It’s healthy eating gone haywire. Most health experts agree the human body responds best when we consume fruits, vegetables, and whole grains instead of processed foods. But for some people, it evolves into a dangerous obsession. This fixation with eating healthy is called “orthorexia,” a fast-growing eating disorder characterized by the need to eat only healthy, clean, or pure foods. On the surface, that sounds like a smart way to go. But people struggling with orthorexia go overboard—they can’t handle if they are not able to eat in the “pure” way they believe they should, often resulting in malnourishment.
You are what you eat. Inadequate intake of essential vitamins and nutrients has repercussions on the entire body. One of the most concerning is the effects malnutrition can have on the brain. This organ that’s responsible for our cognition, emotions, and initiating bodily functions relies on suitable nutrition to work properly. A healthy diet that’s adequate in fat and high in essential nutrients reduces the risk of memory loss, helps prevent strokes, and boosts alertness.
Restrictive diets create a glut of issues for our brains. Scientists, doctors, and psychologists are discovering more about how disordered eating affects the brain and it’s very clear that the nervous system, which includes the brain and nerves, is negatively impacted by restrictive dietary behaviors. Eating disorders and the associated malnourishment can cause:
- A shrinking in the overall size of the brain, including both gray and white matter
- Disruptions in neurotransmitter (chemicals that transmit signals from one nerve to another) behavior
- Structural changes and abnormal activity
- Reduced heart rate, which could deprive the brain of oxygen
- Nerve-related conditions including seizures, disordered thinking, and numbness or odd nerve sensations in the hands or feet
- A weakened response in the brain regions that are part of the reward circuitry
- An adverse effect on the emotional centers of the brain which may lead to depression, irritability, and isolation
- Difficulty thinking, switching tasks, and setting priorities
It’s really not surprising that the brain’s functioning is highly compromised when the body is being starved of food and nutrients. Consuming primarily wholesome foods and limiting the intake of processed items is good for the body, mind, and soul.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Executive Director at The Better Brain Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 833-964-8483 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.