Can You Be Too Healthy?
Orthorexia: An Obsession with Eating “Pure”
When obesity is a national emergency, a serious dedication to a healthy diet hardly seems like a bad thing. But for some, a fixation on healthy eating develops into an obsession. If someone refuses to eat food that is not “pure,” starts skipping family meals or dinners out, rejects food she (sufferers for the most part are women) once loved, or can’t bring herself to eat a meal she hasn’t prepared with her own hands, she may be suffering from an emerging disordered eating pattern called orthorexia.
What is Orthorexia?
Orthorexia – an unhealthy fixation on eating only healthy or “pure” foods – was originally defined as a disordered eating behavior in the ’90s, but experts believe it has been gaining steam in recent years, fed by the profusion of foods marketed as healthy and organic, and by the media’s often conflicting dietary advice. Like anorexia nervosa, orthorexia is a disorder rooted in food restriction. Unlike anorexia, for othorexics, the quality instead of the quantity of food is severely restricted.
If someone is orthorexic, they typically avoid anything processed, like white flour or sugar. A food is virtually untouchable unless it’s certified organic or a whole food. Even something like whole-grain bread – which is a very healthy, high-fiber food – is off limits because it’s been processed in some way.”
Orthorexics typically don’t fear being fat in the way that an anorexic would, but the obsessive and progressive nature of the disorder is similar. Orthorexics may eliminate entire groups of food – such as dairy or grains – from their diets, later eliminating another group of food, and another, all in the quest for a “perfect” clean, healthy diet. In severe cases, orthorexia eventually leads to malnourishment when critical nutrients are eliminated from the diet.
An Isolating Disorder
Sharing a meal is one of the key ways we socialize and bond in society. But for people suffering from orthorexia, a family meal can seem like a minefield. Eating food that they don’t consider pure, or that someone else has prepared, causes an extreme amount of anxiety for orthorexics.
The Road to Recovery
Orthorexia is a serious disordered eating pattern that can have grave mental and physical health consequences, and people suffering from it need professional help.