Signs, Symptoms & Treatments
Orthorexia is characterized by an obsession with consuming only “healthy” foods and affects individuals of all ages, races and genders. Orthorexia is not yet included as an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the standardized tool published by the American Psychiatric Association; however, the various consequences of orthorexia are often just as serious as any other eating disorder. Individuals with orthorexia may create extremely rigid rules about food in hopes of maintaining or achieving various health benefits.
Although weight loss is a common side effect of orthorexia, those with this disorder are not intentionally trying to change the size of their bodies. Orthorexia is better understood as an obsessive pursuit of wellness rather than thinness. Paradoxically, this fixation on health and healthy eating often results in serious and undesirable medical, psychological and social complications.
Is It Really an Eating Disorder?
We live in a culture with rigid ideals about food, weight and size, so it can be difficult to recognize when your thoughts and behaviors have become dangerous. Take a quiz and find out.
Characteristics of Orthorexia
Orthorexia is not a medically identified term, but one worth noting as it has become more and more present in our culture where dieting and weight are conflated with health and wellness. Individuals with orthorexia tend to become obsessed with “eating clean” and defining what that means for them, as well as following a strict exercise regime. Those with orthorexia experience similar levels of rigidity as those with other eating disorders. They find that the rules they have made around their food and exercise limits them from engaging in activities and relationships which they would have otherwise enjoyed.
Orthorexia Warning Signs
Orthorexia can have serious medical consequences including malnutrition, chemical imbalance, and an overall loss of energy and vitality. Key signs you or someone you know may be struggling with Orthorexia include:
- Restrict foods or entire food groups that are deemed “unhealthy” or “bad”
- Obsess about only eating “clean,” organic, “whole,” “pure,” and/or unprocessed foods
- Spend inordinate amounts of time buying, preparing and cooking foods
- Preoccupied with “gut health,” food allergies and/or intolerances
- Avoid restaurants and/or social events
- Have medical and psychiatric issues secondary to malnourishment
- Low heart rate, depression, anxiety, weight loss, and/or thinning hair
How to Help Someone with Orthorexia
Individuals with eating disorders deserve and require professional evaluation, diagnosis and treatment. Parents, family or friends—in collaboration with a mental health professional—can play an active and essential role in restoring healthy eating. Reach out to a Renfrew Program Information Specialist to schedule a FREE assessment or to learn more about our services.
Effectively Treating Orthorexia
Recovery means much more than just stopping dieting, restricting, binge eating, and purging. It also means identifying the patterns, thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that underlie disordered eating – and working to build emotional tolerance so that individuals no longer need eating disorder symptoms as a means of coping.
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