What is Professional Help for an Eating Disorder
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  • Writer's pictureKate Ringwood, LPC

What is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia is known as a preoccupation with “healthy” or “clean” foods. This includes the type of food, where it originates from, nutritional quality, how it is processed, and the packaging of the product. Orthorexia is not formally recognized as an eating disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. However, awareness around the disorder has increased over the past 30 years.

Diet culture tells us that it is good to focus on many of these factors when deciding what to put in our body. The problem is when the fixation of these “healthy” foods gets in the way of someone’s own well being. Due to Orthorexia not having formal diagnostic criteria, it becomes difficult to recognize as an eating disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is often seen as a co-occurring disorder with Orthorexia.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Orthorexia

When someone is struggling with Orthorexia, you may notice a preoccupation with certain dietary restrictions. For example, limiting one’s intake to organic, farm fresh, whole, raw, or vegan foods. Cutting out food groups such as sugar, meat, dairy, or gluten is also commonly seen. These types of restrictions lead to compulsively checking ingredient lists or nutritional labels and dietary restrictions may increase over time. When there is a violation of their restrictions, it causes an immense amount of anxiety, distress, and fear around the negative impacts.

Those struggling with Orthorexia not only have a fixation on eating the “right” foods, but also, have a constant fear about becoming ill if they do not eat a certain way. This often leads to malnutrition and weight loss as common medical complications, along with impairment of social or academic functioning.

Isolation is increased due to fear of not being able to follow their dietary restrictions. A change in daily lifestyle due to isolation can be seen in the form of no longer going to social gatherings or avoiding meals with others. Body image concerns are not always the case with Orthorexia and it is not necessarily about a fear of weight gain, such as with Anorexia Nervosa. However, it is common to see a decrease in self worth and confidence in relation to being able to meet their “healthy” eating guidelines they have set in place for themselves.

Questions to Ask Yourself

If you believe you may be struggling with your relationship with food and are wondering if you may have Orthorexia, here are a few questions to ask yourself.

  • Is the quality of food that I eat more important than the taste of the food?

  • Do I feel preoccupied with foods deemed as “healthy”?

  • Does the way I eat impact my typical lifestyle?

  • Do I feel anxious when I am unable to follow specific guidelines I have set for myself?

If some of these questions resonate with you, then you may benefit from working on your relationship with food. Despite the belief that diet culture puts on us, we are not actually what we eat. We are so much more. Although Orthorexia is not an official eating disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, it is very common and can severely affect both physical and mental health. To work on freeing yourself from diet culture’s view of health, reach out to us at Serendipity Counseling Services.

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