***DISCLAIMER: This is not a formal diagnosis. If you read this post and feel that this may apply to you, PLEASE seek out medical and psychological support from working professionals.***
If you are a follower of my work, then I imagine you have a particular interest in health and wellbeing. There is obviously nothing wrong with that, and I wish more people were like you and I. To look after your own health and wellbeing, or to seek support from others, is very important to living a fulfilling life.
That being said, there comes the problem when this interest morphs from a harmless curiosity, to a disordered obsession…
So what is Orthorexia Nervosa? While not as well known, Orthorexia is an eating disorder. However, where it differs from other eating disorders is its focus on the quality of the food, rather than the quantity.
Anorexia involves individuals restricting how much food they eat, and Binge-Eating and Bulimia involves individuals gorging on food, and in the latter expelling it again. Orthorexia on the other hand involves individuals having an obsession on the purity of the food.
Those who have Orthorexia are often otherwise healthy people, who take great care in looking after their mind and body. But where they differ from the average gym rat or yogi is that the obsession overshadows other aspects of their life, to the point where it is causing major issues. There is often a lot judgement on themselves and others about the food choices made, and there is a need to feel morally superior (or at the very least appearing healthy at all times).
Someone with Orthorexia will experience emotional distress and fear around unhealthy foods, and their preoccupation with eating healthy affects their relationships, work, and other commitments. They are so rigid in their diet regime that any deviation can cause serious mental health issues.
Check out this blog post by Finding My Psych to find out more about potential warning signs that your eating has become disordered…
If I think I have it, what do I do about it?
Unfortunately there is no current official diagnosis under the current diagnostic manual that psychologists and psychiatrists use, to confirm their diagnoses of patients (i.e. the DSM V in the UK/US). The first time this disorder was even coined was in 1997, and there is still a lot research being done now to uncover our understanding of what it is, and how people experience it.
However, you should still seek out psychological support if you feel you currently experience Orthorexia Nervosa. There is a lot of overlap in symptoms with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and those with past experiences of other eating disorders are at a higher risk of developing Orthorexia too. If you’ve also had past traumatic experiences around food, have been exposed to some form of extreme dieting regime, or find yourself being sucked in too much by social media and fad diets, you may be at a higher risk as well.
Seek out support where you can, including your doctor/therapist. Talk to those closest to you about your worries, and keep checking in with yourself to see if your current eating habits have become extreme.