I want to briefly list potential health problems of having orthorexia. But first, I must discuss what health is, because many health problems aren’t diagnosed. Someone may have low energy for example, but their blood work looks healthy and normal. Thus, by health, I’m referring to the state of homeostasis in the body. There are millions of homeostatic mechanisms in the body orchestrating different types of harmony. There’s one for thirst, hunger, sleep, electrolyte levels, stress hormones, and many many many other functions. When things flow smoothly, everything is in order. Some things may be out of order and we won’t notice it. But in this post we will discuss those moments where we notice health problems as a result of a strict diet.
Restrictive diets and obsessive focus on food quickly leads to imbalances. Cut out salt, sugar, fat, protein, or any other major food from the diet and health problems are possible. Jump on any diet bandwagon out there, and health problems are almost guaranteed from the perspective of homeostasis.
The health problems I’ll list below aren’t necessary diagnosable complaints; they are simply subjective symptoms that indicate that something is out of balance. Let’s get started.
Table of contents
1. Low energy
Fatigue is a potential outcome of orthorexia due to prolonged under eating. The quest to eat pure foods can cause the orthorexic to avoid calorie-dense foods out of the mistaken belief that they are not healthy. Under eating for a long period of time will lower metabolic rate. When this happens, only essential functions are maintained. Extra functions like reproduction are put to a halt. This is why sex drive goes down and female athletes often have menstrual irregularities.
2. Cold hands and feet
Coldness is a sign of a low metabolism. Metabolism generates heat, so with a low metabolism, heat to the extremities is cut off. Feeling cold when you shouldn’t is a hallmark sign of a low metabolism. Note, this is of course if you’ve been undereating. One can feel cold for a variety of other reasons so don’t misdiagnose yourself.
3. Brain fog
When you’re stressed and aren’t getting enough fuel, your brain won’t be functioning optimally either. Or if you decide to go on a very low carbohydrate high-fat diet, you may eventually be starved of glucose. Oh what about ketosis you say? Well if you’re not in ketosis, and you eat a small amount of carbohydrates, your brain might actually want more carbohydrates eventually.
Deciding to follow a rule such as “eat less than 100g of carbs a day” is a great way to deprive your brain of the fuel it wants. Anyone who disagrees with this will likely come up with minutiae and studies they haven’t even read or know how to analyze properly to back up their dietary philosophy. Think about it this way. Anyone with a strong dietary point of view is comparable to a religious fanatic.
4. Thinning hair, and hair falling out
This is also a problem associated with orthorexia and other eating disorders. The solution is to eat enough food.
5. Trouble waking up in the morning
This is a problem of low cortisol, perhaps due to exhausted adrenal glands. It could be caused by numerous factors. Don’t get obsessive about finding the exact cause. Just learn to eat normally and see what areas of your health improve. For me eating normally wasn’t enough. I needed to stop exercising as hard as well. This allowed me to feel better within a few months. And by better, I mean less fatigue primarily and not feeling “off.” My body was under a high amount of stress from the workouts I did in addition to all the intermittent fasting I did.
6. Lack of nourishment
Nourishment is about getting foods that keep your body functioning smoothly. Eating salads, “clean” foods, and avoiding red meat, salt, sugar, starch, and all processed foods doesn’t actually lead to more nourishment. The book “nourishing traditions” is a good read for educating yourself on what healthy food really means.
People around the world have known how to eat nourishing foods for a long time. Think slow-roasted potatoes with meat, stews, soups, and full-course meals. Foods that you actually crave are exactly the ones that your metabolism needs.
Orthorexia can actually lead to every type of health problem and disease under the sun. It really depends on your medical history and predispositions. A “lack of nourishment” as I describe could manifest as anemia, hypothyroidism, and a variety of other illnesses. Whatever the case, if you are recovering from a history of disordered eating patterns and orthorexia, then pay attention to minor symptoms you may be having. Eat more food and observe changes in your health. I’ve seen patients come to the doctor suffering from orthorexia but as a student couldn’t do anything to help. They needed to eat more but the problem evaded the doctors’ attention. A lot of people don’t know about this. But with this information and a little bit of self-study, I think you’ll be able to get your health back on track if orthorexia describes you.