The Evolution of Orthorexia: When Healthy Eating Becomes A Disorder

Imagine you haven’t binge for years.
And you really don’t remember the taste of unhealthy food.
But you want to get stricter, being already fit and healthy.
You go to people house and tell them that they are not living a healthy life!
You start refusing to eat food made or prepared by others, or refusing to eat outside. You feel like running home and feeling dishearten with your unfilled diet rules.

Sounds strange???

When “eating clean” become too much or a fixation on healthy eating develops into an obsession, orthorexia may be present where healthy eating can do more harm than good.

Are You Telling Me It’s Not Healthy to Follow a Healthy Diet?

Well, think of the commonly coined phrase, too much of anything can be bad. This is key here. Someone suffering from orthorexia systematically, consistently avoids food items they believe to be “unhealthy”, which can cause an excess of anxiety, depression and even isolation.

The purpose of eating a healthful diet is to nourish the health of a person, both physically and mentally. While an obsession such as this one may have great intentions, it, unfortunately, results in a negative relationship with food.

What Is Orthorexia

Orthorexia, or orthorexia Nervosa, is an eating disorder that involves an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.

Unlike other eating disorders, orthorexia mostly revolves around food quality, not quantity, where people are rarely focused on losing weight. Instead, they have an extreme fixation with the “purity” of their foods, as well as an obsession with the benefits of healthy eating.

Signs & Symptoms Of Orthorexia

You Obsess Over “Eating Healthy”: Excessive attention to detail regarding meal compositions and compulsive checking of food ingredients lists and Nutrition Facts labels or healthy trends.

The Fixation On Diet Controls Your Emotions: You may have certain rigid eating patterns or “rules” ( may involve time, location, preparation, etc.) within your food fixation that control how you feel. Showing high levels of distress, depression or anxiety when “healthy” foods aren’t available.

You Judge Others on Their Eating Habits: As part of your obsession with eating healthy, it may become harder to see others in your life living differently. You may begin to judge family and friends on their eating habits and lifestyle. Even restrict your social situations so that you do not need to be around “unclean” food or people who do not share your same “rules.”

You Go to Extensive Lengths to Achieve a “Healthy” Lifestyle: The lengths used to achieve your idea of a healthy diet may distance you from other aspects of your life. You may have Constant thoughts of food, food choices and develop irrational concerns over-prepping and cleaning your food, as well as techniques for preparing it.

An Isolating Disorder: Avoid Going Out to Eat or Eating Food Prepared By Others as you are obsessed with ingredients, food, and how it’s prepared. This may mean that you begin refusing to eat food made or prepared by others, or refusing to eat at a restaurant.

Specific Foods and Food Groups Start Being Eliminated From Your Diet: Anything that you deem unworthy of your “healthy” lifestyle may be cut out of your diet. People with orthorexia typically exclude refined grains and added sugars and may cut out gluten, dairy, soy and other foods or entire food groups.

Lingering Fears of Food, Sickness, or Disease Exist Increased avoidance of food items because of allergies without a health practitioners recommendation. You may feel obsessive over your diet and health due to an overwhelming fear of being “unhealthy.”

You Obsess Over Social Media and Unrealistic Expectations: Obsessively following “healthy lifestyle” social media accounts and blogs. Those with orthorexia become fixated on these expectations put forth through social media and today’s society to reach a certain “healthy” lifestyle.

You Experience a Vicious Cycle of Feelings: The obsession with your diet begins to control your emotions, creating an imbalance and a vicious cycle, where you may experience mood swings, often switching between feelings of shame & self-loathing to feelings of euphoria, depending on how your “lifestyle” is going.

Physical Signs Begin as Result of an Unbalanced Diet: Orthorexia eventually leads to malnourishment when critical nutrients are eliminated from the diet. You may begin to feel fatigued or weaker than normal, tired more often, feel cold, and take longer to recover from common illnesses and viruses. Left untreated, malnutrition can lead to a host of severe physical and psychological problems.

