What Is Orthorexia?

We all know that healthy eating should be part of our lifestyle, but what happens when our habits becoming obsessively unhealthy?  That’s where the term orthorexia nervosa comes in, a term that literally means “fixation on righteous eating”. People who suffer from orthorexia become fixated on food quality and purity as well as how much they eat. Eventually their diet becomes so restrictive that their obsession becomes detrimental to their health as well the relationships with those close to them.

People who have orthorexia normally start out simply wanting to eat healthier but it then turns into an extreme diet where they’ll avoid any food that has been processed and eat only untouched, whole or organic food. Sometimes this can lead to malnourishment because vital nutrients are being eliminated from the diet.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with following a healthy diet but when you feel guilt or self-loathing if you haven’t stuck to your diet, if thinking about food is taking up far too much of your time or if your diet has left you isolated and alone then there are serious concerns.

Some common behaviour changes that could be a sign of orthorexia nervosa include:

  • An obsessive concern over the link between food choices and health concerns
  • An increased consumption of supplements or herbal remedies
  • The sufferer may consume less than ten different foods
  • An obsessive concern over food preparation technique, including the sterilization of utensils
  • The sufferer may avoid an increasing number of foods due to food allergies

Symptoms of orthorexia nervosa include:

  • Feelings of guilt when you deviate from a strict diet
  • Feelings of satisfaction or fulfilment from eating healthy
  • Avoiding foods that have been prepared by other people
  • Thinking about food all the time and always planning meals in advance
  • Avoiding dining out for fear of deviating from the diet
  • Depression and mood swings

And some common effects of orthorexia include:

  • Becoming socially isolated
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Malnutrition
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Cardiac complications
  • Death

Orthorexia symptoms are serious and can have long-term effects on your health and physical body, so should not be swept under the rug.  As with any other eating disorder, orthorexia needs treatment so if you think you or someone you know may be suffering from this condition talk to someone about it, preferably a professional such as a GP or psychiatrist.

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