Why orthorexia matters

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?


50 thoughts on “Why orthorexia matters

  1. You said this so well. I think suffering from something like this personally gives a depth of understanding that most people lack. I hope that others will begin to realize just how serious the obsession with health can be.
    Megan recently posted…Monday must-reads!My Profile

  2. I think I read that same article and those same comments (or maybe that’s the general consensus among readers of all articles on that topic) but it is really hard to know that people are so quick to dismiss such a serious disease. Thank you for writing this and laying it out for others to understand.
    Laura recently posted…Living for the WeekdaysMy Profile

  3. I think much of the reason the comments could not believe that eating too healthy was a thing is because it is “normal” for Americans to eat completely unhealthy. Therefore, most people think that anything we can do to eat healthier must be bad.
    I completely agree with your points. The worst part about orthorexia is isolation, because not only does it create that with food, but will leak into other areas of life too.
    Ellie recently posted…Running Links [09/04/2016]My Profile

  4. I really wish that this was more recognized–i know many people who have gone through this and are currently going through it!
    For me, I find balance by reminding myself that sometimes enjoying life is enjoying the food that isnt so healthy! A Life without brownies, chips, and fries?? No way, Jose!
    Heather @ Polyglot Jot recently posted…Currently: September 2016My Profile

  5. I totally bounced around in my eating disorder, from limiting all foods to only eating the “healthy” ones. In fact, there was a span of months when I would only eat foods labeled as organic – which meant no eating out at restaurants, no fast food, no grandma’s angel food cake, etc. It was SOO confining – I completely put myself into a box and thought I was doing the “healthy” thing. Some days I still have to check myself to make sure I am not doing the same thing.
    kat recently posted…Vegan PB&J BarsMy Profile

  6. Excellent post, Kate. It makes sense why many people would dismiss, not understand, or even negatively comment about such a thing as “orthorexia.” Because they can ever only see what is on the outside. And orthorexia is about whats happening on the inside. No one who hasn’t suffered, like you said, can actually fathom the inner turmoil that goes on and how crippling it can be. I’ve accepted that most people will not understand. As long as those who suffer know it is not healthy and know they need help, that is what’s important.
    Cora recently posted…Week In Review: Back At It With Mess, Scones, and Starting FreshMy Profile

  7. Wonderful post Kate. I have suffered from orthorexia, and it is so isolating, crippling, and limiting like you said. It is so hard to escape your brain with orthorexia because you are always so fixated on food. My favorite ways to stay balanced are to go with the flow around food, eat what I crave, get in my fruits and veggies, and to not let food have such a big role in my life!
    Lyss recently posted…MHM 9/5/16: Bikini competitions?My Profile

  8. Hi Kate-

    Thank you so much for this post. I am currently recovering from an eating disorder and you are completely correct when you say that, for better or worse, it is difficult for someone to know what it is like if they have never had one. I have followed your blog and instagram for some time and really admire how you have overcome your past. You show that it really is possible. You have no idea how much hope this gives me. Best of luck in your new home and job!

  9. The way you explained this is so kind and informative Kate; I would probably say that this was me to a T for so many years. I didn’t spend time with my family enjoying food, because I was too busy making sure that it was healthy or calculating the calories online. Food was not a joy or a gift but a fixation, an idol, an obsession. Being able to break free because of Jesus Christ, has been one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me, and reading this makes me think of all the years that the locusts have eaten, and yet all the years that God has restored.
    Emily recently posted…The Ultimate Fall Lover’s Pumpkin Recipe Round-UpMy Profile

  10. This is such a great post!

    The biggest problem about a “healthy lifestyle” is that people often become competitive or obsessive and it becomes anything but healthy. I know people are totally shocked when I tell them I eat dessert every night and am a huge chocolate fan (and don’t even get me started on baked goods!) but I believe than a healthy lifestyle is all about balance!

    I could eat vegetables all day long but I also love sweet things!
    Kristy from Southern In Law recently posted…Recipe: Easy Vegan DIY Coffee Creamer (Or Sweet Cream!)My Profile

  11. I battle with orthorexia BIG TIME! Food allergies don’t make it easy to overcome either. However… I’m learning to try foods continually knowing that some allergies are actually a result of years of restrictive eating and can be cured by gradually introducing those foods into my diet again. Thank you for this post because honestly… I was in denile even until today and this reeealllly helped open my eyes!

        1. I believe it depends on how your GI issues manifest. I know for me that when I’m dealing with flare-ups or having particularly bad days, I try to stick to easy to digest foods (no raw foods, low fiber, nothing too “tough”).Yogurt, broth, most meats, applesauce, cooked potatoes and vegetables, no apples or tough fruits like that… It’s kind of funny because processed foods sometimes sit better in my stomach. I haven’t had much luck with diets that claim to “heal the gut”, but I found giving my gut a break from the high fiber, “healthy” foods can really help. Somewhat counter intuitive, but it’s what I’ve found works best for me.

  12. This is such a great post and so important for people to understand. I think it is difficult for anyone who has never had an eater disorder to understand them. They dont get why people cant “just eat”. These mental diseases can be SO crippling and isolating and lack of understanding only makes it worse.

  13. Great post Kate! I think orthorexia is more common than people think, and being aware of it and understanding it is so important. Lately, in my own recovery, it has been helpful to remind myself that food is fuel for life and that eating more and gaining weight is only bringing me close to all my goals.

  14. It’s so sad that folks can be so oblivious to how debilitating orthorexia could be. I’ve faced the whole “most-Americans-are-fat-and-lazy-so-an-eating-disorder’s-probably-better-than-that” argument before. Eating disorders–whether anorexia, bulimia, BED or orthorexia truly take over someone’s entire life. And it’s hell.
    Joyce @ The Hungry Caterpillar recently posted…Staples for the Low-FODMAP KitchenMy Profile

  15. This is such an important topic for people to understand. I heard recently that children as young as 3 years old are having negative thoughts about their bodies. Eating disorders come in many shapes and sizes, but since many people do not fit all of the criteria to be clinically diagnosed, they fall under the radar.
    I have realized that it’s more important to be healthy than to be a certain size. And I’ve also learned how to enjoy all food.
    Thank you for this great post!

    1. So sad to hear, but not really surprising. I always try to reinforce healthy body image with my nieces and nephews.
      I think too much time and concentration goes into size and weight. I think we’d all be better to focus on living healthy lives instead!

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