Clean Eating Or Dirty Diet?

Clean eating: Is there such a thing as being too healthy?

There’s been a rise in the importance we place on health and wellness in our society. As a human who has a love for living life holistically, with a healthy mind, body and spirit this makes me super happy!

I love seeing people embracing lifestyles of health and ways of being that are helping them live optimally.  

Global sales of health foods are estimated to reach 1 trillion dollars by 2017 because we're more interested in organic and all natural foods than we ever have been (which I think is awesome).

Our mindset has shifted and we are starting to pay attention and take more responsibility on how we use food to manage our health, even better!

Clean eating or eating clean is a way of eating that is gaining more popularity each day.

So is there anything wrong with all of the above? The short answer, No, the long answer is yes, potentially.

Perhaps you advocate eating clean as a lifestyle, maybe you’ve heard the term clean eating and choose to incorporate its principles in what you eat day to day, or maybe you’re not sure about clean eating and how it works. 

So here's a simple definition. Eating clean or clean eating is to eat “whole” or real foods that have had minimal processing, handling or refinement. It means to eat foods as close to their natural form as possible.

Doesn’t sound too dangerous right? It’s not, like most things, when used with a balanced common sense view, clean eating can help us eat foods that are high in nutrients, that make us feel good, help our skin, digestive system, emotional well being and more.

When taken to the extreme clean eating becomes more than just a part of a healthy lifestyle that is flexible and inclusive, it becomes all consuming.

We can start holding ourselves to a rigid set of righteous eating rules, eating only “healthy” foods and avoiding all other foods that we might consider "unhealthy". It usually sounds something like, "No of course I can’t eat that muffin, that’s so bad for you!" (Looks of shock and horror as I eat my muffin). I say this in jest, but you would be surprised how many people judge me for eating in a way that is balanced and satisfying - without guilt.

When we eat "clean" or “healthy” (the definition of healthy is unique to each individual by the way) without flexibility, we can be left open to the risk of developing disordered eating behaviours around food. If we leave these unchecked, these can often become exaggerated and develop into an eating disorder.

What is the difference between having an eating disorder & disordered eating?

Disordered eating is a term that has been used to describe different types of abnormal eating behaviours, and is often used when someone may not have a clinical diagnosis of an eating disorder.  

Mental health professionals use the DSM V (diagnostics and statistics manual) to diagnose an eating disorder. Eating disorders are formally defined within western medical tradition as a persistent disturbance of eating behaviour or behaviours intended to control weight. They significantly impair health or psychological functioning in the process.

To receive an official “diagnosis” of an eating disorder there are certain criteria that a person must meet in regards to frequency of behaviours and the severity of the behaviours. 

Until recently we haven’t had a name for what was happening to people when they took their obligation to clean eating to the next level.

Today it is known as Orthorexia nervosa, the “health food eating disorder.”

So what’s too healthy look like?

Orthorexia is a term coined by Steven Bratman, MD in 1996. He began to use it with his patients who were overly health-obsessed, where people had started off with a desire to eat in a way that is healthy, that instead turned it into eating in a way that is focused on eating “right”. 

Dr. Bratman, who recovered from orthorexia, states “I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong. The poetry of my life was disappearing. My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food. The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat, and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach. I was lonely and obsessed…I found it terribly difficult to free myself. I had been seduced by righteous eating. The problem of my life's meaning had been transferred inexorably to food, and I could not reclaim it.” (Source:

By having to adhere to a strict way of eating, people are often left feeling overwhelmed with what they are eating and how much they feel they should be eating. Finding pleasure eating a variety of foods is off the table, strict criticism, shame and guilt become the overarching feelings because you ate an unhealthy meal or didn’t stick to your diet.

Orthorexia is not currently recognized as a clinical diagnosis which means it can be difficult for clinicians and medical health professionals to understand what is happening, and adequately provide a course of action for a person who may present with its associated behaviours.


Here are some signs you should be aware of that a strict diet is turning into disordered eating behaviours

  • Intense preoccupation with food or spending an increased amount of time thinking about food. Your diet is staring to take up an inordinate amount of your time and begins impacting on your life
  • Avoidance of certain foods that might be deemed unhealthy ( eg. Fats, sugar, salt, artificial preservatives). This may also cause a reduction in what foods can be eaten
  • The desire to maintain the perfect diet rather than ideal weight
  • Feelings of guilt when deviating from strict diet guidelines
  • Feelings of satisfaction, esteem, or spiritual fulfillment from eating “healthy”
  • Thinking critical thoughts about others who do not adhere to your diet standards
  • Fear that eating away from home will make it impossible to comply with diet or avoiding eating food bought or prepared by others
  • Distancing from friends or family members who do not share similar views about food
  • Obsessive concern about the link between food choices and health concerns 
  • Increasing avoidance of foods because of food allergies despite a lack of medical advice
  • Worsening depression, mood swings or anxiety

If you feel as though you can relate to any of the above points, I encourage you to seek support. If you are based in Brisbane, you can get in touch with me here, or you can call an organization like the butterfly foundation to seek relevant support on 1800 334 673, Monday to Friday from 8am to 9pm.

Nourishing your body with food should be a joyous, balanced and delicious event free of guilt and fear.  

HI, I’m Natajsa Wagner. I’m a Clinical Psychotherapist in private practice in Brisbane. I’m on a mission to spread the word that THERAPY IS THE NEW BLACK. Because our mental health is just as crucial to your well being as your physical health. I work with my clients on different aspects of their life that they feel stuck or challenged in. I hold the space for women to connect back into themselves, to the innate wisdom within to illuminate the unconscious “stuff” that needs to be processed in order to heal & transform their lives so they can live with genuine happiness, authenticity, creativity & spontaneity.  

Feel free to get in touch or leave any comments.

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