What is orthorexia and do you have it?

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The world is awash with food disorders at the moment. Celiacs are now commonplace and every second person has a food intolerance or allergy. Eating disorders have been amongst us for a long time and now a new disorder is on the rise – orthorexia nervosa.

So what is orthorexia? With food easier than ever to now source and buy, particularly healthy, organic food, some people are falling susceptible to this new disorder which sees them becoming obsessed with what, how and when they eat.

Drilled down to its basics, orthorexia is an obsession with eating ‘pure’. Some people are becoming so bogged down in ‘rules’ and information about healthy foods that they experience anxiety and other symptoms when presented with situations that offer them what they deem to be unacceptable food options.

Like anorexia, orthorexia is a diet that is rooted in food restriction. The difference, however, is that instead of restricting themselves from food all together, the orthorexic refuses to eat foods that are considered poor quality or not organic. According to a spokeperson from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (found at www.eatright.org), “If someone is orthorexic, they typically avoid anything processed, like white flour or sugar. A food is virtually untouchable unless it’s certified organic or a whole food. Even something like whole-grain bread…is off limits because it’s been processed in some way.”

Some critics scoff at the idea of orthorexic – how can it be a bad thing by choosing to eat healthy foods? Orthorexia however extends further from refusing a dessert after dinner – it is a constant obsession that occupies the mind of its sufferer from waking until bedtime. Ironically, eventually food choices for the orthorexic become some restrictive, both in variety and calories that health suffers. The obsession with healthy eating can, in the end, crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships and become physically dangerous.

While orthorexia is not currently an officially recognised disorder, its recent rise has been noted throughout the Western world. It is certainly similar to recognised eating disorders however and is a cause for concern.

If you are suffering from obsessive thoughts about food and eating well, you may find relief by talking to your GP or a specialist about these issues. Freeing yourself from obsessions such as this are integral to living a full and healthy life.