Doctors warn about ‘clean eating’ going to unhealthy extremes

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- We hear this message being spread by dietitians, personal trainers, your family doctor, “eat clean.” Not only to lose weight but for an overall healthier you. But it turns out clean eating can be taken to unhealthy extremes.

It’s common advice shop on the perimeter of the grocery store to ramp up those fresh fruits and veggies. Eat organic. Stay away from processed foods. Not bad advice at all, but what about when it goes too far.

"To something that becomes really obsessive to the extent then people are unable to go to restaurants to eat, they're unable to eat at family members houses, they can't be a part of social events and consume food and then they start eating significantly less," said Dr. Anne Lewis with the IU Health Charis Center for Eating Disorders.

It's called Orthexia or restrictive eating. In a new blog Dr. Lewis says she sees patients who have restricted so many foods they start to lose a significant amount of weight. Although that's not their goal like with people who suffer from anorexia. They just went to the extreme of eating clean.

“So it becomes almost like a spiritual pursuit for them where they even regard themselves as being superior to other people because they're eating better than the rest of the world," said Dr. Lewis.

Other warning signs include extensive research of what you're eating.

"So there's a huge difference between checking a label every now and then to be informed about what we're consuming versus I can't eat anything without a label that I can verify," said Dr. Lewis.

Orthexia is also isolating. And when what you eat controls your life, that's when Dr. Lewis says it's time to reevaluate how you feel about food. In treatment, restricted foods are slowly reintroduced like eating an apple that isn't organic.

"They'll feel it in their belly. This food feels horrible. I feel fatigued. I feel sick and they realize the next morning they're still alive."

If you’re concerned someone close to you may have Orthexia, Dr. Lewis says the best thing you can do is offer help and tell them you’re concerned and will help them figure it out.