Beth Stebner
November 05, 2015 2:03 pm

The idea of eating a healthier, more well-balanced diet seems like a fairly innocent one, right? Maybe you just want to feel better, get healthier, or inject a little more organic kale into your life (and a lot fewer donuts. No judgement!).

But when the zeal for clean eating becomes an obsession, it can become a big problem. A lesser-known eating disorder, orthorexia, is defined by the National Eating Disorder Association as an “unhealthy obsession with eating healthy.”

While it’s not recognized as a formal eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia, the site notes that many people suffer from it.

“Orthorexia boils down to someone who is very, very concerned with eating what they consider the perfect diet,” Joy Jacobs, a clinical psychologist with the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine told U.S. News.

“This is someone who takes healthy eating to an extreme and feels good about it. These people often have a sense of moral superiority.”

So, in theory, someone who goes on and on about how much they love #cleaneating could also be thinking about how she’s better than other people because she’s not “abusing” her body with unhealthy food choices.

A recent piece on Broadly examines the condition in a lengthy article, hypothesizing that social media – and especially Instagram – is the “ground zero” for “a grotesque display of morally just food choices.” Just note how popular the hashtag #cleaneating is, with over 17 million posts.

Dr. Steven Bratman, the physician who coined the term “orthorexia” in the ’90s and has studied it extensively in the years since, told Broadly: “I think the images of all the really beautiful food — the joke for me is the kale smoothie — the endless kale smoothies are very pretty,” he adds, noting the beautiful, enticing look of many of the snaps.

“I think this type of media is definitely causing orthorexia to reach a larger audience and a younger audience.”

The real problem, experts say, isn’t the food itself but your relationship to it. Having the occasional splurge or indulgence won’t make you a bad person, and it’s not healthy to judge others on their eating choices.

As with all things in life, it’s about balance and not taking things to the extreme. And, of course, not believing everything you see on Instagram.

Related reading: 

Just an everyday food that can help fight off depression

Why this woman’s incredibly honest weight loss picture is important

[Images via Instagram]

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