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Eating disorders and Paleo diet

Eating disorders and Paleo diet

The National institute of mental health defines eating disorder as a type of illness. It is characterized by  extreme eating habits of either very small quantities of food or large amounts of food[1].

Typically a person who is suffering with eating disorder tends to have severe disturbances in the dietary pattern and there is a constant urge to consume more food or extremely less food. Eating disorder may result due to depression / distress or could occur due to concern about appearance or body weight.

Several factors are thought to contribute to eating disorders, but the definitive causes are not identified yet. The most common causes include mood swings and emotional health of an individual. Eating disorder also otherwise called as binging is more prevalent among women than in men. Examples of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and orthorexia.

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Anorexia nervosa is characterized by severe calorie restriction, often individuals suffering from this disorder view themselves as being overweight. Individuals with anorexia are usually underweight and severely malnourished.  Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating followed by behavior of self induced vomiting or overdosing with laxative medications. Patients with binge eating disorder  consume large quantities of food frequently many times a day. In most cases patients with binge eating disorders are usually overweight and obese. For patients with orthorexia, the disorder is characterized by an obsession to consume the “healthy” or “right” type of foods.

Eating disorders and Paleo diet

Paleo diet advocates healthy eating habits of consuming fresh, wholesome and nourishing foods. But eating disorder can also penetrate the Paleo way of living in the form of orthorexia, where the individual is highly obsessed about eating healthy.

There are high chances that Paleo, could trigger severe “health obsessive” mindset. There is a thin line in distinguishing between eating disorder in Paleo and staying on a strict Paleo regimen. In people with orthorexia, the basic guidelines for healthy eating can catapult into an out of control obsession about healthy living. The net result being failure and loss of actual health benefits of a Paleo diet.

Signs that you may have eating disorder while on a Paleo diet

Since there are no defined terms under which a person is grouped to be suffering from eating disorder, it is a challenging and complicated task to differentiate between Paleolithic discipline and eating disorder in a Paleo diet. There exists a variety of eating disorders and the process of diagnosis is as complicated as the type of eating disorders.

However, if an individual has two or more of the symptoms or attitude listed below he or she might be suffering from a mild to moderate level of eating disorder.

  • Feelings of severe frustration or failure, when you do not adhere to the Paleo dietary regimen
  • Feelings of discomfort or nervousness to consume food prepared by others
  • A compulsive desire to measure and judge the “health” aspect of the food in every ounce consumed.
  • Never ending quest for precise nutrition information on food.
  • Self- imposed rules that are tougher and stricter to adhere
  • Being paranoid about consuming certain foods or developing hatred towards them.

Tips to manage eating disorders while on a Paleo diet

  • If you feel overwhelmed with Paleo rules and restrictions and feel being pushed to the end, it is time to give a short break to assimilate the thoughts on Paleo and re-visit the health goals. This helps to clearly define your thoughts and resists the temptation to reach the extreme “health” goals.
  • Adhere to a 80/20 Paleo regimen, this helps you to be more flexible and appreciate cuisine better rather than being a walking “health & diet encyclopedia”.
  • Maintain a food journal this helps to keep track of the food consumed and make necessary alterations in the future based on the history of food intake.

The above tips are applicable only to individuals that are suffering from mild to moderate eating disorders and may be beneficial in managing the problem effectively. It is very important to note that extreme cases of eating disorder should be properly counseled and treated with the help of a health care professional. Ignoring the symptoms may launch off into a severe health complication that may even lead to death.


[1] National institute of mental health, NIH Publication No. 11-4901 ( revised 2011)

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