What is orthorexia? Orthorexia is a type of eating disorder where the patient is obsessed with eating healthy foods to the point where their diet becomes extremely restrictive.
To a certain extent eating healthily is a good thing, but as with most things in life, too much of a good thing is bad for us. Like any obsession, once eating healthily begins to take over your life, it crosses the line from healthy to unhealthy, so whilst eating healthy foods is not a bad thing, when a patient becomes increasingly obsessed about what they eat, or will only eat certain foods prepared in a very specific way, they may be suffering from orthorexia.
What is orthorexia and what are the symptoms?
Orthorexia is an eating disorder. Indeed, the disorder is almost encouraged: the news is full of stories about celebrities endorsing their favourite bizarre diets and the bookshelves groan beneath the weight of diet books telling you to only eat foods of a certain colour or cut out the carbs. Unfortunately, the proliferation of weird and wonderful diets available helps to feed the obsession of those with a tendency towards orthorexia.
On its own, orthorexia is not considered to be a serious disorder, although it is often closely linked to OCD tendencies, but if left unchecked, there is a serious danger than a patient’s obsession with eating a healthy diet will soon develop into a full blown eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa.
Orthorexia patients are more concerned about eating healthy foods than the average person. The illness often starts off fairly benignly. The patient might express an interest in losing weight or improving their diet and decide to cut out meat or sugary foods. But over time, the obsession grows and eventually the patient will only eat certain foods and their diet becomes increasingly restrictive, often to the point that they become malnourished.
What are the dangers of orthorexia?
People suffering from the symptoms of orthorexia may restrict their diet so much that they starve themselves. Taking in too little nourishment is very bad for the body and it puts a huge amount of stress on the vital organs, including the heart. Sadly, like anorexia and bulimia, orthorexia can also lead to serious long term health problems, and if left untreated, death.
What is the treatment for orthorexia?
Orthorexia can be a challenging eating disorder to treat since many orthorexics do not believe that they have a problem. As far as an orthorexic is concerned, they are eating a healthy diet as part of a healthy lifestyle. In general terms this is probably true, but if the person is eating so little that they are dangerously underweight, they need help.
As with any eating disorder, the treatment will depend on the severity of the illness and if the patient is severely malnourished and/or suffering from associated health problems, they will probably be admitted into hospital or a clinic for eating disorders so that their food intake can be closely monitored. For less serious cases, treatment will involved group and/or one-to-one therapy sessions to help the patient understand the root of their eating disorder and hopefully change their eating habits for the better.