In today’s world, given you’re on social media, health “gurus” bombard you with a variety of health advice. From the havoc gluten will wreak on your body to dairy being a stomachache inducer— social media bloggers spread their nutritional philosophy throughout the platforms. With so many extreme ideas, like keto vs. vegan, it’s easy to feel less than perfect or even inferior. Diet-focused blogging is shaping our society, one person at a time. Instead of doing good, is it possible they’re doing more harm?

Orthorexia: the “clean eating” disease

Orthorexia is having a pathological fixation on food that causes distress. It is not currently recognized as a psychiatric disorder, though many professionals observe these behavior patterns in individuals (R). As someone who has suffered from Orthorexia herself, its a disease that is very real. Having your mind consumed with thoughts and fears of foods is distressing and creates a personal hell.

A few quick searches on Instagram for #glutenfree or #cleaneating will leave you with anywhere from 23-50 million tagged posts. That’s a lot of nutritional philosophy. Add to that the power of influence on social media, and why companies spent around $1.7 billion on influencer marketing(), and it’s no surprise that people take the advice on social media so seriously. We are susceptible beings, even more so if we’re looking for answers through these platforms. A person desperate for health advice and is more willing to cling to any hope that a new diet is a cure.

Maybe it’s the idea of answers, or perhaps it’s a sense of community— either way, extreme diets have become sort of new religions. For some, a set way of eating works great for them and is everything they could have dreamed. Not everyone is so lucky though to have this effect. These diets require a lot of restriction from a majority of the food we come in contact with on a day-to-day basis. Foods that aren’t within the proper limits of a diet become the enemy— consumption isn’t just a mess up, it’s a sin. As a result, our character and willpower come into question. Why can’t I stay on track? What is wrong with me?

An obsession with “good” and “bad” foods is what ultimately leads to Orthorexia. Professionals refer to this disease as a middle ground of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Anorexia Nervosa. The diet is no longer coming into play when you’re hungry— it’s a constant obsession. Social isolation and ruminating thoughts about foods are prevalent with people suffering from Orthorexia.

How can we create change? Let’s start by talking about it.

What is the solution? Well, like the point about extreme diets, there is no one solution. As for anything, awareness is the first step though. Few people are even aware of Orthorexia, as this disease is newly emerging. A person might be in turmoil about their clean eating but not realize that they need help only because they’ve never heard someone talk about clean eating as a problem.

You don’t have to go through this alone.

The second is obvious and something I believe firmly in— seek help. There’s no need to suffer. A healthcare provider can help someone with Orthorexia realize that their relationship with food is causing more harm than good.

I avoid people on social media that lean heavily on their perfect diet being best for everyone. Bioindividuality is key— figuring out what truly works for my body has been a complete game changer. If someone asked what kind of diet I’m on, I wouldn’t have a label for it. It’s just— my lifestyle. It’s taken research, time, and listening to my body but now  I know what truly makes my body happy and nourished.