A dedication to nurturing your body and eating healthily is great; obsessing over what you eat to the point that it impacts your general health and mental wellbeing – not so much. If the latter is you – you may actually be teetering on eating disorder territory.
Orthorexia – the term coined by Dr. Steven Bratman in 1997 – is nothing new. Unlike the eating disorder anorexia which focuses on the amount of food consumed, orthorexia is all about what you eat. With such heavy attention being placed on mindful, organic, gluten-free, paleo and all kinds of other well-intentioned dietary regimes, there is a tendency for obsessive types to take these virtuous and perfectly healthy patterns of eating and push them towards the restrictive, rather than the beneficial, end of the spectrum.
While being dedicated to healthy eating patterns clearly has its benefits, radically limiting or narrowing the types of nutrients you consume can have alarming physical effects. Alongside the harm you may do to your body, and indeed your mind through these obsessive patterns of behavior, the social stigmas are also limiting. Avoiding dinner with friends, or any meal you can’t prepare yourself, anxiety around weekly food shopping and other anti-social behaviours can result.
Psychologist Jo Lamble says that any type of restrictive eating is potentially problematic. “When we harshly restrict what we eat over time we start to feel deprived, which increases our chances of bingeing”, she says. According to Jo, “any pattern of heavy restrictions followed by over-indulging can lead to yo-yo dieting, body dysmorphia, fluctuating weight, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, and serious eating disorders.”
Signs that you may be in the danger zone include:
- Breaking the rules causes considerable distress
- Thinking about food constantly
- Obsessing about what others are eating
- Irritbility and mood disturbances
Orthorexia isn’t yet officially classified as an ‘eating disorder’, however more and more psychologists and nutritionists are reporting patients who are exhibiting distressing obsessions with eating healthy foods.
So what can you do if you think you’re dipping your toes in this territory? Speak to an expert in cognitive behavioural therapy, like a phychologist or counseller. It’s all about learning new frameworks of behaviour to help manage obsessive compulsive tendencies and finding a balance so your healthy eating habits aren’t sabotaging your efforts.
Do you, or anyone you know, suffer from Orthorexia? Share your experience below…