Happy Labor Day! Isn’t it nice to have a day that reminds of us of how hard we work?
Today I’m sharing about something that’s been on my mind for a while. I want to help anyone out there who may not understand or know about orthorexia nervosa. It’s a condition that I think deserves more attention.
Orthorexia nervosa is a condition where an individual has an unhealthy fixation on healthy eating or clean eating. The condition cannot be found in the DSM-5 and is not considered a true clinical diagnosis. It has symptoms similar to that of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, but does not meet all the criteria to be considered either. However, it often becomes one of the two or develops after a person recovers from one.
This condition has its skeptics.
Last year, an article about orthorexia was trending on Facebook. I read the headlining article, though I was already familiar with the condition. What I was curious about was the reader response. Choosing to the read the comments of an article is like falling down a hole, but on this day I was hopeful.
That hope quickly faded as I saw that indeed it was not well received. People were absolutely flabbergasted that there could be anything wrong with a person wanting to eat healthy. I saw health fanatics justify themselves and say things like “Americans don’t want to be healthy” and “just because everyone else is fat…”. Some dismissed the idea claiming that “they want to make everything a disease.” And others just laughed it off.
As a person who survived an eating disorder, as I read these comments, I knew… I knew they simply just did not understand. They couldn’t know the nightmare of having an eating disorder without ever having had one or known someone with one. They couldn’t understand how something like food could hold a very dangerous and destructive position in someone’s life.
For most people eating healthy is simply a choice. A good one too. However, when someone becomes a slave to eating healthy, the choice aspect is taken out of the picture. You may wish to dismiss orthorexia, but by doing so you are ignoring the large number of people affected by it. You are telling them they don’t need help.
You see, when most people who are on a healthy diet “slip up” and have something that isn’t considered healthy, they may have a little regret, but they will move on and forget about it quickly. Yet, a person with orthorexia will fixate on it and feel a strong sense guilt and shame for hours or days after consuming it.
Here’s a few reasons why orthorexia matters-
It’s isolating. Food is more than just fuel, but social too. So when eating healthy or clean becomes someone’s number one priority, social events and meetings with friends become cumbersome and anxiety provoking. If food is involved, they may worry about how they will make up for it later, come only if they can bring their own food, or opt to stay home because it is too stressful to worry about. As they turn down opportunities for social engagement, they will become more isolated from the world.
It’s limiting. With a relentless fixation on food, there is little room to think of much else. The planning, preparing, and act of always eating healthy takes time and energy. There can also be a financial strain if all the foods must be organic and/or “high quality.” If all food must be homemade and unprocessed, huge portions of the day can be spent inside the kitchen. Someone’s goals and aspirations for their future can be forgotten in the pursuit of perfect health. With little room left in the brain for thinking about things like relationships, work, spirituality, family, and academics, a person has little time to develop the things that truly matter.
It’s crippling. Have you ever not been able to stop thinking about something? It stays on your mind all day and then you try to push it out of your mind just to go to sleep only for it to be on your mind again later? This is the case for many orthorexics- their thoughts throughout the day are taken over by worry over upcoming meals, keeping up with calories, reading every ingredient label, not consuming even a morsel of food without knowing exactly what’s in it. This is crippling because it spills over into every area of their life.
It’s not always totally healthy. Whatever type of diet a person prescribes for his/herself, if taken to the extreme it could lead to some nutrient deficiencies. A very low fat diet may cause a person to miss out of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, K, E, & D or essential fatty acids. A vegan diet may mean a diet deficient in zinc, vitamin B12, and iron. A very low carb diet may cause a person to feel depressed, light-headed, or dizzy. Grains found in cereals, breads, and pasta are enriched with vitamins that a person may miss out on if they don’t consume any processed foods. So even in the pursuit of perfect eating, deficiencies may occurs.
It’s often goes under the radar. Like most mental illnesses, orthorexia doesn’t have a specific look. It isn’t always associated with extreme weight loss or being underweight. A person could be eating enough calories to meet their daily needs. A sufferer may appear to just be a typical ‘health nut’. Yet, the mental toil remains and a person suffers nonetheless.
If you are suffering from orthorexia, understand that it is not the norm. You don’t have to live that way. If you find yourself with a healthy balance in your life, that’s great! However, it’s important that you become aware of this condition. You may be able to help someone who is silently suffering.
Read more about this condition here.
So you tell me-
Have you ever heard of orthorexia?
What’s your favorite to stay balanced?