What is Orthorexia?
Orthorexia is a newer diagnosis within the mental health field. It is characterized by obsession with “clean eating” and the idea of “healthy food.” Individuals tend to display obsessive focus on food choice, planning, purpose, preparation and consumption of the food.
Common Characteristics of Orthorexia
- The individual regards food as a source of health rather than pleasure.
- The individual may experience stress and discomfort when around what they deem as prohibited foods.
- The individual places moral judgment and value on food.
- Strong belief that intake or restriction of certain types of food will “heal” the client or prevent or cure disease.
- The ideal of “fit” and “wellness” becomes obsessive and disruptive.
- Body appearance may be used as an indicator of “health”.
- Body image distortion and a sense that the individual is not “pure” or “clean.”
Warning Signs of Orthorexia
- Certain foods are deemed as “magical,” or idealized with a higher sense of value.
- Compulsive use of cleanses and elimination diets.
- Certain food groups are deemed as “bad” or “evil.”
- Increased food restrictions and a continued decrease in variety of foods consumed.
Compulsions With Orthorexia
- What initially seemed as a “choice” to the individual becomes a compulsive and almost addictive behavior.
- It becomes difficult and overwhelming to relax “food rules”.
- Social isolation and a compulsive attention placed on food.
- The preoccupation with “clean eating” becomes socially stressful.
- Compulsive exercise is characterized as exercising in a compulsive and addictive manner.
- The individual struggles to function if they have not reached their “ideal” amount of exercise for the day.
- Exercise is used as a main coping tool for stress and other emotions.
- Preoccupation with calories burned, steps walked, minutes exercised, etc.
- Social isolation due to fitting in workouts and exercise
- Preoccupation with fitness apps and programs
Warning Signs of Compulsive Exercise
(National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), 2017).
- Exercise that significantly interferes with important activities, occurs at inappropriate times or in inappropriate settings, or when the individual continues to exercise despite injury or other medical complications
- Intense anxiety, depression, irritability, feelings of guilt, and/or distress if unable to exercise
- Maintains excessive, rigid exercise regimen – despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury
- Discomfort with rest or inactivity
- Exercise used to manage emotions
- Exercise as a means of purging (needing to “get rid of” or “burn off” calories)
- Exercise as permission to eat
- Exercise that is secretive or hidden
- Feeling as though you are not good enough, fast enough or not pushing hard enough during a period of exercise; overtraining
- Withdrawal from friends and family (NEDA, 2017).
Health Consequences of Compulsive Exercise
- Bone density loss (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
- Loss of menstrual cycle (in women)
- Female Athlete Triad (in women)
- Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S)
- Persistent muscle soreness
- Chronic bone & joint pain
- Increased incidence of injury (overuse injuries, stress fractures, etc.)
- Persistent fatigue and sluggishness
- Altered resting heart rate
- Increased frequency of illness & upper respiratory infections (NEDA, 2017)
National Eating Disorder Association. (2017). Compulsive Exercise. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/general-statistics
National Eating Disorder Association. (2017). Orthorexia. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/general-statistics
Struggling with any of these symptoms?