You may not have heard of Orthorexia, yet it is one of the fastest growing disordered eating behaviours today. It refers to a fixation with ‘healthful’ eating that develops into a consuming obsession. People with Orthorexia have inflexible eating patterns that involve strictly adhering to food they consider pure or clean.
Unlike many diets, orthorexia isn’t overly concerned with the quantity of food, choosing to focus on the quality instead. The strict lifestyle is often motivated by a longing for perfection or purity rather than weight loss.
There’s nothing wrong with a desire to fuel your body with quality food that gives you energy.
There’s nothing wrong with a desire to fuel your body with quality food that gives you energy. It moves into disordered eating when the need to have a ‘clean’ diet consumes you and begins to negatively impact your relationships and daily routine. People with Orthorexia frequently tie how they feel about themselves into how ‘good’ they have been on their diet. As their list of acceptable foods gradually reduces it can lead to malnutrition, anxiety and social isolation.
Some healthy eating theories are more likely to lead to Orthorexia than others. A desire to focus on organic whole foods isn’t particularly restrictive and rarely leads to disordered eating. However, more extreme theories, such as raw food veganism, which is quite challenging to maintain, has a much higher potential to develop into Orthorexia. Even more so for people who have a tendency towards extremes and anxiety.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know is at risk of developing Orthorexia, here are some warning signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for:
- Compulsive checking of nutritional labels and ingredients
- Cutting an increasing number of food groups, such as carbs, protein, dairy etc
- Overly interested in what other people are eating
- Displaying high stress when ‘healthy’ foods are not available
- A sense of superiority over people who don’t follow their diet
- Hours spent researching or thinking about food served at upcoming events
Dr Steve Bratman coined the term ‘Orthorexia’ in 1997 and has developed a list of questions to help recognise it.
A self-assessment. Read over the questions below. If you answer yes to any of these, it may be beneficial for you to seek support.
1.I spend so much of my life thinking about, choosing and preparing healthy food that it interferes with other dimensions of my life, such as love, creativity, family, friendship, work and school.
2. When I eat any food I regard to be unhealthy, I feel anxious, guilty, impure, unclean and/or defiled; even to be near such foods disturbs me, and I feel judgmental of others who eat such foods.
3. My personal sense of peace, happiness, joy, safety and self-esteem is excessively dependent on the purity and rightness of what I eat.
4. Sometimes I would like to relax my self-imposed “good food” rules for a special occasion, such as a wedding or a meal with family or friends, but I find that I cannot. (Note: If you have a medical condition in which it is unsafe for you to make ANY exception to your diet, then this item does not apply.)
5. Over time, I have steadily eliminated more foods and expanded my list of food rules in an attempt to maintain or enhance health benefits; sometimes, I may take an existing food theory and add to it with beliefs of my own.
6. Following my theory of healthy eating has caused me to lose more weight than most people would say is good for me, or has caused other signs of malnutrition such as hair loss, loss of menstruation or skin problems.
Making food and lifestyle choices that improve your health and gives you a sense of vitality is important. For many, it can be difficult to find the right balance between a keen interest and an obsession. If your food choices are interfering with your relationships, daily routine and ability to socialise, it may be time to consider a new perspective. Don’t let your desire to improve and prolong your life get in the way of actually living and enjoying it.
Support for eating disorders can be found at –
The Butterfly Foundation
National Eating Disorders Collaboration