What Is Orthorexia

An increasing number of people are paying closer attention to the foods they eat. A healthy diet is a good thing, but some people become obsessed with eating only the “right” foods. Individuals with “orthorexia nervosa” often have phobias about eating foods they view as impure.

What is Orthorexia?: Obsessive Compulsion or Eating Disorder?

So, what is orthorexia? Some experts believe that it’s actually related to obsessive-compulsive disorder, because sufferers are concerned about eating the right foods, not weight gain. Others believe that orthorexia symptoms point to an eating disorder because they still involve an obsession with food. Orthorexics simply obsess over food quality, rather than quantity. In its most severe forms, an orthorexic diet can be just as dangerous as anorexia or other eating disorders.

What Causes Orthorexia?

Orthorexia usually begins with the desire for a healthier diet. In time, however, the individual’s diet becomes increasingly restricted. For example, limiting meat intake may result in a highly restrictive, raw food diet. Social factors may also play a role in the development of an orthorexic diet. Fad diets that discourage the consumption of carbohydrates, fats or proteins make these foods seem bad, and restrictive diets normal.

Orthorexia Symptoms

People who develop orthorexia often have obsessive-compulsive tendencies. They become obsessed with eating what they deem to be the perfect diet, finding fulfillment in eating the right foods, and feeling pious or virtuous when they do so. On the other hand, these individuals may feel ashamed when they eat something they see as unhealthy.

People with orthorexia often avoid:

  • Foods with any artificial additives
  • Foods with fat, salt and sugar
  • Genetically-modified foods
  • Non-organic foods.

Food preparation may also be a cause for concern. An orthorexic diet may only include food prepared in a certain way. For example, an individual may wash her food multiple times to ensure it’s clean. She may avoid eating out because she’s concerned the food will not be prepared properly.

Other common orthorexia symptoms include:

  • Intolerance of other people’s eating habits
  • Isolation from family and friends because of eating habits
  • Spending hours at the grocery store reading food labels
  • Spending hours planning the next few meals
  • Weight loss.

Health Effects of an Orthorexia Diet

The effects of orthorexia symptoms depend on the restrictiveness of the individual’s diet. The body needs a balanced diet to get all its essential nutrients, and a restrictive orthorexia diet may leave the body undernourished. Medical experts also believe that orthorexia symptoms increase the risk of anorexia or bulimia.

Treatment for Orthorexia

The majority of these individuals believe they are eating very healthy and that their orthorexic diet isn’t problematic. However, treatment of orthorexia symptoms requires counseling with a dietician or therapist. Medication may also help to control the obsessive-compulsive tendencies that contribute to the disorder.

Resources

Clarke, S. (2010). Obsession with ‘pure’ food leads to eating disorder. Retrieved September 7, 2010, from http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/OnCall/orthorexia-obsession-healthy-foods-leads-eating-disorder/story?id=10173614

Eating Disorders Venture. (n.d.) Orthorexia – A different kind of eating disorder. Retrieved September 7, 2010, from http://www.eatingdisordershelpguide.com/orthorexia.html

Nelson, J. & Zeratsky, K. (2009). Orthorexia – When healthy eating goes awry. Retrieved September 7, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/orthorexia/MY00768

Palo Alto Medical Foundation. (n.d.) Teens and orthorexia nervosa. Retrieved September 7, 2010, from http://www.pamf.org/teen/life/bodyimage/orthorexia.html