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Orthorexia: At What Point Does Healthy Eating Become an Eating Disorder?

orthorexiaOrthorexia, a term used to describe individuals that fixate on healthy eating isn’t a term that’s recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, and some eating disorder clinics don’t even know what it is, but it is seen as a precursor to other more common eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

Commonly, orthorexia begins with a restricted diet. Either due to an illness or just the commendable intent of healthy eating, it can start with taking just a few foods or food groups out of a diet. Meat, gluten, sugar, refined foods, canned products, preservatives – they’re all things that some people avoid to pursue a healthier lifestyle. For other people, avoiding certain foods becomes an unhealthy obsession. Some people develop a phobia of cancer or other illnesses and cut out any foods that they believe can predispose them to disease. Other times, their strict diet interferes with daily life. They can’t eat out at restaurants and become obsessed with where their food comes from and how it’s handled.

Often, individuals with orthorexia (which comes from the Greek “ortho” meaning straight or correct) are commended for their lifestyles, but what most people don’t know is that it can be a cover-up for anorexia and shares many characteristics of more common eating disorders. Sometimes orthorexia can cut out entire food groups from someone’s diet because they are so obsessed with health and the prevention of disease. In fact, cutting out entire categories of food can be more detrimental to health than beneficial.

People with orthorexia can face binge eating episodes just like others with binge eating disorder, and they aren’t just obsessed with food, they can also be obsessed with what they look like, just like anorexics. It’s important to realize that something like orthorexia is a real disorder, especially when it leads to serious eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Since it shares so many common characteristics with eating disorders that are already recognized by the APA, it would be beneficial to add orthorexia to the list, so that people suffering from the disorder can seek help and clinics can successfully diagnose what is becoming more and more prevalent.

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