When does healthy eating become a problem?
In the late 70s Dr Steven Bratman was an organic farmer. When he was working on his farm he began to get obsessed with healthy food. He wouldn’t eat anything unless he knew where it came from. This obsession began to take over his life and started to affect his family life.
Jordan Young became vegan to help combat indigestion. It worked and she quickly became a notable blogger on living a vegan lifestyle. It wasn’t long until her diet became more of an obsession and soon, vegan food was all she would think about. She became malnourished and was emotionally distraught.
Both Bratman and Young suffered from orthorexia. Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that was coined in 1996 by Bratman himself. The word ‘ortho’ means proper or correct, indicating an obsession with eating pure and healthy food.
Orthorexia isn’t currently recognised in the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as a clinical disorder, however it is becoming increasingly common.
Unlike more well-known eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, orthorexia isn’t about changing body shape – it is about the exclusion of food groups to achieve ‘perfection’ in their eating habits.
So, why is this becoming more common? One theory is current food trends. Gluten-free diets, organic eating and vegan food are all very popular right now. And for some, following these trends can turn into an obsession. And while there is nothing wrong with eating healthily, or following these diets (especially if you have to for medical reasons) if your eating habits are causing you stress, it could be time to seek help.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you ever avoided a dinner invitation because you didn’t know what food would be served?
- Have you ever turned down someone elses cooking because a couple of ingredients concerned you?
- Have you ever felt anxious when shopping because you weren’t sure how clean the fruit/vegetables are?
If you answered yes, you may want to consider a visit to your GP. The most worrying result of orthorexia is malnutrition and in some cases it can become a gateway for anorexia. Bratman also says that orthorexia can emulate elements of addiction, especially in the sense that the sufferer must recognise that it’s a problem before it can be addressed.
In terms of treatment, many sufferers will need to see an eating disorder specialist. Alongside this psychological therapy, some sufferers may also find it helpful to explore hypnotherapy. Orthorexia is known for obsessional thoughts, something hypnotherapy can address.
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