Orthorexia: Three Things You Might Not Know

For most of modern history, we as a society have been preoccupied with dieting and exercise fads. More recently, there has been an emphasis on "clean eating" and staying away from processed foods. An over-focus on only eating certain foods can reinforce a rigid relationship with food, which can often lead to disordered eating. Let's learn more about orthorexia and why it can be dangerous.

1. Orthorexia isn't officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Assocation

You cannot be diagnosed with orthorexia, as it's not an officially recognized diagnosis in the DSM-V. However, it is a term recognized by both mental health and eating disorder professionals across the nation. The National Eating Disorder Association defines orthorexia as an obsession proper or healthful eating. This means that a person feels guilty or shameful if they eat a food that they consider to be "not healthy". 

2. Signs and symptoms of orthorexia

The following are recognized by the National Eating Disorder Association as being warnings signs that a person may be struggling with orthorexia: compulsive checking of ingredients or nutrition labels, cutting out food groups (such as all sugar, carbs, dairy, meat, or animals products), spending a significant amount of time thinking or worrying about what food might be served at social events, feeling distressed when "healthy" foods aren't available, following health or lifestyle bloggers on social media, and concerns about body image. 

3. Options for help

Oftentimes, orthorexia begins with pure intentions: a person wants to improve their health. However, this can sometimes lead to obsessive thinking about food which can, in time, develop into an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. 

If you believe that you might be struggling with orthorexia (or a rigid relationship with food in general), there is help available. I advise that you seek services from both a counselor and a registered dietitian. A counselor can help you replace your rigid thoughts about food and move towards acceptance of food and of your body. A dietitian can provide you with education on what kinds of foods your body needs to operate at full function and help you to implement new eating habits into your daily life. 

Emily Teegarden