Featured News - Current News - Archived News - News Categories

Orthorexia nervosa: the dangerous truth behind eating too healthy

by Tegan Mazur- Copy Desk Chief
Tue, Sep 19th 2017 06:55 pm
Photo from Wikipedia Commons
There are many symptoms someone with orthorexia nervosa can display, like obsessing with calories and fat, cutting out `unhealthy` food and more. Some people may become obsessed with eating `raw` food (above).
Photo from Wikipedia Commons There are many symptoms someone with orthorexia nervosa can display, like obsessing with calories and fat, cutting out "unhealthy" food and more. Some people may become obsessed with eating "raw" food (above).

Mental Health is an issue in America that often goes without the recognition and dedication it desperately needs. Within that broad umbrella is the issue of eating disorders. One specific eating disorder which tends to go unnoticed is known as orthorexia nervosa.

This eating disorder may sound strange at first. It occurs when an individual focuses most of their energy and thoughts on eating as healthily as possible. This issue comes not from the healthy food, obviously, but from the unhealthy state of mind that the individual puts themselves in.

This is not to imply that the desire and discipline to eat healthy is the same as orthorexia nervosa. The distinction is that orthorexics take their desire to the level of obsession. They find themselves totally fixated on eating healthy and punishing themselves if they fail to adhere to their own self-administered rules.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association article, “Orthorexia Nervosa,” by Karin Kratina, Ph.D., the term “Orthorexia” has been around since 1996, coined by Dr. Steven Bratman. Despite that, however, the disorder has yet to be recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Naturally, that contributes a great deal to the difficulty in raising awareness of Orthorexia Nervosa and its symptoms.

The DSM does not recognize the disorder, however, for fairly sound reasons. According to the psychiatry article, “Orthorexia: Can Healthy Eating Become Unhealthy?” by APA staff, the reason that the DSM does not recognize the disorder is because of how little study has been done on the subject. 

Dr. Tim Walsh stated that the reason behind the lack of research is that the variables associated with the disorder are as of yet undetermined. 

“We do not know how many people are affected, whether those affected are mostly men or women, at what age it begins, the likely complications or other information that would help this term be a useful diagnosis for treatment,” Walsh said. 

The article states that the obsessive desire to eat only healthy foods is a symptom of anorexia nervosa, making the two difficult to distinguish.

The symptoms of orthorexia nervosa are of course what make it so troublesome for sufferers. According to the aforementioned National Eating Disorders Association article, there are many questions people can ask themselves to determine whether they or someone that they know is suffering from orthorexia nervosa. These include: “Do you wish that occasionally you could just eat and not worry about food quality?”, “Are you constantly looking for ways foods are unhealthy for you?”, “Have you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the foods they eat?”

The crescendo of this issue is not the symptoms or the causes of orthorexia, but rather the people it affects. Orthorexia is a danger not only because it can take over someone’s day-to-day life, but also because of the health risks that it can present.

Though it might sound counter-intuitive, eating healthy can be unhealthy, specifically with orthorexia. The issue with eating healthy as a result of this kind of eating disorder is that sufferers will often cut many foods out of their diet that they perceive to be unhealthy. The problem arises when the item they have cut out of their diet is a necessary nutrient. Individuals also can lose the ability to eat based on their natural digestion cycle. That is to say that they can no longer intuitively tell when they are hungry or full, due to the fact of how they unnaturally regulate their food intake.

The important thing to remember is that although this may not be recognized as a disorder, the symptoms are very real. Eating disorders and mental health are particularly delicate issues. They can wreak oftentimes unseen havoc on someone’s life. Recognized or not, it is important to understand orthorexia and its symptoms, so that people do not fall victim to it in this ever-growing health conscious world. 

Photo of the Week