What is Orthorexia?
Orthorexia is an eating disorder that is characterised by symptoms of obsessive behaviour towards food, often in pursuit of a “healthy” diet.
Those suffering with Orthorexia may be extremely selective and restrictive with their food and food types. They may categorise food as “good” or “bad” and attempt to eat only “pure” foods whilst following a seemingly “perfect” diet.
The diagnosis was first coined in 1998 and doesn’t yet have formal diagnostic criteria. As such, it can be difficult to diagnose people with Orthorexia, especially as we know there’s no “one way” to have an eating disorder.
A concern and awareness of the nutritional quality of food is taken to the extreme with Orthorexia, to the detriment of their psychological and physiological selves and often leading to isolation as people endeavour to keep up with their specific “healthy” diets and/or food rules.
What are the common symptoms?
It’s important to remember that eating disorders manifest in different ways. They are unique to the individual and anyone can develop one. This means that there is no right or wrong way to have Orthorexia and you may not “tick all the boxes” of the diagnosis.
That being said, there are common behavioural patterns and emotional and cognitive characteristics that help in diagnosing the illness, such as:
- A preoccupation and obsession with eating so-called “healthy” foods – possibly spending hours a day planning meals
- Regimented eating and/or lack of intuitive eating. Feeling unable to eat foods that aren’t deemed “healthy” or “pure”
- Guilt and shame associated with eating foods that don’t fall into these categories
- Prioritising “healthy” eating over family time, social lives and/or their career. Possibly not attending social events or meals that don’t have healthy food options
- Basing self-worth around their diet and the pursuit of health
- Body image concerns may/may not be present
- An unusual interest in what others are eating and an obsessive following of food blogs or social media profiles
How do you treat Orthorexia?
Despite how it may seem, Orthorexia is much more than a concern for or awareness of the quality and content of food.
Orri understands the complexities of eating disorders such as Orthorexia, and our team have spent their careers working alongside people living with eating disorders and their families so that recovery becomes possible for all.
To us, recovery involves healing the underlying causes – not just the physical symptoms – of the eating disorder to ensure full and sustained recovery. Our particular area of focus is specialist day treatment through a stepped approach. By taking a stepped approach, we can provide the right level of support as individuals maintain their careers, go to school or university, and return to their lives alongside recovery.
Recovery is a gradual process that won’t happen on any particular day but will deepen and strengthen with time. Our commitment is to the individual and their journey, as well as to the support system around them of family and carers.
What should I do if I think that I, or a loved one, may have it?
Orthorexia can have a detrimental impact to someone’s physical and mental health. It’s important that if you have concerns, you reach out to an eating disorder specialist to get advice and guidance on next steps.
Last updated by Kerrie Jones, Clinical Director of Orri, in February 2020.
Recovery from Orthorexia is possible. We’re here, just reach out.
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