…That’s not to say that clean eating can’t become disordered. Clean eating taken too far can become a disorder all on its own known as orthorexia. Dr. Alexis Conason — a clinical psychologist who specializes in eating disorders and, like Lawson, prefers not to use the term “clean eating” that implies other food is dirty — breaks down the difference between clean eating habits and obsession.
Dr. Conason says, “I think that clean eating can be integrated into a healthy relationship with food if it is based on choices that you make to feel your best. For example, if you notice that you enjoy the taste of clean foods, and you have the most energy/the least ailments when you eat this way, then you may choose this pattern of eating. However, this style of eating should still be flexible and consist of choices that you make. There may be times that the person decides to eat something that is ‘not clean,’ and it doesn’t induce feelings of guilt or shame.”
On the other hand, eating disorders are different from clean eating, says Dr. Conason, as they preoccupy your time and tend to consume your identity. She describes what it looks like when a person has a clean eating disorder that requires professional help: “They are rigid and inflexible, and people often hold onto the rules of clean eating for dear life. There are no exceptions to the rules, and if a person ‘loses control’ and eats something ‘not clean,’ they often beat themselves up for it. This person may avoid situations when they fear that they will go off plan and chose to stay home to eat clean rather than go out to dinner with friends or to a party where they may go off track. They define who they are, their mood and the quality of their day by what they eat.”