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Healthy eating is a very current and discussed topic. Being interested in healthy eating is absolutely great, but nothing should be overdone. For some people, a healthy interest in eating well can turn into an obsession with healthy eating known as orthorexia.
Orthorexia is a pathological obsession with healthy eating and the biological purity of food. It is a mental illness that we classify as an eating disorder. The name “orthorexia” comes from two Greek words – ortho (correct) and orexi (appetite). Orthorexia was first defined by Drs Steven Bratman and David Knight in the late 1990s, so it is a relatively new disorder.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with healthy eating, quite the opposite
A healthy diet is beneficial for most people and leads to major improvements in health and well-being. But on the condition that it does not go over one’s head and it does not go to the extreme. For some people, the focus on healthy eating can become an obsession and develop into an eating disorder known as orthorexia or orthorexia nervosa.
Orthorectics (people suffering from orthorexia) become extremely fixated on the “healthiness” or “purity” of food. Unlike other eating disorders, orthorexia revolves around food quality rather than quantity (amount of food). People with orthorexia usually focus on whether a given food is healthy according to their criteria rather than trying to lose weight, as is the case with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
People with orthorexia are so obsessed with healthy eating that it can harm their overall well-being and health. Orthorectics gradually reject more and more foods because they are not “healthy” enough. Eventually, they begin to avoid even healthy foods that do not meet their standards or that they do not prepare themselves. This leads to a whole host of nutritional deficiencies and related health disorders.
Orthorexia often begins inconspicuously – with an effort to “heal” the diet. At first, these are innocent rules such as not consuming alcohol, not eating ultra-processed foods, avoiding added sugar, not drinking coffee with caffeine, not consuming foods that contain artificial ingredients, and the like.
Later, other dietary exceptions are added to this – not eating wheat products, foods containing gluten, avoiding salt and all simple sugars including fruit, eliminating meat from the menu, avoiding foods containing any chemical substances, not using any oil to prepare food, and even nor dairy products.
The list of permitted foods continues to narrow, and over time, a person with orthorexia rejects even the “super-healthy” foods that are acceptable to them. All for fear that he might get poisoned by some food because it is not “pure” enough.
Like other eating disorders, orthorexia can lead to serious consequences . Orthorexia can cause nutritional deficiencies and lead to serious health complications, as well as psychological and social problems, including self-isolation to maintain self-imposed dietary restrictions.
This disorder, like all other eating disorders, can have life-threatening consequences and should not be taken lightly. The organism is deprived of a large amount of important substances, vitamins and nutrients as a result of discarding a large amount of food. Negative health effects can result from this.
People with orthorexia feel anxiety and fear at the thought of giving up their perceived control over food. They follow their own strict rules that determine appropriate foods. Such eating habits can make it difficult to participate in social activities that revolve around food, such as family dinners or eating out with friends.
We do not yet know the exact cause of orthorexia. Orthorexia can affect anyone , regardless of gender, age, race, or socioeconomic status. An individual may experience the condition for a variety of reasons, including biological, social, cultural, and environmental factors.
However, orthorexia appears more in people with higher education, most often in the age group of 20-40 years and more often in women. It often affects individuals with a desire to be perfect, so-called perfectionists , with the intrusive idea that eating will lead to perfection.
Other causes of orthorexia include the pursuit of a slim figure, the desire to have everything under control, escape from one’s own fear, psychological problems, using food to shape one’s identity, etc. Supporters of alternative nutritional trends , such as veganism , macrobiotics, paleo diet, are also prone to orthorexia , diet according to blood groups, vegetarianism, etc. These and other fad diets only create and deepen public fears about food.
Another risk group are strict supporters of organic food and people with a profession that requires a perfect appearance and figure – models, dancers, ballerinas, athletes, but also nutritionists.
Undoubtedly, the use of social networks and the family relationship to eating have a great influence on the emergence of orthorexia and other eating disorders . Detecting a person with orthorexia is sometimes difficult. Even those around him don’t see his behavior as bad at first – after all, he lives a healthy life, and that’s wonderful. Orthorexia is even more dangerous.
Orthorexia does not yet have official diagnostic criteria, yet we already know a lot about it. So how can we distinguish a person with orthorexia from a person who follows a healthy lifestyle? The main difference between healthy eating and orthorexia is that in orthorexia, food negatively controls a person’s daily life.
The first step to overcoming orthorexia is recognizing that you have a problem . This can often be very difficult. People with orthorexia are less likely to recognize any negative impact their eating style has on their health, well-being or social functioning. In fact, many may believe that their behavior promotes health rather than harms it.
If you are looking for a quick way to find out whether or not you have orthorexia, try the following test. Just pull out a piece of paper and answer “yes” or “no” to the questions below:
If you answered “yes” to 6 or more questions , you probably have orthorexia and need to change the way you look at your diet. You can start by seeking help from your doctor and nutritional therapist.
The best approach to treating orthorexia is comprehensive help from both a doctor and a psychologist and nutritional therapist or specialist. Only such interconnected cooperation can solve the complexity of this disorder and reduce the risk of its return. Orthorexia is a mental illness that requires psychotherapy treatment, and cognitive-behavioral therapy is mainly used.
An interest in healthy eating is completely desirable, and not everyone who is interested in their health is necessarily sick.
Problems can arise when the idea of healthy eating crosses the line into an unhealthy obsession that can affect both physical and mental health.
We talk about orthorexia when any food causes unpleasant and anxious feelings, represents stress for a person, and dealing with a proper diet disrupts everyday life.
If you feel that your eating habits are controlling you, talk to your doctor about your problems. In the treatment of orthorexia, it is advisable to cooperate with a doctor, nutritional therapist and psychologist. It is definitely not worth underestimating the disease. The sooner we catch orthorexia, the better it will be fought and it will not bring so many health risks in the future.