First of all – Why Orthorexia Nervosa started happening? Nutritionists and nutrition scientists regularly tell us that we need to eat healthy to live a long and disease-free life. And many experts stretching back to the 1970s believe that diet is the most powerful tool in our arsenal for protecting us against the diseases of civilization – things like cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes – which seem arise in all societies that get richer.
But over the last ten years, there’s concern that some people might take healthy eating too far, especially when their obsession with eating only the right foods has damaging consequences on other parts of their life. Experts now finally have a name for this condition. It has been dubbed “orthorexia nervosa,” and it is believed to affect an increasing number of people.
So What Is Orthorexia Nervosa?
Orthorexia Nervosa is a proposed eating disorder, akin to anorexia nervosa. It’s characterized by an obsession with eating an ideal diet or maintaining an ideal weight. People with Orthorexia Nervosa will often avoid foods based on whether they consider them to be “clean” or not.
Unclean foods could include any foods which contain fat, sugar or salt, animal products, artificial colors and flavors – or any other food ingredients considered to be unhealthy.
Individuals with Orthorexia Nervosa may display a range of symptoms. These include:
- Obsession with food preparation techniques.
Those with Orthorexia Nervosa may require all food utensils to be sterilized before use. They may also refuse to use certain kinds of plastics or materials during the cooking process for fear of contamination.
- Reduction In The Range Of Acceptable Foods
Many healthy diets, even vegan diets, allow practitioners to eat a wide variety of foods. There are hundreds of different kind of plant and animal foods available. But orthorexics will often limit the number of foods they eat to a select few, perhaps only allowing themselves to eat five foods or less.
- Increase In Consumption Of Supplements
Many people suffering from Orthorexia Nervosa may increase their consumption of supplements as part of their condition.
- Avoidance Of Foods Because Of Allergies Which Aren’t Medically Demonstrated
Some sufferers will begin cutting out foods which contain things like gluten, nuts or other foods commonly associated with allergies, even if they don’t have an actual medically proven allergy.
Diagnosis Of Orthorexia Nervosa
The first formal definition of a diagnosis for Orthorexia nerves was proposed by Dr. Tom Dunn of the University of Colorado in 2016. He and his colleagues suggested that Orthorexia Nervosa was an unhealthy, obsessive focus on “healthy” eating and characterized by elevated levels of stress in situations where a sufferer feels obliged to eat foods they consider harmful.
More formally, they suggested that people could be diagnosed with the condition if they met the following requirements:
- A mental preoccupation with food choices believed by the sufferer to ensure optimum health.
- An exaggerated stress response from violation of the sufferer’s own food choice rules. For instance, a patient might only allow themselves to drink green smoothies but might suffer panic or anxiety after eating a chocolate cake.
- Restrictions that escalate over time. For instance, orthorexics might begin by cutting out a single class of foods but then progress to cutting out more and more various kinds of foods.
There are also clear clinical markers of Orthorexia Nervosa which might indicate that somebody has the condition. These include severe malnutrition because of failing to include essential food groups in the diet or failing to consume enough calories. It might also be evident by a person’s emotional reaction to food and disruption of their normal daily routine because of beliefs about healthy eating. For instance, somebody with Orthorexia Nervosa might avoid social, business or academic events because they are worried that unhealthy food will be served.
Finally, orthorexics are characterized by a reliance on adherence to their healthy eating regimen to maintain their sense of self-esteem. Falling off the bandwagon can lead to negative body image and low self-worth.
Treatment For Orthorexia Nervosa
For suffers, Orthorexia Nervosa is damaging. It can affect all aspects of their life, including their social life.
Fortunately, there is a range of treatments designed to deal with the root causes of the condition.
Orthorexia Nervosa could be a sign that a person has OCD or OCD-like symptoms. This means that it is amenable to many standard psychotherapy techniques, including cognitive behavioral therapy, which has proven to be an extremely effective short-term remedy for obsessive compulsive disorder. Psychotherapy helps patients manage their orthorexia thoughts and impulses and helps to modify their behavior in ways that are beneficial.
Orthorexia may also result from underlying depression or anxiety. As a result, doctors may prescribe patients with antidepressants to help manage the underlying chemical imbalance in their brains. The good thing about medications is that they often start working right away, meaning that patients can quickly get back on with their normal lives. It’s worth pointing out though that neuroactive drugs, like anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications, should not be used for extended periods of time because of side effects.
The idea is to gather information about the biological operation of the brain and use representations of that activity to change otherwise involuntary processes. Patients look at a scan of their brain working in real time and try to change brain patterns associated with food. The idea is to consciously direct brain patterns until they enter a healthier state.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Dialectical behavioral therapy is a multi-pronged approach to dealing with Orthorexia Nervosa. It combines techniques from multiple disciplines, including meditative, cognitive and behavioral therapies to help sufferers heal.
Could You Be Orthorexic?
Do you look down on others who don’t eat the same way you do?
Have you started cutting out large food groups?
Wrong food stresses you out?
Does your diet mean that you can’t go out to social events?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you might want to investigate orthorexia further.