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When Healthy Eating Becomes A “Disorder”: 10 Ways To Diagnose Orthorexia

When Healthy Eating Becomes A “Disorder”: 10 Ways To Diagnose Orthorexia

As a recovering anorexic and bulimic, I catch myself constantly being overly cautious about what I eat and what I don’t. There are certain foods that still have the power to send me into an unconscious binge, while even certain amounts of other foods create an obsession to “fast” and eat healthier “from now on.”

According to an article written by Karin Kratina, Ph.D. of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), (https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa), orthorexia by definition is “to be fixated on healthy eating.” Such an intense focus on anything indicates an unhealthy relationship with the object, and can throw every aspect of one’s life out of balance. One very strong indication of orthorexia is eating only certain foods that have been labeled healthy either by society’s standards or the standards of the people themselves. While there are many positive reasons behind eating “better” and more mindfully, orthorexics don’t allow themselves to eat any foods — healthy or otherwise — that aren’t on their “approved” list.

While orthorexia hasn’t yet been technically classified an eating disorder and diagnosing it can only be done by healthcare professionals, here are 10 characteristics people with orthorexia exhibit.

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1. They obsessively read food labels.

People with orthorexia will constantly be checking package labels for ingredients in foods they allow themselves to eat…or don’t. If canola oil, for example is something they won’t allow themselves to eat, any product with that specific type of oil — organic, raw or otherwise — will stay on the grocery store shelf.

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    2.  They lack focus and joy.

    Healthy eating becomes so much a priority for the orthorexic they often lose their zest for life and focus solely on food. Happiness is generally short-lived and usually comes only as a result of finding a new food or restaurant they can enjoy based on their food choices. Life literally revolves around nutrition for the orthorexic.

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    3. They become “unhealthy.”

    Because the people experiencing orthorexia are so limited in their food choices, they often miss out on the vitamins and nutrients necessary to sustain the health they are striving to achieve. Sleep is often affected when this happens, and along with sleep deprivation comes the body’s inability to properly recover or restore its much need physical and mental equilibrium.

    4.  They isolate themselves.

    Being in public, especially in situations where food will be served, tends to is often a struggle for people fixated on healthy eating. Most of the time orthorexics will become less and less social simply because the stress of having to hide their food issues or make excuses for “not being hungry” is exhausting and overwhelming. It is much easier and safer for a person with these tendencies to become homebodies in controlled environments.

    5.  They agonize over eating out.

    Finding a restaurant that serves foods on their “healthy” list is another major stressor for orthorexics. They will find two or three specific places which will modify or already have on the menu the ingredients they will allow themselves to eat. Many times orthorexics will be  for their “picky,” “diva” or “complicated” ordering, which makes the experience even more traumatic for the person suffering from the food disorder.

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      6.  They criticize other’s food choices. 

      Orthorexics will many times make themselves feel better about their “perfect” eating habits by criticizing other people’s less healthy choices. When they see someone eating food from off limit establishments such as fast food restaurants or ice cream shops, orthorexics tend to point out every detail that’s wrong with what the other person is eating. The way the food is cooked, the nutrition facts and the ingredients of each menu item are scrutinized and then explained in detail as to why they’re incredibly unhealthy choices.

      7.  They glorify their “healthy” lifestyle.

      People living with orthorexic tendencies will more often than not try to gain attention and acknowledgment for their adaptation to and perfecting of a “healthy” lifestyle. They feel as if because they are diligent with their healthy food choices which excludes everything deemed detrimental to a person’s optimal functioning, they are entitled to exalt the way they’re living.

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      8.  They exercise excessively.

      Exercising also becomes a fixation for people suffering from orthorexia. In order to maintain the healthiest lifestyle possible, food regulation is accompanied by the desire to “work off” anything extra they may have eaten that wasn’t in their meal plan. Looking the part of a healthy lifestyle, in the mind of orthorexics, by being physically attractive and “in-shape” is another indicator speaking to the mindset of the person striving to be the epitome of perfect health.

      9.  They thrive on perfectionism.  

      Ultimately the issues behind orthorexics’ thoughts and habits run them directly into the wall of perfectionism. These issues usually stem from the need to control every aspect of their own lives; however, since external influences are constantly varying, the perfectionist will do whatever is necessary to make flawless their food intake and exercise regimens.

      10. They run out of good foods.

      Inevitably orthorexics become so restrictive with even their “acceptable” healthy foods that they’re left with only a few choices and even more health problems, as suggested by Sarah Horne Grose in her article for The Cut (http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/07/10-ways-to-spot-an-orthorexic.html). This puts into motion the excruciating cycle becoming more healthy and more perfect, which spirals into less nutrition with more exercise and eventually leads to an even less joyful existence.

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        While each one of these symptoms of orthorexic may seem devastating and insurmountable, please know without any doubt there is help and healing available to everyone suffering from any form of eating disorder. There is absolutely nothing wrong with reaching out to a trusted friend, co-worker, classmate, teacher or even life coach or other professional for support and guidance. Life was not meant to be lived or problems solved alone, so asking for help in learning new habits and life skills is by far the greatest sign of strength and health possible. It’s never too late to start writing the next chapter of the greatest story ever told!

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        Last Updated on September 20, 2018

        How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

        How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

        Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

        If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

        1. Breathe

        The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

        • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
        • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
        • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

        Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

        2. Loosen up

        After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

        Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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        3. Chew slowly

        Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

        Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

        Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

        4. Let go

        Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

        The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

        It’s not. Promise.

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        Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

        Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

        21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

        5. Enjoy the journey

        Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

        Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

        6. Look at the big picture

        The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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        Will this matter to me…

        • Next week?
        • Next month?
        • Next year?
        • In 10 years?

        Hint: No, it won’t.

        I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

        Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

        7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

        You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

        Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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        8. Practice patience every day

        Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

        • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
        • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
        • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

        Final thoughts

        Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

        Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

        Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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