Orthorexia: When “Healthy Eating” Goes Too Far

Erin Dollison Nitschke
3 min readJan 18

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Might your personal training clients be exhibiting behaviors aligned with orthorexia?

We love to see our personal training clients thriving and prioritizing their health and well-being in whatever ways serve them the best. But for some of our clients, healthy eating can become an obsession; just like anything else, it can be taken too far. They may obsess over nutritional practices through constant calorie counting, weighing food, and compulsively reading food labels. Can so-called “healthy” eating be taken too far? Personal trainers should be aware of the signs of orthorexia and its unintended consequences.

Orthorexia, coined in the 1990s, is an eating disorder characterized by compulsive habits, eating “pure” or “clean” foods, extreme restriction, hyper-fixation with nutrition, rigidity in daily eating habits, and/or cutting out entire food groups in the name of “eating healthy”. As professionals, we need to remain attuned with our clients’ habits, and be able to tell the difference between a commitment to healthy eating and potentially dangerous health-behavior patterns.

Comparison Time

Health Consequences of Orthorexia

When someone is dealing with orthorexia, they typically experience malnutrition (from cutting out a food group or severely limiting intake), calorie deficits and weight loss, anxiety, and social isolation. Each of those can lead to further negative outcomes.

Orthorexia often starts out as a well-intended desire to just eat better, improve nutrient intake, and balance meals. We know part of the “formula” for living a healthy life is being mindful of nutritional practices but doing so in balance and not at the risk of sacrificing joy or one’s sanity.

This obsessive focus on food requires intervention that is outside our scope of practice to address.As a health and exercise professional, if you suspect a client may be struggling with this, lean on professionals in your referral network to provide additional support for that client. Most often this will be a primary care provider and mental health professional.

It’s important to talk with your clients about nutrition and not just as an overarching concept, but the practices they engage in. We will likely be their first line of defense should their well-intended efforts land somewhere else and they spiral into an obsessive pattern. Be aware. Stay aware.

Originally published on the NFPT Blog Site.

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Erin Dollison Nitschke

Passionate college educator, writer, and health and fitness professional. I am an NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist, ACE Health Coach, & Pn1.