Dispelling myths and mistruths of Orthorexia Nervosa. Diving deep into signs, symptoms, causes, risks, and most importantly recovery.
Occasionally, you may find yourself eating a full, beautiful meal. An appetizer, (or two), a main course, and a dessert. You’re very satiated, and very satisfied. Other times, the thought of having a crisp salad, grilled vegetables, and lean protein sounds perfectly pleasing. Maybe it’s humid and hot outside, or your lunch is still sustaining you, or you’re seeking something known and comfortable or…or…or…Regardless of the reason, you’re listening to your hunger cues, and focusing on what feels good in the moment. Apple pie today, yogurt and berries tomorrow. Allowing room for all foods; regardless of nutrition labels, macro breakdown or calorie count. Creating enough space for all foods to fit in one’s diet is a beautiful way to consume, allowing life to lead the way. The opposition of this, however, is where Orthorexia Nervosa lies. Where tracking, counting, weighing, measuring, monitoring is a non-negotiable way of life. Where only the cleanest, leanest, purest, healthiest, greenest foods are permitted. Where one must be in control of every bite, at every meal, all day, every day. Those who suffer from orthorexia believe they are eating in a way which is best for their body; only allowing certain foods to remain in their diet; foods that have been carefully vetted prior to being considered safe. The reality is, consumption patterns that reflect the above stringent rules, and strict guidelines are no way to consume at all. There are no exceptions, no wiggle room, and most of all, no freedom. It is deeply problematic for not only one’s body, but their emotional and psychological state. Orthorexia Nervosa’s origins cannot be directly correlated to diet culture of today; wherein the entire onus is put on the way we, as a collective, are pressured to look, be, and eat. However, accessibility coupled with the pace we consume media (in all forms) has made it tremendously difficult to avoid the pressures that we experience every day as it relates to how we are conscious and unconsciously made to feel about our bodies. The good news though, is that Orthorexia Nervosa does not have to be anyone’s forever. Therapy, nutritional counseling, an abundance of support, and a willingness to persevere can yield tremendous results. Results that find Orthorexia Nervosa firmly in one’s past, where the future is clear, bright, and most importantly, full of freedom.
What is Orthorexia Nervosa?
Orthorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized as an unhealthy, all consuming, and intense obsession with exclusively eating healthy, or clean. Foods that are considered healthy are at the discretion of the individual who suffers from Orthorexia Nervosa however, there is a definitive list or collective of acceptable foods that the individual adheres to. Generally, Orthorexia develops gradually, with the individual cutting out a little here, a little there, until a lot has been cut and only a little remains. Having Orthorexia Nervosa means living in a constant state of fear, scared to consume anything that is not deemed safe or acceptable. Like all eating disorders, Orthorexia’s impacts extend beyond just the individual who is suffering from it. The individual’s relationships are often challenged; going out for meals, eating outside of one’s home, eating a meal prepared by another induces a lot of anxiety and is too upsetting to follow through on. Those with Orthorexia are steadfast in their beliefs that their dedication to only eating the healthiest foods is the healthiest way to be. Ironically though, the mental anguish, perpetual state of fear, and rippling impacts are the furthest thing from living and seeking a sustainable, healthy, and wholesome life.
Are there different types of Orthorexia Nervosa?
There are not different variations, versions, or types of Orthorexia. It is an encompassing term that refers to the eating disorder where one becomes completely fixated on eating healthy and clean. Developing an intense obsession with the benefits that eating clean has on one’s body. With this eating disorder, the differences lie in what foods have been deemed safe, healthy, and clean, not in the ways the disorder presents itself. There is not a definitive list or diet that those with Orthorexia adhere to. It ultimately is not about the food, but what the food represents; an ability to control everything that is consumed by way of vetting its cleanliness and healthfulness.
What are the causes of Orthorexia Nervosa?
The development of all eating disorders is gradual, slowly developing over time as habits and tendencies eventually turn into common practice. Orthorexia can develop innocently, with an individual making a concerted effort to make healthier choices. Over time these decisions can begin evolving into rigid routines that must be adhered to at every meal, every day. Orthorexia may also develop more rapidly and prominently for those who find themselves in a field of study or career that offers exposure to wellness, nutrition, sport, body focused, etc. Ultimately though, Orthorexia falls under the eating disorder spectrum and is a mental illness, and often those with Orthorexia hide behind the guise of clean eating to intentionally restrict their eating. It is not totally uncommon for Orthorexia to develop into Anorexia Nervosa.
What is the diagnosis for Orthorexia Nervosa?
Orthorexia Nervosa as it stands right now is not an independent eating disorder that is able to receive an official diagnosis. It is still to be determined if it is a subset of an alternative eating disorder, or a particular mental illness. With that being said, there are particular diagnostic tools that may help professionals gain insight on an individual’s current status which will help inform their treatment. Ultimately, if an individual is obsessively focused on healthy eating and this obsession leads to behaviours that interrupt daily life, most likely Orthorexia has developed.
What are the health risks associated with Orthorexia Nervosa?
The implications of Orthorexia can actualize psychologically and physically. With the severe restrictive behaviour, weight loss may become a factor, leading to low blood pressure, thinning hair, feeling perpetually chilled, or loss of menstrual cycle. Psychologically obsessive tendencies and thought patterns develop, eventually taking over an individual’s entire mind, leaving little to no space to think about or focus on anything other than exclusively eating the cleanest food in the pursuit of health.
What is the treatment for Orthorexia Nervosa?
Orthorexia Nervosa treatment follows a similar pattern to treatment plans that are used to help individuals who are suffering from various other eating disorders. The treatment is inclusive of therapy and oftentimes nutritional counseling. Therapy is a non-negotiable component of eating disorder recovery. It is critical to understand the root causes that were a strong and assertive force of the eventual development of the eating disorder. Getting to the causes and working through them requires patience, vulnerability, and resilience. With that, treatment can be incredibly successful putting the individual in a state of eating disorder recovery.
Q: Is orthorexia a mental illness?
A: The short answer is yes; Orthorexia is a mental illness. All eating disorders are considered a mental illness. Orthorexia’s implications are felt most acutely in the mind and are actualized physically with weight loss, thinning hair, interrupted sleep, etc.
Q: Is Orthorexia an OFSED?
A: Yes, Orthorexia is an eating disorder falling under the OFSED diagnosis. OFSED stands for Other Specified Feed and Eating Disorders. Orthorexia is not currently in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Q: What do people with Orthorexia eat?
A: There is not a prescribed list or diet that those with Orthorexia subscribe or adhere to. A better question to ask is perhaps what don’t people with Orthorexia eat? And the short answer is a lot. Living with Orthorexia means that an individual’s diet is incredibly restrictive, only allowing limited space to the cleanest and healthiest foods. What the individual identifies and clean and healthy however, is up to their discretion.
Q: Is it possible for Orthorexia to turn into Anorexia?
A: It is not guaranteed that an individual with Orthorexia will subsequently develop Anorexia. Although they have similar tendencies, they are different eating disorders with different behaviours associated with both. It is not an impossibility however, that an individual who suffers from severe Orthorexia can ultimately develop Anorexia. They share an unhealthy obsession with severely restricting their intake, the reason behind their restrictive behaviour differs, however. Those with Anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight and actively avoid it at all costs. Those with Orthorexia, however, do not experience the same fear associated with gaining weight, they tend to be more preoccupied with fueling their body in the cleanest way, becoming obsessed with being as healthy as possible.