Orthorexia: When Healthy Eating Goes too Far

Have you heard of orthorexia? This eating disorder has recently been identified.
Orthorexia: When Healthy Eating Goes too Far

Last update: 03 February, 2020

Of course, you’ve heard of anorexia or bulimia. Beyond these two afflictions, there’s another eating disorder known as orthorexia. This disorder isn’t as well known.

The incidence of this eating disorder is increasing, most likely because of lifestyle choices. Due to the excessive preoccupation with body image, it’s becoming more common. Everyone knows about anorexia and bulimia, but other disorders are also becoming more widespread. We are referring to not only orthorexia but to bigorexia or vigorexia as well. 

Types of food disorders

Anorexia

Those with anorexia reject food as part of their illness and have an obsessive fear of becoming overweight. Consequently, a person can reach a state of starvation. Generally, this psychological illness affects young women, even though more and more men are also suffering from this condition too.

There are two subcategories of anorexia, depending on the person. One of them is when the person voluntarily refrains from eating. This is a typical symptom of anorexia. On the other hand, another person may binge eat and then compensate with other actions. The person might take laxatives and/or vomit in order to purge. This is a purgative or a compulsive type of anorexia.

Bulimia: a form of orthorexia

The characteristics of bulimia include constant food binging and inappropriate methods to avoid gaining weight.

Young woman with hands over her mouth to support test about anorexia

“A binge is characterized as eating a lot of food in a short period of time. For example, this includes eating a large amount of food in a period of two hours. And, this would be a much larger quantity than other people would consume in the same circumstances. While doing this, there would be a feeling of loss of control over the type and quantity of food that a person is eating.”

_Mijan de la Torre_

Vomiting

This is also known as vomiting syndrome. Differing from the above conditions, people compulsively eat and then vomit at various times of the day. Clearly, they feel the uncontrollable impulse to eat in order to vomit.

Miscellaneous eating disorders

This topic includes a group of disorders that don’t fall into the category of any specific eating disorder. For instance, this can include bulimic behavior with binges that are less frequent

Vigorexia: another form of orthorexia

The other name for vigorexia is the Adonis Complex. This psychological condition is different from the above because it’s not specifically a food disorder. However, it does share some of the same symptoms such as the obsession with the body shape and distortion of the body image. With vigorexia, there’s an obsessive preoccupation with musculature.

PICA

The illness of PICA causes individuals to ingest non-food items. For example, this may be dirt or paper.

Regurgitation

Also called merycism, this is the repeated regurgitation of food from the stomach to the mouth. This is when food is expulsed or chewed indefinitely. 

Obesity: a type of orthorexia

The increase in this multi-aspect pathology is very common today. Especially common in people in states of depression or anxiety, it’s a continual increase in weight. In addition, it means an increase in eating in a compulsive way. Consequently, it can be a result of bulimia or binge eating that causes weight gain.

A child eating a huge sandwich to support text about obesity, a form of orthorexia.

Orthorexia

Orthorexia has been recently described. To explain, it’s an excessive preoccupation with diet. As a result, it can cause social isolation and a strict diet regimen.

The pathological obsession with diet tends to start innocently and maybe a desire for better health. Also, it could be with the intention of losing weight or curing a disease. What to eat, how much, and the consequences of a poor diet are things that an orthorexic has in mind.

This preoccupation with healthy food also includes agricultural ecology. Obviously, this means food that’s free of pesticides and GMOs. Sometimes this can imply consuming only one food group, creating deficits in other food groups and nutrition.

Symptoms of orthorexia

Even though diagnostic criteria isn’t yet confirmed, there are some common characteristics:

  • Dedicating more than three hours a day to a healthy diet
  • Worrying more about the quality of food than the pleasure of eating it
  • Feeling guilty if a strict diet is not followed
  • Excessive planning of the diet for the next day
  • Social isolation caused by diet
  • Driving great distances to source special foods

Incidence of orthorexia

Currently, we don’t know the prevalence of orthorexia. However, in the Bratman Manual about orthorexia, it estimates that approximately 5,000 people in the US have suffered from this illness.

A person standing on a scale to support the text describing orthorexia.

How do we treat orthorexia?

The psychological treatment for orthorexia is more costly than nutritional treatment. Without a doubt, it’s more difficult to eliminate the orthorexic behavior that the person has adopted for an extended period of time.

As always, the first step in treatment is accepting the problem on the part of the sufferer. In addition, the person needs to have the desire to end the obsession. It’s important that during this process, the subject receives treatment from an interdisciplinary team. Also, it needs to be from a cognitive-behavioral orientation.

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