When healthy eating becomes an unhealthy obsession

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LEAWOOD, Kan. -- Many of us don't think twice about downing cheeseburgers or pizza. But counselors say a growing number of people are thinking too much about avoiding those foods, and about eating only ones they think are healthy. It can become a life-threatening obsession.

Nathalie Hine decided in high school to cut out some food groups. No meat, dairy or eggs.

"It just started with being vegan. I wanted to lose weight. I wanted to look thinner," said Hine.

When the Leawood woman went off to prestigious Vassar College in New York, she began to research calorie counts, nutrients and toxins that could be in food.

"And then I would realize like three hours had gone by, and I was like obsessively in the zone reading about this stuff," said Hine.

Her weight plummeted by 30 pounds as she ate almost nothing but vegetables and fruits. No breads. Certainly no sweets.

It was orthorexia, an obsession with healthy or righteous eating.

"Like literally anything I ate was never good enough in terms of foods I could eat," she said.

An eating disorders counselor with Renew Counseling Center in Olathe thinks orthorexia is becoming more common.

"You hear more about clean diets, and that is absolutely one of the places it can start. And it gets disastrous," said Kori Hintz-Bohn.

It was life-threatening for Hine.

"I would like wake up and collapse. My body was not functioning right at all. I had a lot of cardiac problems. I still have cardiac problems, actually. I had a lot of digestive issues," she said.

Fortunately, Hine got treatment. She came to realize that anxiety was the root of her orthorexia.

"Another root of it could just be a lack of identity, of knowing who they are, trying to do something to help them feel like they have an identity," said Hintz-Bohn.

She said they become the "healthy eater," but they're not really.

Hintz-Bohn says answers to these questions can help determine if you or a loved one may have orthorexia and should get help.

"Can you eat a hamburger, can you eat other foods without feeling guilt? Can you have food that someone else makes and can you enjoy all of it? Are you thinking about it so much that you're isolating and it's affecting your quality of life?," said the counselor.

Hine says she now knows that it's important to have a good diet, but it's not going to get rid of your anxiety.

"It's not going to make your life safe. I can go to McDonald's every now and then. If my diet is mostly healthy, I'm gonna be okay," she said.

Three years after getting help, Hine says her diet is mostly healthy, and she is healthier and happier.