Orthorexics are not necessarily concerned with the amounts of food they are consuming, but instead the quality. Cutting out and/or demonizing whole food groups, could result in both macro- and micronutrient deficiencies similar to those that occur when someone restricts his/her food. Orthorexics tend to remove processed foods, dairy and anything not organically grown or GMO-free from their diet. But in eliminating processed foods, they are eliminating foods, such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, that are necessary for energy and replenishing glycogen stores. Although the orthorexic will claim increased energy and engage in strenuous exercise, this strict adherence to “clean” eating will eventually result in chronic fatigue, increased risk of infections and compromised cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, endocrine, reproductive, skeletal, renal and central nervous system functions. In addition, stress, depression and anxiety are common psychological consequences of this disordered eating. Continuing down this path leads to reduced performance, physical and psychological injury, and in some cases, diagnosed eating disorders.
Orthorexia is not only detrimental to the individual, but also the entire team. A main characteristic is the loss of social relationships. The athlete will become obessed with food leaving him/her mentally drained. In addition, he/she will start judging not only his/her own eating, but also that of other teammates. Eventually, he/she will be excluded or exclude him/herself from the team. Sometimes the opposite occurs and other team memebers get caught up in the “pure” eating and performance suffers.
Signs of orthorexia include avoiding social events, eliminating food groups deemed not healthy, anxiety about food preparation, extensive food planning and being critically of others. If you suspect that you or a teammate might suffer with orthorexia, you should share this with your doctor, see a dietitian or speak with a counselor.
Healthy eating is important not only to your performance, but also overall well-being. It should not be stressful or anxiety provoking, but instead feel good. Remember the five characteristics of healthy eating, which are variety, moderation, calorie control, balance and adequacy, if you really want to eat your way to optimal performance.