By Felicia Kolodner, LPC, NCC, CEDS
Keto…Paleo…Intermittent Fasting…Whole 30…Clean Eating…when does the latest health fad become more? Orthorexia, while not an official eating disorder, is becoming more widespread. Often called “The Healthy Eating Disorder,” it is best described as an obsession with “healthy” eating that goes well beyond what is balanced and necessary. It becomes an obsession. People who have orthorexia are on a constant mission to only eat the purest form of food, often restricting to only consuming organic produce, buying nothing packaged in any way, and becoming preoccupied by how food is acquired.
Many who have orthorexia start off with good intentions, trying to make a lifestyle change. The desire to be healthy and make good food choices is certainly not a disorder. It is when it becomes an intense preoccupation and does not allow for any flexibility that it becomes a problem. For example, someone with orthorexia would not make an exception and eat a piece of cake at a birthday party. They might even take it a step further and “educate” others as to why their food choices are “harmful.” Someone with orthorexia will typically not share food with friends and family and may become possessive over their own food. The pursuit of food perfection is all consuming and often includes obsessive thinking around nutrients, allergies (actual and perceived) and disease prevention.
Orthorexia can lead to a variety of medical issues, including the development of Anorexia Nervosa. Due to the extreme limitations around what is consumed, a person may experience malnutrition and weight loss. The irony is that the pursuit of health perfection may actually lead to irreversible concerns. Anxiety may also start to increase, especially around social situations that include food. Eating out and enjoying meals with family and friends becomes unmanageable. People who struggle with orthorexia often start to find excuses to discontinue participation in social and family events that include food.
Orthorexia can be a slippery slope to other eating disorders and should be taken seriously. There are providers in your community who specialize in working with those who struggle. At The Ross Center, our clinicians can work with you to address the anxiety and obsessive thinking that is impacting your relationship with food, and help you to develop more effective coping mechanisms.