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When 'eating clean' becomes an obsession and bad for you

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DENVER -- You’ve probably heard of the term “eating clean.”

Many times people are told it will help them lose weight and get healthier. But some doctors are now seeing people taking that to the extremes. It can become an obsession, and people can become malnourished.

Dr. Anne Lewis of the Indiana University Health Charis Center said it changes, "... to something that becomes really obsessive to the extent that people are unable to go to restaurants to eat, they're unable to eat at family members' houses, they can't be a part of social events and consume food, and then they start eating significantly less."

It’s called Orthorexia, or restrictive eating. Dr. Lewis said she sees patients who have restricted so many foods they start to lose a significant amount of weight.

Although weight loss is not their goal,  like people who suffer from anorexia, this group just goes to the extreme of eating clean. “So it becomes almost like a spiritual pursuit for them where they even regard themselves as being superior to other people because they're eating better than the rest of the world,” Lewis said.

One of the warning signs is excessive research about what they are eating. "So there's a huge difference between checking a label every now and then to be informed about what we're consuming, versus I can't eat anything without a label that I can verify," she said.

The National Eating Disorders Association said orthorexia is extremely isolating.  It turns healthy choices into unhealthy anxiety and control issues.

That’s when Dr. Lewis said it’s time to re-evaluate how you feel about food.  In treatment, restricted foods are slowly re-introduced.  For example, a person will eat an apple that isn’t organic. "They'll feel it in their belly. This food feels horrible. I feel fatigued. I feel sick and they realize the next morning they're still alive."

If you are concerned about this, there is help available through the National Eating Disorders Association.