We're used to being told to eat five fresh portions of fruit and vegetables a day. We know we should be drinking more water and fewer carbonated drinks. We agree we should be exercising more. We do our best, but we're not perfect and the odd slip up is bound to happen.. right?
So what happens when you get a little obsessed with the eat healthy/be healthy regime? Well, in most cases it means a slimmer, trimmer, healthier you, but in a minority of cases it becomes another form of eating disorder.
The term ‘Orthorexia Nervosa’ is not very well known but it has just the same amount of dire consequences as Anorexia or Bulimia.
Orthorexia sufferers claim to have healthy eating and exercise habits but sadly there’s nothing healthy about this disorder. Sufferers tend to adopt obsessive controls over what they eat and how much they exercise. Taking healthy eating to extremes, Orthorexia patients will cut out vast numbers of food groups in the belief that they are in some way harmful to them. It is not uncommon for excessive avoidance of foods thought in some way to be carcinogenic, such as fried foods, barbequed foods or those with caffeine or sugar. Some sufferers think that they shouldn’t eat carbohydrates at all but instead only consume protein rich foods. Raw food diets can often replace cooked foods completely and constant exercising to achieve a ‘healthy’ body is commonplace. Some individuals will limit their calorific intake while completing punishing exercise schedules.
Orthorexia isn’t about wanting to be thin but more about the obsession with being healthy. Ironically, that obsession leads to addictive behavior with obsessive-compulsive tendencies that lead to poor health, emaciation and complex and damaging psychological traits.
The term ‘Orthorexia’ was first used by Dr. Steven Bratman but it is not yet a currently medically recognized term. Bratman coined the term in 1997 by using the Greek word ‘orthos’ (meaning ‘correct’ or ‘right’) and combining it with ‘orexis’ for ‘appetite’. Similarly the term ‘Anorexia’ means ‘without appetite’. Rather than being defined as mental or physical illness, Bratman describes the condition as an unhealthy fixation with what the individual considers to be healthy. Of course just because one person ‘thinks’ it’s healthy doesn’t make it so. The condition does have similarities with obsessive compulsive disorder and the individual can impose hugely restrictive rules to their eating, exercising and social behavior.
No one is saying that you shouldn’t eat healthy foods or not to exercise regularly. It’s important to be able to recognize what is healthy and what is not through a balanced program. Your best bet is to consult a physician about your health and exercise regime. Orthorexia sufferers have lost sight of their health goals and adopted something altogether more sinister.