Healthy eating is not bad, in and of itself. It’s important to consider proper fueling, nutrients, and the pleasures of eating. However, healthy eating can become an obsession, to the point that it interferes with health and well-being. This is called orthorexia. Even though orthorexia is not yet recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, it is something that is on the rise and should be taken seriously. 

How do you know if you or someone you know has orthorexia?

Here are Some Common Signs of Orthorexia: 

  • A fixation on the quality of food (i.e. must be raw, vegan, organic, etc)
  • Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels
  • An increase in concern about the health and quality of ingredients
  • Cutting out food groups (all sugar, processed foods, carbs, dairy, meat, animal products)
  • Inflexible eating patterns, not being able to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’
  • Persistent worry about disease; considering foods as poison to the body
  • Anxiety being around “unhealthy” foods
  • Unusual interest in the health of what others are eating
  • Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events
  • Avoiding going out to eat
  • Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available
  • Obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ blogs on Twitter and Instagram
  • Body image concerns may or may not be present

(This list is adapted from the National Eating Disorders Association and Walden Eating Disorders)

Why Orthorexia Should be Taken Seriously

At first glance, these signs and symptoms of orthorexia may not look that dangerous. However, these obsessions negatively impact mental health and get in the way of living a full life. Further, there are a lot of physical health complications that could happen as a result of malnutrition.

What’s even more concerning is that diet culture deems a lot of orthorexic behaviors as healthy. Oftentimes, someone who might be struggling with orthorexia may be praised for being “health-conscious.” This reinforces the disorder, perhaps making it more severe and dangerous. With any eating disorder, early detection, intervention, and treatment lead to better results.

So, What is Healthy Eating and What is Orthorexic Eating?

There’s definitely a lot of grey areas, but the chart below can help distinguish between the two. (Source: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/111114p18.shtml)

 

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Next Steps and Seeking Support

Here’s a self-test that you can take to begin to understand if you might need professional support for orthorexia. If you have even a slight concern about orthorexia, we highly recommend seeking professional help. Contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists or dietitians. 

We understand the nuances of wellness. Just like healthy eating can become obsessive, so can exercise. Head over here to learn more about over-exercising.

Are you looking for fitness and yoga classes where you can begin to shift the narrative from exercise for punishment and weight change to exercise for nourishment and body acceptance? Head over here to learn more and sign-up for a class- virtual or in-person options available (pending safety regulations).