Olivia had always wanted to be healthier. Last month she decided to take action and announced her life-changing intentions: She was going to get eight hours of sleep every night, study harder in school, eat better, and work out every day. While writing up her meal plan for the week, she started doing some research. “Oh gosh… There are so many empty calories in this soda… I’m not going to drink it ever again!” That was a month ago. First, it was soda. Then it was chips. Chocolate, donuts, bread, pasta, starchy vegetables, and candy soon followed. Then nuts. Avocados. Fish. Meat. Dairy. Gluten. Olivia sat at her dorm room desk and looked at her dinner: A sliced and skinned apple, ice water, and a celery stick. “I’m so proud of how healthy I’ve become…” she thought as she brought the glass of water to her lips.
What is Orthorexia?
Orthorexia Nervosa is the unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. It comes from the Greek “orthos,” meaning ‘right’ or ‘correct’ and “orexis,” ‘appetite.’ While it is not a disorder recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (The DSM-IV), many psychologists believe it’s about time it was.
How can someone be unhealthy if they’re obsessed with healthy foods?
Orthorexia begins as an innocent attempt at improving one’s lifestyle, achieving health, and preventing illness.
People suffering from an Orthorexic mentality have a variety of foods they deem pure and acceptable. While at first they may cut out truly less healthy foods such as soda, their list becomes smaller and smaller until the individual is at a high risk for developing Anorexia Nervosa.
If an individual is less informed about nutrition and dietetics, their “safe list” may severely limit macronutrients (protein, fats, carbs) or calories. The individual develops an extreme fear of what they deem to be unhealthy, whether it’s traditionally considered unhealthy or not.
Wait, I don’t get that last part?
The interesting thing about Orthorexia is that the disorder exists completely by the individual’s standards of what is healthy. For example, the individual may refuse avocado because it is high in fat but accept a 100-calorie snack pack of processed food because it’s low in calories.
Is Orthorexia like Anorexia?
Orthorexics can be (but they’re usually not) physically healthy. Mentally, their sense of self and food is warped, but physically they can be in a normal body weight range, have an adequate intake of a variety of foods, and not suffer from any nutritional deficiencies. Anorexia is characterized by the extreme restricting of food and it is nearly impossible to be healthy under such circumstances. Anorexia is quantity of food, Orthorexia is quality.
Orthorexia can turn into anorexia if what the individual deems healthy only includes one or two foods, or less. The disorder usually begins with good intentions (“I want to be healthier,” “I want to lose weight,” etc.) but the mind is soon consumed with calorie counting, label reading, and the pursuit of unachievable perfection.
Both Orthorexia and Anorexia often bring with them the comorbidities of anxiety and/or OCD. Both disorders involve one spending a large portion of their day avoiding food and planning meals.
Who can suffer from Orthorexia?
Literally anyone can have an Orthorexic mentality. Those most at risk are medical students, nutrition students, and adolescents. Type A personalities, perfectionists, and overachievers are always at a higher risk of developing eating disorders.
What do I do if I have an eating disorder?
Get help immediately. Talk with a trusted adult (or if you are an adult seek a physician or therapist, whichever you’re more comfortable with) and plan steps for action. Medical or professional help may save your life.
Eating Disorder Help & Support: X
Read this post in Spanish HERE!