Orthorexia nervosa is a disorder characterised by an obsession with being healthy. People who suffer from this fixate on establishing and maintaining a “clean” diet and lifestyle. This type of lifestyle will vary depending on the individuals perception of “clean” or “healthy.” For example some may focus on being vegetarian or vegan, others may focus on eating solely organic foods but it is common for people with othorexia to eliminate entire food groups from their diets.
Unfortunately, it is not only adults who suffer from orthorexia but young adolescents have been known to develop a preoccupation with healthy living. It is hard to distinguish the line between normal healthy eating and orthorexia nervosa, however, questionnaires have been developed to clarify where differences can be made. Orthorexia nervosa is not recognised as a clinical eating disorder like bulimia, anorexia or binge eating.
So when is help needed?
Eliminating entire food groups can lead to extreme cases of food avoidance, which result in the individual not eating much at all. Consequences of this can lead to dizziness, fatigue, becoming too thin, becoming anaemic, menstrual cycle problems in women and low blood pressure.
While variations occur in the lifestyle choices of those with this disorder common traits can be found:
1. Avoiding certain foods, entire food groups or avoiding chemicals completely out of fear, because they’re “bad” or because they’re “unhealthy.”
2. Not eating out due to lack of control over what is put in food, how its prepared or not knowing the calorific quantity of each dish.
3. Not eating dessert or cake on their birthday or having an alcoholic drink to celebrate because it will break their chosen lifestyle habits.
4. Spends a lot of time reading food labels and fixating on what ingredients have been used.
5. Suffer anxiety at the thought of having to eat a type of food that isn’t “clean.”
6. Hours are spent preparing food meticulously so that quantities are met and foods are cooked and stored in a specific way.
7. Spending an immoderate amount of time each day thinking about food and healthy lifestyle choices.
8. Having feelings of guilt or failure when an unhealthy choice is made and finding it hard to forgive yourself because of it.
9. Feelings of self control, satisfaction and self confidence only when eating healthy foods.
10. Decreased quality of life as may withdraw from friends and socialising out of fear of conflict with a healthy lifestyle.
Further to relating to these characteristics you can take the ‘Bratman Test for Orthorexia’:
⦁ Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet?
⦁ Do you plan your meals several days ahead?
⦁ Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it?
⦁ Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased?
⦁ Have you become stricter with yourself lately?
⦁ Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthily?
⦁ Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the ‘right’ foods
⦁ Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends?
⦁ Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet?
⦁ Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily?
Yes to 4 or 5 of the above questions means it is time to relax more about food.
Yes to all of them means a full-blown obsession with eating
It is no surprise in the increase number of people developing this particular disorder given the amount of focus from the media that is put on the ‘right’ type of foods, healthy meal plans and new health detox diets. Whereas more focus should be put on eating a balanced diet consisting of all food groups and the importance of each to lead a healthy life, which includes indulging in something sweet every once in a while.