Orthorexia is basically a disorder that is characterised by healthy eating habits which have become obsessive or dangerous. It usually starts out as an honest attempt to be healthier but the person can then start cutting out more and more foods or begin to only accept foods prepared in a certain way. Ironically, orthorexia often has negative health effects for the sufferer - a very rigid diet often does not provide enough nutrient variety and balance. Many of the symptoms and side effects of orthorexia are shared across anorexia and bulimia, and the person can get to the point where they are so fixated on the 'healthiness' of how they are eating that they could be avoiding foods and nutrients that are necessary for thriving. The actual health effects may include but are not limited to:

  • Developing a lowered immune response

  • Osteoporosis

  • Kidney failure

  • Infertility

  • Anxiety and stress

  • Heart disease

  • Malnutrition

  • Emotional instability, and

  • Low sense of worth.

Food preferences often become so rigid that the sufferer is not able to enjoy everyday social interactions like going out to a restaurant with friends which can eventually result in social isolation. The primary reason for the disorder is the attempt to improve ones health but the underlying reason for this may come from somewhere deeper such as to overcome chronic illness, improve self esteem, strong desire for control, strong desire to be thin, use of food to create an identity or trying to escape from fears. The culture we live in promotes health, and who doesn't want to be healthy? So how would you know if you or somebody you care about has orthorexia and is not just health conscious? Normally the orthorexia sufferer will exhibit behaviours that stretch beyond what normal is and this can include:

  • Engaging in emotional eating

  • Placing value on their self worth based on the food they eat

  • Being critical and rigid about eating

  • Feeling as though certain foods are dangerous

  • Feelings of guilt and shame when they find difficulty in maintaining their eating standards

  • Losing interest in past activities as their sole interest is food

  • Being critical of other people who don't eat to their standards

  • Being critical of those who cannot follow a rigid eating plan

  • Spending extreme amounts of time and money on meal planning and food prep

  • Eliminating entire food groups in an attempt to 'eat clean'

  • Avoidance of social events where the food cannot live up to their standards

  • Showing severe anxiety about how their food is prepared.

So, as you can see, for something which starts off so innocently there are a lot of disordered behaviours and poor outcomes. It's difficult to spot with everyone on some kind of diet or healthy eating crusade but if you see the decline in your own or someone you care about's behaviour around food please seek help. You can always book in a free call with me to discuss what's going on or you can seek help from BEAT charity here or straight to an assessment with a local counsellor through NCFED here.

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