The term orthorexia is used to describe an obsession with eating healthily. You may have a very clear idea of what healthy eating entails--a balanced diet consisting primarily of organic greens and grains, a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, and other products obtained sustainably with low sodium, sugar, and fat content.
Healthy eating practices and following a balanced diet do not necessarily call for any concern. Nutritionally sound living can improve well-being and quality of life. Problems can, however, occur when the concept of healthy food and nutrition crosses the line into an excessive preoccupation that can harm both one's physical and mental well-being.
Orthorexia - What is it?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) does not formally acknowledge orthorexia, which is described as a fixation with right or healthy eating. It's not an issue that one is generally aware of. While worrying about the nutritional value of the food you consume is only natural, it is concerning when someone becomes so hooked on eating well that they end up endangering their own health.
While it may initially manifest as a desire to reduce weight, orthorexia is not always about a person's weight. According to some specialists, eating disorders including bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and orthorexia share several commonalities. It all revolves around food and power.
5 Signs & Symptoms of Orthorexia to Watch Out For
If you believe that you or someone you know may be suffering from eating disorders, here are a few obvious warning signs to be aware of:
1) A fixation with eating healthier food
A person with orthorexia is prone to get fixated or obsessed with just consuming foods they believe to be healthy.
Close relationships can be harmed by a sense of condemnation or criticism towards those who don't adhere to the same rigorous diet as them. Frequently, the sufferer may prioritize healthy living over their former interests or hobbies and may be quite ignorant or even defensive about their behavioral changes.
2) Not going out to eat
In line with the aforementioned concern, going out to eat or taking part in social activities can be very challenging for those with the disorder. You'll typically encounter challenges when dining out or having food prepared for you by someone else. If you're wondering why, remember that those who suffer from this condition feel the urge to regulate both the food and possibly the food preparation.
Whether it's a three-course meal at a dinner party, an ice cream on a beach excursion, or a birthday cake at a family gathering, people with eating disorders will do everything in their power to avoid social settings that might require them to eat in violation of their rules.
3) Refusal to consume a variety of foods
It's acceptable to steer clear of certain foods because you don't enjoy their flavor or how they make you feel. Yet, if you have orthorexia, you can decide to cut out entire food groups from your diet. For instance, you might give up eating grains, anything containing gluten, sugar, or preservatives, or all items that don't seem healthy.
4) Making up (or presuming) unidentified food sensitivities
Whether it's dairy-free or gluten-free, frequently excluding particular food groups by assuming undiagnosed food issues is a huge red flag.
This may be used as justification by people who are battling any eating disorder, not just orthorexia, to restrict or regulate their food intake. Patients might continue to follow the rules of their eating disorder even when they are with other people by fabricating an allergy or intolerance.
5) "Good" and "Bad" food
People with orthorexia frequently divide food into "good" and "bad" categories. Clean or "pure" foods that satisfy stringent nutritional quality standards belong to the "good" food categories.
The "bad" food might be inadequate and possibly poisonous for those suffering from this condition. While consuming "good" foods, they may have a greater feeling of success than when consuming bad foods, which may result in excruciating guilt. Mood swings can result from the pendulum swing between rewards and punishment, as mentioned above.
Women are more likely than men to suffer from eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. However, men and women are equally prone to suffer from orthorexia, suggesting that neither gender has a higher prevalence of the disorder.
Orthorexia symptoms can initially appear to be good for friends and family. Although leading a healthy lifestyle might conceal underlying problems and compulsive tendencies, symptoms can easily go undetected as a result.
Fad diets, clever marketing, and social media constantly bombard us with pictures of what a healthy lifestyle should look like. While we are aware of social pressures, we have also witnessed the consequences of fad diets. Making educated nutritional decisions is crucial, but not at the expense of one's mental health. Healing from orthorexia and eating disorders is in your hands.
If you or someone you know exhibits any symptoms indicating that the pursuit of dietary purity is seriously impairing well-being and social interactions, it may be an indication of orthorexia. Contact a mental health professional to put yourself and your future first.
Janvi Kapur is a counselor with a Master's degree in applied psychology with a specialization in clinical psychology.
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