helen Yeung, MHSc, RD<br>Public Health Dietitian, Vancouver Coastal Health<br></p></div><img alt=" " src="/PublishingImages/orthorexia-healthy-eating.jpg?RenditionID=8" style="BORDER:0px solid;" />



Potential new diabetes treatment being tested in Vancouver new diabetes treatment being tested in Vancouver2018-01-18T08:00:00Z
Orthorexia – taking healthy eating to an unhealthy extreme, and another way to look at food – taking healthy eating to an unhealthy extreme, and another way to look at food 2018-01-17T08:00:00Z
Beyond Stigma: Conversations about mental health, courage and hope Stigma: Conversations about mental health, courage and hope2018-01-05T08:00:00Z
Don’t let your new year’s resolution to quit smoking go up in smoke’t let your new year’s resolution to quit smoking go up in smoke2017-12-27T08:00:00Z
When we’re changing in health care, we’re saving lives we’re changing in health care, we’re saving lives2017-12-23T08:00:00Z

SOURCE: Vancouver Coastal Health ( )
Page printed:

Copyright © Vancouver Coastal Health. All Rights Reserved.