Unsplash

When Does Healthy Become Too Healthy? 5 Warning Signs of Orthorexia

You wander through the grocery aisles, sizing up the newest trends on the shelves. Although you're eager to try a new energy bar, you question a strange ingredient and decide to leave it behind. Your afternoons are consumed with research as you sort through endless stories about "detox" miracles.

What started as an innocent attempt to eat healthier has turned into a time-consuming ritual with little room for error, and an underlying fear surrounding your food choices.


As a registered dietitian and a dancer, I'm here to tell you that it might be time to deviate from your "healthy diet."

While it's not officially recognized as an eating disorder, orthorexia is widely accepted as a problematic obsession with healthy eating. It's defined as disordered eating behaviors that occupy one's existence, standing in the way of social, emotional and physical growth.

Dance is an aesthetic sport that makes us vulnerable to obsessive control over our food choices. As we try to balance the need for fueling performance with the desire to "look the part," we risk unrealistic expectations of body image. The key is to identify these warning signs that healthy habits have turned into unhealthy restrictions.

Jay Wennington/Unsplash

Red Flag: Overwhelming Concern Over Food Quality

While being aware of food labels is essential to a healthy lifestyle, don't restrict yourself only to foods with ingredients deemed "healthy" or "clean." Ask yourself: Do you feel anxious about eating something without knowing every ingredient?

Red Flag: Food Consumes Your Thoughts

While an interest in nutrition is a great way to lead a healthy lifestyle, problems arise when thoughts about food overwhelm your ability to experience unfamiliar environments. For example, someone with orthorexia may spend hours each day worried about what food might be served at an upcoming event.

Red Flag: Inflexible Eating Patterns

Those with orthorexia might be unable to eat food they don't prepare themselves. Due to a severely rigid diet, they may avoid meals completely if not presented with a choice that has been deemed "healthy." They may feel it necessary to prepare and bring personal food to events.

Red Flag: Emotional Distress When "Food Rules" Are Broken

Food rules are created as one begins to cut out an increasing number of food groups (examples include all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat, all non-organic options). If someone with orthorexia veers from these rigid eating patterns, severe anxiety, distress, guilt and/or depression typically follows.

Red Flag: Severe Concern Over Your Health and Performance

A person with orthorexia is unable to enjoy food for its experience, tastes or flavors. Rather, the sole purpose of eating is only for the nutritional benefit that a food can have on one's health or performance.

If your anxiety results in you avoiding certain foods or social situations, then you may want to reassess your health goals. The cost of food- and social-avoidance can outweigh any potential health benefits. If you feel that you can relate to any of the above red flags, consider speaking to a clinician who specializes in disordered eating behaviors, such as a registered dietitian, a psychologist or a psychotherapist.

Latest Posts


Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021