In college, many students are wary of the unhealthy eating habits that often accompany busy schedules and heavy course loads. The “freshman 15” is a persistent fear. However, there are also always a few who are determined to make those 15 pounds a loss instead of a gain. Here at the University, many students are especially concerned with their health and establishing good habits.
But as with anything in life, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Even though it may be hard to believe, it’s possible to be too health-conscious.
In an effort to avoid the temptation of fast food and midnight cookie deliveries, some students go in the opposite direction and become obsessed with exercise and calorie-counting. This kind of obsession with healthy eating is called othorexia. Though it isn’t considered a clinical disorder, it causes severe mental problems and sharp physical changes. People who suffer from othorexia often pore over nutritional facts and generally end up dismissing the majority of food available after deeming it “unhealthy.” They become increasingly concerned about exercise and end up working out several times a day. When they stray from their diets, they punish themselves with more exercise or skimpier meals to compensate for the extra calories.
In college, it’s very easy to fall into this kind of obsession. When students try to be healthier, they often end up making a series of resolutions or goals. Reaching our goals makes us feel empowered, but that power can go to our heads. We start wanting to control everything and start setting even more restrictions with fewer allowances.
I’ve felt this way. Since I came to college I’ve been trying to be healthier, so I’ve noticed firsthand how setting goals and restrictions can become addicting. I once tried to see how long I could last on only pretzel sticks and Slimfast. I exercise several times a week, sometimes as my break from studying. I look at my body in the mirror every day looking for the improvements that I know are there. I don’t have orthorexia, but I can see how easy it is to become obsessed.
We believe we’re being healthy, but this kind of deprivation taxes our minds more than we realize. What seems to be healthy thinking becomes an unhealthy obsession.
Following a strict and specific diet robs the body of the nutrients it would receive from eating a variety of food. Additionally, it’s not mentally healthy to severely restrict ourselves because restrictions end up consuming our thoughts. One of my family friends works out five times a day and eats a specific brand of organic peanut butter in place of other snacks and meals. I once saw a girl at the dining hall counting out six pieces of boiled chicken and two spoonfuls of broccoli for her dinner. This behavior isn’t healthy. As anxiety sets in, food becomes more of an obstacle than a pleasure. Exercise turns into an obligation instead of an amusement. As college students we deal with enough stress. Being healthy should be an achievement, not an obligation.
Othorexia is just as dangerous to one’s mental stability as anorexia or bulimia. All college students and other young adults should be aware of the dangers of falling into this kind of obsession. Wanting to improve your eating habits and exercise routines is a very respectable goal.
There’s nothing wrong with eating fruit for dessert or running through the Diag every day. But we need to understand that obsessing over health is actually not healthy at all. College has given us the freedom to change ourselves, to be that person that we have always wanted to be, to look how we have always wanted to look. With this freedom, however, we need to be cautious when we make big changes to our habits and routines. There needs to be a balance. Two days ago I worked out at the CCRB for an hour and then ate two pieces of chocolate pudding pie for dessert. Balance achieved!
Jasmine McNenny is an LSA freshman.