Ever Heard Of Orthorexia?
Up until yesterday, I had never heard of Orthorexia before. And still, there was a whole report about it on USA’s Today Show, an entire book has been written on that subject called “Health Food Junkies”. There are even some discussions to include it in the American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”. Obviously being in the center of the public’s attention, we might want to give it some thought. So what are we talking about? What is Orthorexia?
ORTHOREXIA, or ORTHOREXIA NERVOSA, literally means “fixation on righteous eating” or an obsession with healthy eating.
But isn’t eating healthy good for us? Isn’t it exactly what we are aiming for? Well, the eating healthy part is great, the obsession with it not. Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.”
An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise). Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.
Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating. Eventually, the obsession with healthy eating can crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships, and become physically dangerous (read more on https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa)
Orthorexia has not been officially listed as an eating disorder, but is similar to anorexia and bulimia, where people obsess about calorie intake and weight loss.
Eating disorders are not tied to a certain diet, you find them in every culture and diet, no matter whether it is an omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, plant-based or other diet. It seems to be more connected to the personality of a person, which the NY Times listed in an interesting article:
Avoidant Personalities. Some studies indicate that many patients with anorexia nervosa have avoidant personalities. This personality disorder is characterized by:
- Being a perfectionist
- Being emotionally and sexually inhibited
- Having less of a fantasy life than people with bulimia or those without an eating disorder
- Being perceived as always being “good,” not being rebellious
- Being terrified of being ridiculed or criticized or of feeling humiliated
People with anorexia are extremely sensitive to failure, and any criticism, no matter how slight, reinforces their own belief that they are “no good”.
Obsessive-Compulsive Personality. Obsessive-compulsive personality defines certain character traits (being a perfectionist, morally rigid, or preoccupied with rules and order). This personality disorder has been strongly associated with a higher risk for anorexia. These traits should not be confused with the anxiety disorder called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), although they may increase the risk for this disorder.
Borderline Personalities. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is associated with self-destructive and impulsive behaviors. People with BPD tend to have other co-existing mental health problems, including eating disorders.
Narcissistic Personalities. People with narcissitic personalities tend to:
- Have an inability to soothe oneself
- Have an inability to empathize with others
- Have a need for admiration
- Be hypersensitive to criticism or defeat
Enough of the psychiatry lingo, for me, following a plant-based diet is enriching my life and the life of my family. It has made us much more conscious about the food we eat and has made us explore a whole new variety of foods. For us, it was always more about adding new things to our diet than about leaving some out.
Enjoy your food, you don’t have to be perfect and you sure don’t have to be obsessed with it!