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Orthorexia- The New Eating Disorder

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Anorexia, bulemia and now orthorexia? The newly-named disease has been around for awhile, but has never been officially diagnosed, defined or named. However, now that more and more seem to be suffering from the disorder, although they might not realize it, it’s getting national attention, as well as a name.

Credible publications, such as JAMA and Psychology Today, are now recognizing orthorexia (Latin for “correct eating”), which is an obsession with eating healthy. It was identified in 1997 by Colorado physician Steven Bratman.

 Individuals with orthorexia may not even think or realize they have a problem, but when it goes too far it can be as deadly as anorexia or bulemia. These individuals aren’t focused on losing weight necessarily, but are more concerned with restricting their diets to foods they consider pure, healthy and natural. Like other eating disorders, orthorexia can be connected to other mental disorders, such as anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, and orthorexia can even lead to anorexia when it becomes out of control. Then the individual is dealing with the most severe and deadly eating disorder. According to Yahoo! Health:

Those affected may start by eliminating processed foods, anything with artificial colorings or flavorings as well as foods that have come into contact with pesticides. Beyond that, orthorexics may also shun caffeine, alcohol, sugar, salt, wheat and dairy foods. Some limit themselves to raw foods. For example, Kristie Rutzel, 27, dropped to 68 pounds when she was in the grip of her fixation on healthy eating – at one point she ate little more than raw broccoli and cauliflower.

The symptoms for orthorexia include the following:

Photo: Sean Gallup, Getty Images
  • Obsession with healthy eating and obsessing over everything you eat
  • Limiting certain or entire groups of foods due to its ingredients, or hearing something negative about a food and then eliminating it from you diet
  • Spending hours thinking about healthy foods
  • Planning menus and meals ahead of time
  • Feeling guilty when eating foods that aren’t considered “healthy”
  • You restrict yourself from eating out or going places where you might be faced with “unhealthy” foods
  • Your self-esteem boosts when you eat “healthy” and you look down on those who eat badly

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should get help right away, before it gets worse. Contact your doctor and/or therapist for further assistance.

As with any eating disorder, there are risks involved, especially when it becomes severe. An individual with orthorexia can experience malnutrition, emaciation and other nutritional deficiencies. Their social life can also be greatly impacted. Avoiding restaurants and other social scenes where food may be involved will cause one to isolate them self from friends and family. Personal relationships could also be jeopardized, and those who have children could pass on their eating habits to them unknowingly. A person’s overall quality of life can greatly decrease, which can also lead to depression.

There is treatment for the disorder. Cognitive behavior therapy is the most intense and effective treatment. They force the individual to be “exposed” to their fear, thus overcoming it after a certain amount of time. According to WebMD, Dr. Bratman says the following:

Treatment involves “loosening the grip, Bratman tells WebMD. I begin by agreeing that the diet is important, but also saying, Isn’t it also important in life to have some spontaneity, some enjoyment?

 For most people, he says, making the change is a big step. It doesn’t happen in just one session. Once people recognize it, it’s still very hard to change. It’s been so long since they’ve eaten spontaneously. They don’t know where to start. It’s very tricky.

Photo: John Moore, Getty Images

Despite the disorder being serious and life-threatening, orthorexia is not yet recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the American Psychiatric Association’s “bible” of mental disorders, due to little known information. When it is eventually acknowledged, it will be easier for sufferers to get treatment, as insurance will be forced to pay, and researchers will receive grants to study it. It’s sort of a catch-22, because in order to find out more about the disorder, researchers need to study it, but in order to do that, they need the funds.

Hopefully once more is known and more people who suspect they have the disorder come forth and receive treatment, if they’re able to, it will become an officially identified disorder, so that others suffering can get help as well.

Do you think orthorexia is a true disorder? Do you know anyone who you think might have it?

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