Most people have heard of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or even binge eating disorder, but something such as orthorexia does not even appear in the DSM-V. Orthorexia is the unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food or “clean eating.” Many people may suffer from this condition and not even know it; doctors have trouble diagnosing it in the first place.
Like all eating disorders, orthorexia is never just about the food; mental health always plays a role in pathological eating behaviors. People with orthorexia are obsessed with eating healthy food. They may get these ideas from diet fads, social media trends or word of mouth.
One example of a diet followed by people with orthorexia is eating only fruits and vegetables. The idea of eating anything else is just not an option for them. Even sugar may lead someone with orthorexia to believe that they will develop diabetes. Another common belief is that anything that is not “clean” may disease the body.
Consequences of orthorexia include poor body image, social isolation, malnutrition and mental distress. A poor body image is due to the idea that “unclean food” harms the body. Social isolation may be due to the fact that people with orthorexia may not want to be around others who do not eat healthy, or may not want to reveal their eating habits to others.
Malnutrition can obviously also be a problem if the diet is not complete. But it is thought that orthorexia does not have to do with the concern for weight loss, but more about being healthy, pure and demonstrating high moral standards. It may present in people who are perfectionists or who demonstrate obsessive-compulsive traits.
It’s not difficult to understand why orthorexia would cause mental distress. Any obsession with a behavioral eating pattern is stressful to begin with: one’s thought process, perception, self-esteem and ways of being are altered. Many people with the condition know that something is different or even wrong with their eating habit, bringing upon feelings of guilt and insecurity.
If you suspect anyone of having orthorexia, you should always listen to what they have to say, without being judgmental. Any sign of judgment from your part and you will drive them away. Always be caring and compassionate; demonstrating empathy should be one of your greatest tools. You want to develop a strong alliance, not push them away into isolation.
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