The increasingly rising awareness of the importance of healthy eating in the recent years has led many to obsess over everything they eat. The fitness communities have continuously encouraged their members to eat ‘clean’, track their ‘macros’ or perform ‘fasts’ in order to cleanse their bodies. You may think that it’s perfectly normal to look after yourself, follow a healthy diet and track what you it – yes you’re right. Usually such behaviors pose no threat but what if they turn into an obsessive compulsion? Just because someone is not morbidly skinny like the stereotypical anorexia sufferer or doesn’t vomit like bulimics do doesn’t mean they don’t have a problem. In fact, the scale of the problem has been significant to the point that in 1996 Dr. Steven Bratman invented a term for his health-obsessed patients.
Orthorexia nervosa – even though it’s not a clinical diagnosis at this moment, it represents any symptoms connected to an unhealthy obsession with otherwise healthy eating and lifestyle. Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat healthier and get fit, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They fixate on specific quantities and ways of dealing with cheating (sometimes dangerously similar to the binge-purge disorder). Often orthorexics consider beating temptation a moral victory – it improves their self-esteem. Just like other eating disorders it has much to do with control – being in control of your diet makes you in control of your life.
Ironically, the healthy eating soon turns into a health hazard. The sufferers often exclude certain foods and even food groups from their diets, the variety and calories become very restricted. On top of the physical issues orthorexics lose interest in other activities and even friendships.
So what signs should you watch out for if you or someone you know follows a healthy diet a little too closely? If the time spent on planning, preparing and tracking food takes up most of your life and most off all occupies your thoughts – seek help. Do you feel overwhelming guilt when you eat something you do not deem ‘clean’? Does all your sense of accomplishment and pride come from sticking to your ‘clean’ diet? If so, you should talk to your physician or perhaps find a therapist who will help you work through the underlying issues with you. Looking into your emotions and resolving issues that may have been buried deep inside for years will help you deal with obsessing about your diet so much.