There is no denying that healthy eating is good for us. When we eat right, we can make significant improvements to our overall health and well-being.
But, as with most things in life, everything in moderation. There are those that take healthy eating to an extreme, becoming obsessive, and eventually developing an eating disorder known as orthorexia. If not dealt with, orthorexia can have harsh ramifications.
What is Orthorexia?
Orthorexia, also known as Orthorexia Nervosa, is a type of eating disorder that appears when an individual develops an unhealthy fixation with healthy eating. But unlike other eating disorders that focus on the amount of food a person eats, orthorexia focuses on the quality of food. Typically, someone struggling with orthorexia isn’t trying to lose weight. This is not their issue. Instead, these people develop an obsession with the “purity” of the food they eat.
What Causes Orthorexia?
Currently, there is a lack of research or complete understanding as to why or how this eating disorder develops. However, it is believed that people with obsessive-compulsive impulses and/or other types of eating disorders have a higher risk of developing orthorexia. Other risk factors may include anxiety, a lack of control in other parts of their life, and a tendency toward perfectionism.
Diagnosis of Orthorexia
How can someone tell if they or a loved one are simply making healthy eating a priority or if they have developed orthorexia? The medical community has put forth a couple of diagnostic criteria:
1. An obsessive focus on healthy eating
The question to ask here is, do you or your loved one have an exaggerated emotional response or difficulty related to making food choices? Are you mentally preoccupied throughout the day with making just the right food choice for your optimal health? Do you feel shame or anxiety if you make the “wrong” food choice?
2. Daily Life is Disrupted by Behavior
Does your thinking about making the right food choice disrupt your daily life? Are you experiencing any medical issues (malnutrition, etc.) because of your compulsive behavior? Do your beliefs about food cause distress in your personal or social life?
The consequences of orthorexia can be severe, and the disorder should not be taken lightly. If left untreated a person could experience lasting and damaging health issues. As with other disorders, the first step is to identify its presence in your life.
The second step is to get help from a mental health therapist who specializes in cognitive-behavioral restructuring.
Being mindful of what you put into your body is a good thing. Trying to take care of yourself and make sure you stay healthy is a good thing. Becoming obsessed with food to the point it disrupts your life and causes health issues is dangerous. If you think you or a loved one may have orthorexia, please seek treatment.