orthorexia, restrictive diets, health and nutrition

We all know the type: the super-thin girl who refuses to ever eat cake, pasta, and/or bread and who never raises a glass of alcohol to her lips.

RELATED: Can Food Diaries Encourage Eating Disorders?

This same poor lass will rigidly order the same salad for lunch and exercise for more than two hours daily, obsessively watching her weight and food intake.

This clean eating obsession, or orthorexia, is a proposed, new eating disorder that’s increasingly common in young women and teenage girls, says leading Sydney dietitian, nutritionist and author Susie Burrell (pictured). Yet, it’s still not medically recognised as a bona fide eating disorder, Susie says.

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“The classification for clinical disorders is clearly defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) – the official manual used by the American Psychiatric Association to classify psychological disorders, but as for any scientific definitions, there are outliers, and this is the case with this increasingly commonly seen condition – orthorexia,” she says.

Sufferers are so obsessed with clean eating they will only consume foods which are “pure” and “healthy”, and subsequently favour extremely low-calorie, unprocessed foods, which in turn kept their body weight extremely low. And while they are not malnourished, young girls and women with orthorexia customarily suffer from anxiety, low moods and depression.

So, is there a cure? Orthorexia sufferers need a more balanced and nutritious diet, plus good therapy to help them to identify and manage their emotions, rather than using food and exercise as an escape from them, Susie says.

And Christine Morgan, CEO of the Butterfly Foundation and national director of The National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) concurs. “Orthorexia is a recognised illness and is being treated by eating disorders specialists in Australia,” Christine says. “However, it is not as yet officially recognised as a specific eating disorder.

“Anyone who obsessively manages the consumption of whole food groups is at risk of nutritional deprivation.” So, when does healthy eating go too far?

orthorexia, restrictive diets, health and nutrition

Top Warning Signs Of Orthorexia

  • You skip social occasions for fear of having to eat food you have not prepared.
  • Your skin is dull and your hair is falling out.
  • You have lost your period.
  • You feel constantly tired.
  • You have been experiencing recurrent injuries.
  • You will only eat a very limited range of foods, like fruit and vegetables, and are inordinately obsessed with these foods.
  • You never eat cake or enjoy an alcoholic drink.
  • You exercise for more than two hours a day.
  • People are constantly commenting that you look too thin.
  • You are still not happy with your body no matter what you eat or how much you exercise.
  • You feel guilty when not following strict rules about meals and, conversely, virtuous when eating “correctly”.
  • You experience social isolation in group-dining settings.
  • You avoid situations that might involve “processed” foods.

orthorexia, restrictive diets, health and nutrition

If you need help and support, phone the Butterfly Foundation National Supportline on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or visit their website.

Images via panosplatritis.com, healthology.com.au, howcast.com