Although not officially a mental health diagnosis, like bulimia or anorexia, the word “orthorexia” has been around for over 2 decades. It means that you have an unhealthy obsession or fixation with ‘healthy eating’ and this negatively affects your physical, social or mental health.
In my practice, I have seen this more often than I ever expected. I work with mostly moms in their 30’s and 40’s and the drive to eat ‘perfectly’ has taken on a new meaning. The “Pinterest Mom” holds out as the ideal: she is thin, happy, follows a ‘clean eating’ lifestyle and her kids are perfect and eat kale with every meal. Spoiler alert, she doesn’t exist in real life.
Orthorexia mostly revolves around food quality, not necessarily quantities. When you become so obsessed with food being raw, fresh, organic, GMO free, etc. you aren’t able to fully enjoy your life. Some signs of Orthorexia includes:
Religiously checking ingredients list and nutrition facts tables
Cutting out multiple types of foods, food groups or limiting intake to a select group of foods only which are deemed "pure" or "clean".
Spending excessive time thinking about food
Worrying about eating out in social situations
Stressing about the possibility that certain "healthy" foods won't be available for meals that aren't planned precisely
Some obsessively follow "Healthy Lifestyle" feeds or blogs on social media and have increased interest in what others are eating.
The challenging part of orthorexia is that early stages, such as excluding certain foods or seeking to eat “clean”, are often celebrated and praised in our society. However, as the person tries to be “healthier” they may continue to limit “allowed foods” to a short list which can lead to nutritional deficiencies and weight loss. When you become so obsessed with food being raw, fresh, organic, and GMO free you aren’t able to enjoy your life. Orthorexia can cause severe social, physiological and medical complications. What started out as “being healthy” can cause just the opposite.
If you, or someone you know, are struggling with these issues make sure to seek help from a professional who has experience working with eating disorders, I would be happy to point you in the right direction.