Causes of Orthorexia

The exact causes of orthorexia are not well known, but certain personality and occupational risk factors have been identified.

It may simply start as an interest in nutrition, or it may possibly develop from a preexisting mental health concern. You may begin a diet simply intending to improve your health, this focus can become more extreme.

Over time, good eating can slowly develop into full-blown orthorexia.

Individuals focused on health for their career may have a higher risk of developing orthorexia. Frequent examples include healthcare workers, opera singers, ballet dancers, symphony orchestra musicians, and athletes.

Other risk factors include

• A history of other eating disorders or disordered eating habits

• Preexisting obsessive-compulsive disorder

• Presence of anxiety or tendencies of perfectionism

• Presence for a need for control

Health risks of Orthorexia

1.Physical effects

A shortage of essential nutrients caused by restrictive eating can result in

• Malnutrition

• Anemia

• An abnormally slow heart rate

• Other digestion problems, electrolyte and hormonal imbalances, metabolic acidoses and impaired bone health

2.Psychological effects

Individuals with orthorexia can experience intense frustration when their food-related habits are disrupted. Likely to cause feelings of

• Irritability

• Depression, Severe anxiety

• Guilt, self-loathing

• compulsion toward “purification” through cleanses or fasts

• can include concerns about vegetables’ exposure to pesticides, hormone-supplemented dairy, and artificial flavours or preservatives

3.Social effects

Individuals with orthorexia often follow strict, self-imposed rules dictating which foods can be combined in a sitting or eaten at particular moments during the day.

Such rigid eating patterns can make it challenging to take part in social activities revolving around food, such as dinner parties or eating out.

Additionally, intrusive food-related thoughts and the tendency to feel their food habits are superior may further complicate social interactions. This can lead to social isolation, which seems to be common among people diagnosed with orthorexia

Self-Test for Orthorexia Nervosa

If you recognize signs or symptoms of  orthorexia Nervosa in yourself, consider the following questions:

1. Do you ever wish you could stop thinking so much about food and spend more time thinking about your loved ones?

2. Are you constantly questioning food and considering how foods are unhealthy for you?

3. Do you feel guilt or shame when you eat something you consider to be “unhealthy” or “not clean”?

4. Do you skip foods you once enjoyed in order to eat the “right” foods?

5. Does it seem physically impossible to eat a meal prepared in a restaurant or by someone other than yourself?

6. Do you feel satisfied, in control or calm when you stick to your planned, healthy, pure diet?

7. Do you look down on others who eat less healthfully than you?

8. Are you planning tomorrow’s menu today?

9. Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet increased?

If you answered yes to several or all of these questions, speak with a health professional about your concerns.

Treatment for Orthorexia

Treatment begins with a safe and supportive environment that is found only in holistic healing therapy. this includes:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Helps the patient identify, interrupt and replace distorted thinking and associated behaviours with healthy and adaptive coping skills.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – Combines CBT techniques with mindful meditation to help you discover new ways to manage and regulate emotions, identify triggers and work toward changing negative and unhelpful behaviours.

Family-Based Treatment (FBT) – Designed for adolescents, family-based treatment includes parents as active and integral parts of the treatment team. Families help restore weight and a positive adolescent identity in their children as part of a coordinated three-phase approach.

People with orthorexia often harbour misunderstandings about food or nutrition.

If you’re experiencing any of these orthorexia symptoms or think you may have concerns about an eating disorder, please seek help from a trusted holistic nutritionist.

By Priyanshi Bhatnagar

Published by Priyanshi Bhatnagar, Founder of Detoxpri

Hi, I'm Priyanshi! As a Holistic Nutritionist and as a leading voice in mindful nutrition, my purpose is to teach you how to take care of yourself using simple sustainable mindful eating and living practices so you feel empowered, balanced, and at ease. In my teachings, you'll learn both the science of nutrition and the art of healthy eating so you design a way of to eat for healthy mind, body & soul that's unique to you. At detoxpri, the meaning of good health is a combination of nutrition and fitness, which are essential to your well-being.

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