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Orthorexia, An Eating Disorder?

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Brenda Sue and I were recently discussing eating disorders when we came across the term Orthorexia Nervosa. This term was a new one to both of us, even though it was coined in 1996 by Dr. Steven Bratman

What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Well, if I put it in layman’s terms, orthorexia is a meaningless term invented to give a name to an eating disorder that I personally find hard to call a disorder. Orthorexia is considered a disruptive obsession with healthy eating that hyper focuses on the quality of food in your diet. It’s a good thing  the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) does not recognize it as an official eating disorder – it can be challenging to identify, and the exact definition is still in debate.

This is not an attack on Dr. Bratman, it is my critique of his idea that healthy eating is not healthy. This falls into placing everything into the lowest common denominator instead of recognizing that some things in life are actually superior to others. Healthy eating is not a disorder – although there would be some who refuse to eat healthy who would imagine that it is.

With 68% of the American population overweight, or obese, is it any wonder that someone would identify healthy eating habits as a disorder? In my personal experience, I have had people get quite upset when I have politely turned down a piece of cake, or a slice of pie. To these people, it doesn’t matter that I have been overweight, as well as pre-diabetic. They think I am weird because I will not indulge in sugary treats with them, and that I do not eat processed foods.

I Enjoy Feeling Healthy and Well!

Knowing how obese people think – because I have been obese – I can’t help to think the term orthorexia was coined in order to make them not feel isolated for having an eating disorder. Now, everyone has an eating disorder, even when we are eating to be healthy.

Is it a disorder to actually enjoy nutritious foods?

Because I enjoy how I feel with a fit body, I have a disorder because I am strong?

Is it a disorder to enjoy being able to enjoy walking around a zoo with my grandchildren?

Why would anyone consider it a disorder to eat in such a way that the risk of nutrition related illness is greatly mitigated when you eat healthy. I have an athletic blood pressure at 58 years old, and my annual blood lab screenings are always excellent across the board.

It is my opinion that if any doctor says that you suffer from Orthorexia Nervosa, you need to fire that doctor on the spot by never returning to their office.

Warning Signs of Orthorexia Nervosa:

It is said that enthusiasm for healthy eating only transforms into orthorexia when it turns into an obsession that negatively affects everyday life, such as extreme weight loss or a refusal to eat out with friends. What a load of baloney, that sounds a lot like Anorexia Nervosa which can be deadly.

  1. Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels.
    • It only makes sense to check the ingredient and nutrition labels on foods that you have never tried before. Many foods on our grocery store shelves undeniably do not provide quality nutrition.
  2. An increase in concern about the healthiness of ingredients.
    • I am genetically prone to type 2 diabetes, and have been pre-diabetic. I would emphasize that anyone susceptible to obesity and diabetes, heart disease among many other diseases, should be concerned about ingredients. Face it, facts do not care about feelings, and people suffering from obesity are at risk of many preventable diseases.
  3. Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat, all animal products).
    • Sugar, simple carbs, and dairy are known to cause inflammation in the body. When we eat sugar and simple carbs, they spike our blood sugar, and therefore our insulin levels.  Foods containing sugar and simple carbs cause people to crave more and more to their detriment as these foods are almost exclusively high in calories and low in nutrition.
  4. An inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’.
    • Maybe it is not an inability as much as a refusal to eat just anything placed before you. Having had a weight problem coupled with associated health problems, I am not going to eat foods that have caused me to be unwell in the past.
  5. Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events.
    1. Proper planning for social events is what you do when you want to still be involved with loved ones and friends. Isn’t it funny that Vegans are not said to have as eating disorder when they plan around meals that involve meat?
  6. Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available.
    • It doesn’t take more than a bite or two to derail one who has lost weight by cutting out unhealthy foods. While this can be mitigated by planning ahead in all events, it is a legitimate concern for those who have suffered health problems as a result of obesity and their poor nutritional habits of the past.
  7. Obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ blogs on Twitter and Instagram.
    • People are not taught about nutrition in school as we were in the past. They are eager to learn how to be healthy, and should be applauded for trying to improve their health.
  8. Body image concerns may or may not be present.
    • Most people have some form of body image concerns whether they will admit it or not. Your body speaks volumes about your health today, and into the future.

Orthorexia Nervosa is a rising term amongst eating disorder practitioners. Therefore it makes practical sense that we critically examine our beliefs about Orthorexia Nervosa so we don’t make the same intellectually lazy assumptions. Media outlets have used the term orthorexia to erroneously label adherents of restrictive diets – particularly Paleo Dieters and Vegans – for the sheer purpose of garnering click-bait attention.

Obviously, there are going to be some people who will insist that Orthorexia Nervosa is a legitimate diagnosis for them. If you feel that you have any type of eating disorder, go talk to your physician about your concerns. If something is causing you a problem, then it is very real to you and you should seek help for it.

Anorexia Nervosa, Dying To Be Thin

Disordered Eating? Recognize It!

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