What Is Orthorexia?

Dakota Barber · Jun 21 2016

There has no doubt been a rise in awareness for nutrition, healthy eating and the effects that food has on our bodies over the last decade. More and more people are consistently turning over products on the shelf to examine the ingredients and nutritional information in pursuit of optimum health, but there comes a point when this becomes problematic- when it becomes an obsession.

Orthorexia is defined as: an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy.

While this sounds like an ideal mindset for anyone looking to live a healthy lifestyle, the key word here is obsession.

Those who suffer from orthorexia typically find themselves spending excessive amounts of time and photo-1464374288807-174911d4adb9attention on maintaining their diet, experience feelings of self-loathing and guilt when they go “off track”, and potentially even using their diet as a way to avoid dealing with bigger issues in their life.

The trouble with orthorexia is that it can be easily disguised and excused as a simple desire to eat well, even to the person suffering. While an obsession with weight is a telling sign of bulimia or anorexia, an orthorexic’s obsessions lies in the health implications of their food.

“The focus is on quality of foods consumed rather than quantity,” reads the website for Timberline Knolls, an eating disorder treatment centre in Illinois.

That being said, orthorexia is extremely taxing on the mind and can lead to serious health issues if it’s not dealt with.

“Maintaining an obsession with health food may cause a restriction of calories merely because available food isn’t considered to be good enough,” Timberline Knolls states. “The person with orthorexia may lose enough weight to give themselves a body mass index consistent with someone with anorexia. If the dietary restrictions are too severe, malnutrition can result.”

This socially isolating illness is treatable, but that treatment can only begin once the person suffering acknowledges that there is a problem. Identifying the underlying issue bringing forth the problematic mindset surrounding eating is challenging and will likely require professional help, along with guidance on how to become more flexible with their eating habits.

It’s important to remember that looking out for you health by choosing organic whole foods free from preservatives, antibiotics and GMOs is not the issue, though it is important to be gentle with yourself in the process and accept that there will be times when you indulge in “unhealthy” foods.

Balance in any newly adopted diet is key to maintaining a healthy mind and body.

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