- Orthorexia nervosa is a lesser-known eating disorder characterized by an obsessive focus on clean eating which can have serious emotional and physical consequences.
- The line between healthy eating and orthorexia can be blurry, but one key sign of the disorder is exaggerated anxiety and time spent on food choices, often leading to a severely limited diet.
- The effects of orthorexia can be far reaching, potentially leading to isolation, fear of eating in social situations, and a profound impact on the individual’s life.
- Cultural trends and misinformation on the internet may contribute to the rise of orthorexia. It affects both men and women equally, and those following plant-based diets or struggling with body image may be at higher risk.
- If an individual is suspected to suffer from orthorexia, professional consultation starting with a primary care doctor or a psychologist specializing in eating disorders is recommended.
Embracing a healthier lifestyle and diet is usually beneficial. However, when it turns into a round-the-clock obsession, it hints towards a problem. An eating disorder known as orthorexia nervosa exposes individuals who are excessively captivated by clean eating.
This disorder, although not as renowned or documented as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, has severe emotional and physical consequences, as highlighted by recent study reviews.
“Orthorexia is really more than just healthy eating. It’s healthy eating taken to the extreme, where it’s starting to cause problems for people in their lives and starting to feel quite out of control,” says Jennifer Mills, an associate professor of health at York University in Toronto and review co-author.
This global study review on orthorexia was recently published in the journal Appetite. The report considers the risk factors and connection between orthorexia and other mental disorders. However, orthorexia, unlike some other eating disorders, is still not acknowledged in standard psychiatric manuals.
Healthy Eating: When Does It Go Too Far?
The line between healthy eating and orthorexia’s extreme consumption is not well-defined. Foods typically avoided by someone with orthorexia are the same as those avoided by those with healthy habits—preservatives, anything artificial, salt, sugar, fat, dairy, other animal products, genetically modified foods, and those that aren’t organic.
The issue arises when avoiding certain foods turns into excessive worry and excessive time spent contemplating what to eat. Some people may eliminate numerous categories of food and eat only a very few things. Those with orthorexia are often less perturbed about reducing calories than the perceived quality of their food.
Impact of Orthorexia
Orthorexia’s impact can be profound. This excessive focus on the type of food and its preparation can prevent individuals from eating anything not made at home. This fixation can lead to isolation, inability to eat at friends’ houses, and fear of eating in restaurants. These are signs of an unhealthy obsession taking over every aspect of a person’s life.
Cultural Influence and Orthorexia
Many believe that cultural trends may be contributing to such fears. With the internet and social media giving unrestricted access to all kinds of information—some of it misleading or not backed by scientific evidence. This proliferation can lead to unnecessary diet restrictions, which are worrisome. Any food, in moderation, is beneficial, and a varied diet is the key to health. It is crucial to remember this to maintain balance.
Orthorexia isn’t gender-specific— men and women seem to be equally affected, as the study reveals. Those following vegetarian or vegan diets or those struggling with body image are at greater risk.
Orthorexia’s underlying cause can be related to other eating disorders for some. It may also be seen as a socially acceptable manner of restricting calories. For others, obsessive-compulsive or an anxiety disorder might manifest in this rigid eating methodology.
Orthorexia should be taken seriously, according to Mills. Speaking with your primary care doctor is a good starting point if you have any worries. Consulting with a psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders, eating disorders, or body image can also be beneficial.
An online screening tool is available that assesses the risk and a helpline where individuals can discuss concerns and learn about resources.
The Road Ahead
“As awareness grows, more people are recognizing symptoms and seeking opportunities for help,” says Lauren Smolar, director of programs for a nonprofit organization that works with eating disorders. “It’s something that we still have a lot to learn about.”
If you suspect you have an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association offers an online screening tool.