All Foods Fit: When Being a “Healthy Eater” Becomes Disordered

Dietitian talks to client

Leigh-Ann Bamberg, MS, RDN, LD & Brittany Braswell, MS, RDN, LD

At Magnolia Creek, it is important as dietitians that we promote a healthy attitude towards all food. We advocate that All Foods Fit in moderation and can and should be a part of a healthy lifestyle. Our end goal for our clients is that they develop a positive relationship with food by way of eating intuitively. We urge clients to move away from the rigidity of their former “food rules” by educating them and challenging any disordered patterns that they have previously been engaging.

What is orthorexia?

Often, we have clients explain to us that they do not feel they have an eating disorder, but rather just choose to “eat clean.” The term “orthorexia” has recently become more popular as the trend of “clean eating” has evolved. Orthorexia is a term that was coined in 1998 and means an unhealthy obsession with “proper” or healthy eating. The clean-eating trend, which can be closely interchanged with orthorexia, goes in direct opposition to the nutrition philosophy, All Foods Fit, and can be highly detrimental to an individual’s eating disorder recovery.

Below are some of the warning signs and symptoms of orthorexia:

  • Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels
  • An increase in concern about the health of ingredients
  • Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat, all animal products)
  • An inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’
  • Unusual interest in the health of what others are eating
  • Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events
  • Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available
  • An obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ blogs on social media
  • Body image concerns may or may not be present

Clean eating is not only unhelpful for the general population, but it can create or worsen an already disordered relationship with food. Research suggests that the best-maintained recovery outcomes occur when individuals can incorporate variety and flexibility into their eating patterns. Eating disorders thrive on rules, rigidity, and separation of “good” and “bad” foods. Because of this, clean eating and the suggestion that there are ‘unclean foods,’ can increase the chances of someone developing an eating disorder. Those with a family member who has an eating disorder and those with underlying genetics are at an even higher risk of developing a full-blown eating disorder themselves.

How do you treat orthorexia?

First and foremost, treatment of orthorexia requires an acknowledgment that a problem exists and the individual recognizes they are restricting.  Once they identify what the restricting looks like, treatment at Magnolia Creek then involves helping our clients restore balance to their lives. By using a combination of nutrition and exercise education, exposure therapy, and a therapeutic approach, we can incorporate increased dietary variety, and challenge the cognitive distortion that certain foods are “unclean” or “unfit” to be eaten.

To challenge this distortion, clients must develop healthy coping skills, as well as be willing to make lifestyle adjustments to incorporate an increased amount of flexibility.  Because perfectionism and having power or “extreme self-control” are common traits seen among those struggling with orthorexia, as clinicians, we often work with our clients to help them discover other interests they may have outside of “being healthy.”

Helping our clients to rediscover what it means to be healthy is key in helping them to find balance and enjoy food as a part of their life, without it being an all-consuming addiction or quest for perfection.

Meet our Dietitians

A vital part of the treatment team is an experienced dietitian who is knowledgeable of the nutritional and dietary requirements needed for someone recovering from an eating disorder. Magnolia Creek is fortunate to have a professional staff of Registered Dietitians to assist our clients with a comprehensive care plan that can restore their health.

Brittany Braswell, MS, RDN, LD

Brittany earned her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition/Dietetics from Auburn University and a Master’s degree in Nutritional Sciences from Texas Tech and has a strong background in clinical and sports nutrition, behavior change techniques, cardiovascular health, and wellness. Her experience helps her to better evaluate clients for nutritional deficiencies and unhealthy food- and weight-related behaviors. She works with clients to help them understand their disorder and how to build a healthy relationship with food.

Leigh-Ann Bamberg, MS, RDN, LD

As someone who has recovered from an eating disorder, Leigh-Ann understands our clients’ needs and has a passion for helping them focus on their recovery and find freedom from food rules and compulsive exercise. Leigh-Ann graduated from The University of Mobile with a Bachelor of Science in Human Performance and Exercise Science with a concentration in Exercise Physiology, and earned both a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Food and Nutrition from The University of Alabama. Leigh-Ann provides nutritional therapy and education to promote recovery and restoration of health.

Lucy Abruscato, MS, RDN, LD

Lucy graduated from Auburn University with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition/Dietetics, and then completed her dietetic internship and Masters in Nutrition Sciences at UAB.  She works with clients to set and achieve their specific nutritional goals through nutrition education. As clients accomplish these goals, they have a more positive relationship with food and nutrition.

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