Orthorexia: the obsession with healthy eating

“Does the way you eat isolate you from others?”

“Do you feel guilty when you eat something that is not allowed by your dietary beliefs?”

“Do you care more about the quality of the food than the pleasure of eating it?”

If you answered yes to at least one of the above questions, you may want to consider candidate for addiction to healthy food; a new eating disorder born out of contemporary ecological culture. This concept is known as’Orthorexia“.

Orthorexia: analyze the disorder

This disorder, more and more evident in Western societies (concerned lately with the consumption of unprocessed foods, an example is Paleodiet), Was appointed by the American doctor Steven Bratman.

Bratman, who suffered from this disorder, describes a type of obsession with consuming foods that the affected person considers healthy (organic, plant-based, preservative-free, fat-free, meat-free, or only with fruit), or not to consume than food. with a concrete form of preparation (only raw food, only steamed or grilled, etc.) rejecting all those that cannot be included in these categories. In this disorder, the triggering factors are obsession with diets, body worship and fear of eating treated with artificial products.

More and more people are worried about eating healthy, chemical-free foods, and at first it may seem like an appropriate behavior that will benefit those who practice them. However, it can become a serious problem and have serious repercussions on quality of life and health. When this normal behavior becomes an obsession, it is then that we can speak of orthorexia.

The desire of orthorexic people to achieve physical beauty through diet is inevitably reminiscent of other eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. The difference between anorexia and orthorexia is that the former relates to the amount of food ingested and the latter refers to the quality food consumed.

Who is affected by orthorexia?

Anyone can develop this pathological inclination, these are the groups of people most prone to orthorexia:

  • Very demanding people with themselves (Perfectionists) and with others, of a straightforward and strict nature, who like to plan and take control of their life and daily activities (as in cases of anorexia and bulimia).
  • Athletes are another at-risk group because they take special care of their diet.So, they end up consuming only the foods that they consider most suitable for improving their performance / fitness.
  • People who have suffered from anorexia nervosa, That during recovery, choose to introduce into their diet only foods of natural origin, probiotics, organically grown, without fat or artificial substances that could cause them harm. Paradoxically, this behavior, instead of preventing the disorder, leads to a new one. This shows that although the purgatory behaviors were repressed and eaten again, psychologically they were not well rehabilitated.

too much women and young people are more inclined and, in general, all those who are overly preoccupied with their physique, as the decision to eat “only healthy foods” is usually associated with achieving and maintaining good body image, factors that can lead to orthorexia.

Effects of orthorexia

According to Bratman, the orthorectic they think they will get great physical and mental benefits from their eating behaviorAnd this can lead them to an addiction to healthy eating similar to what other addicts have with drugs. In addition to the benefits they hope to gain from healthy foods, orthotics also seek to get rid of threats hidden in rejected foods, such as anisakis, the salmonellosis, Or the pain of mad cows, and in this sense his attitude is similar to that of a schizophrenic, who fears being poisoned, or of a hypochondriac, who thinks he can contract a disease if he does not take not the necessary precautions.

An obsession with health … which can be counterproductive

Rejecting fats, additives, artificial substances or vegetables and fruits grown with pesticides or of transgenic origin and chemical fertilizers is not bad (because the more natural, the better), orthotics go so far as to exclude from their diet the nutrients necessary for the proper functioning of the body is found in foods considered unsuitable. This can lead to: anemia, vitamin and mineral deficiency, malnutrition, osteoporosis, increased incidence of infections due to decreased immune function, lack of energy, etc.

social isolation

But orthorexia can not only have negative health consequences, in most cases it also affects their daily and social life. By limiting the foods allowed, the daily menu becomes a real problem because it has to be planned and prepared on time. In addition, since those affected must also ensure that the products used in the kitchen are adequate (even utensils and food containers must be of a specific material), they cannot eat outside their homes. home, or in family or friends restaurants, unless they follow the same rules when preparing the menu.

If we consider that food is a very social event that accompanies many celebrations (birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Christmas parties, work meetings …) and moments of everyday life (eating with friends and family ), viewing them for the most part as harmful foods, warns people with orthorexia from taking advantage of any of these opportunities, leading them to social isolation.

Additionally, although they can sometimes let go of their own rules and obsessions, it often leads to feelings of guilt that cause them great discomfort. Here we see how orthorexia is a serious anxiety problem that comes with everyday life, and while it can pretty much come across as a minor eating disorder, it can be just as dangerous to your health as anorexia.

Features of orthorexia

  • Disorderly obsession with eating healthy foods.
  • They focus on the quality of the food they eat.
  • They eliminate “dangerous” food groups from the diet (may include complete avoidance of fats, grains, artificial preservatives or chemical additives, animal products).
  • They spend over 3 hours a day researching or thinking about food (including planning purchases).
  • They are obsessed with body care and health.
  • They become anxious or afraid to think about food.
  • They never skip their diet, even on special occasions.
  • They refuse to eat in restaurants or social gatherings.
  • They are socially isolated because they are not going to eat anywhere.

How do you know if you have orthorexia?

Bratman established a series of criteria to determine which behaviors or behaviors towards food could indicate the presence of this type of obsession and thus be able to detect if someone is suffering from orthorexia. Some indicators are:

  • Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking about your diet?
  • Do you plan your meals several days in advance?
  • Do you think that the nutritional value of a meal is more important than the pleasure it brings?
  • Has your quality of life decreased as the quality of your diet was increasing?
  • Did he become more strict with himself at this point?
  • Has your self-esteem improved with healthy eating?
  • Have you given up on eating foods that you liked to eat “good” foods?
  • Is your diet a problem for you when eating out, and is it taking you away from your family and friends?
  • Do you feel guilty when you skip your diet?
  • Do you feel at peace with yourself and believe that everything is in control when you eat healthy?

If you answer yes to four or five of these questions, it means that you are starting to become more obsessed with eating., And that should be less careful about what you eat. If you answer yes to all the questions, your desire for healthy eating has become a real obsession.

Orthorexia treatment

For the treatment of this eating disorder the collaboration and the good predisposition of the patient towards the treatment are fundamental, even if in these cases it is easier than in the case of other more serious eating disorders such as anorexia, because the patient’s attitude -to the diet is not due to the desire to lose weight, but to be in better health. Since the greatest concern of the person with orthorexia is a healthy diet, a balanced menu. This is why it is best to consult a professional, such as a dietitian or an endocrinologist.

After this stage, the ideal is psychological therapy, because psychological recovery is more difficult than physicalAs this takes a lot of work on the part of the patient and the behaviors that the person adopted during the period of the disorder must be changed, as well as obsessive thoughts, social isolation and mood swings.

the cognitive behavioral therapy it can help people with orthorexia change their behavior and improve or boost their self-esteem, as correcting the distorted view of the harms of certain foods is essential.

As in the case of any eating disorder, also in the case of orthorexia, the best way to avoid falling into it is prevention, instill healthy habits in children and familiarize them from an early age with the foods that should be part of a balanced diet. You can also explain to the little ones what nutrients they provide, what they are used for and why it is good to take them. On the other hand, it is important to minimize the negative effects of fashion or advertising on their view of the world, and that adults’ food “obsessions” are not passed on to minors.




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