Which "Healthy" Eating Disorder Do You Have?

As the rest of the country suffers from obesity, a growing number of men and women are overdoing it on the other end of the spectrum, hurting themselves with misguided diet and exercise.


By: K. Aleisha Fetters

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Moderation doesn't cut it anymore: Labels like "health nut" and "exercise-obsessed" have become badges of honor, and if you aren't actively cutting out some food group, hardliners may suggest that something is wrong with your eating strategy. But taking healthy living to the extreme isn't healthy at all-it's another eating disorder.

It's bad enough that 20 million American women and 10 million American men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives, but the new problem is that more and more of them are confusing "healthy eating" with "eating disorder." And so we enter a new era of "healthy" eating disorders.

Classified as eating disorders not otherwise specified, or EDNOS, these far outnumber anorexia and bulimia cases, making up roughly 70 percent of all cases. But since they're rarely diagnosed, we're guessing that they're probably way more common than that.

"There's a prevailing notion that these are just really hard-core diets," says Douglas Bunnell, Ph.D., clinical director and chief clinical officer of Eating Disorder Treatment of New York.

Wrong. These eating disorders are actually linked with a higher death toll than anorexia and bulimia-even though their sufferers often look healthy and think they are, too. Check out these three examples of good-for-you living gone awry.


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Squeaky-Clean Eating

As the distaste for processed and conventionally raised foods hits an all-time high, so does orthorexia, a disorder in which health-conscious eaters become obsessed with eliminating all artificial colors, preservatives, pesticides, GMOs, unhealthy fat, sugar, and added salt from their diet.

The disorder rarely has much (if anything) to do with weight loss and may actually be more common in men than in women. As men swear off "tainted" food groups (meat, dairy, grains-the list goes on), this preoccupation with clean eating can lead to nutritional deficiencies ranging from the potentially problematic to the downright debilitating.

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The Drinker's Diet

After a night of overimbibing, hitting the gym and munching on carrot sticks seems like a healthy way to offset calories. But more and more are falling prey to drunkorexia: drinking in excess and then going to extremes to counteract the calories in their glass, according to Adam E. Barry, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Florida Department of Health Education and Behavior. They eat less, exercise more, and replace nutrient-rich calories with empty ones from alcohol.

The term is still new, and researchers don't know how prevalent it really is yet, but Barry's research suggests that for every day a guy works out, the more likely he is to binge drink-and lifting weights is correlated with an even higher risk.

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Addicted to Exercise

While it's not as easy to identify as a set number of consecutive days spent at the gym, anorexia athletica involves working out way too much, often to the point that it hurts, rather than helps, your body. Up to 7 percent of committed exercisers may fall into the category, and about half the people with any eating disorder have an overzealous relationship with exercise.

While anorexia athletica is sometimes about weight loss, it can also be about toning up, beating stress, or just riding an endorphin high. What's more, exercise-aholics often associate working out with feelings of control, power, and self-respect. If that sounds familiar, you might want to see how you match up against our seven signs you're overtraining.

Additional data from the National Eating Disorders Association, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Eating and Weight Disorders, and the American Council on Exercise.

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