Orthorexia: the eating disorder you may not have heard about

The concept of Orthorexia has been gaining attention in the media and is widely used by eating disorder professionals.  Although Orthorexia Nervosa is not a formal psychological diagnosis, symptoms associated with it can have a significant impact on a person’s daily functioning.  In a recent article published in the journal of Eating Behaviors (Dunn & Bratman, 2016), a set of criteria was proposed to help identify the symptoms of Orthorexia Nervosa.

What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

People with Orthorexia Nervosa have an obsessive focus on “healthy” eating and feel intense emotional distress about food choices seen as “unhealthy.”  This obsession is evidenced by compulsive behaviors and/or preoccupation with healthy eating (which is thought to promote optimum health) and feelings of anxiety and shame upon violation of self-imposed dietary rules.  Often, these dietary restrictions escalate over time and lead to elimination of entire food groups, or more frequent “cleanses.”

It’s not all about being thin…

People with Orthorexia Nervosa often lose weight, but unlike in other eating disorders (such as bulimia or anorexia), this is not the primary goal.  The desire to lose weight is typically hidden or secondary to the desire to achieve ideal health.

What’s the big deal?

We all know someone who seems to eat “healthier” than the rest of us, but a hyper-focus on being healthy becomes problematic when it begins to impair physical/emotional health, or social functioning.  People with Orthorexia Nervosa may experience malnutrition, severe weight loss, or other medical complications.  They may lose the ability to eat intuitively and become unable to identify their body’s cues for hunger or fullness.  They may begin to have problems in their relationships with others and often withdraw from their social life.  If one’s life revolves around healthy eating choices, there may be little room for other activities and interests.  Lastly, the difference between a healthy focus on eating right and Orthorexia Nervosa is that one’s food choices become all consuming of their identity.  In Orthorexia Nervosa, a person’s body image, self-worth, or life satisfaction becomes excessively dependent on their compliance with healthy eating behaviors.  They begin to define themselves as “the person that eats healthy food,” and lose sight of other aspects of who they are – funny, smart, a mother, a colleague, a sister, a professional.

For more information about Orthorexia Nervosa, head to:

www.orthorexia.com

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa

Dunn, T.M & Bratman, S. (2016). On orthorexia nervosa: A review of the literature and proposed diagnostic criteria. Eating Behaviors, 21, 11 -17.