BMC therapist Christine Muska discusses orthorexia nervosa, its symptoms, and impact in the article below.
Although orthorexia is not a clinical diagnosis currently, meaning it is not in the DSM V, it is an eating disorder that has serious consequences similar to those of diagnosable eating disorders.
Orthorexia is an eating disorder that is defined by an unhealthy obsession with being healthy. A key indicator of having orthorexia is when one’s passion turns to obsession is . Although there is nothing wrong with being healthy, when it becomes all consuming, all one thinks about, when someone punishes themselves –or has guilt- for eating “non-healthy” food items, experiences panic when healthy eating options aren’t available, has intrusive thoughts about food, and restricts caloric intake when it is unnecessary, these are big signs that someone might be struggling. Typically this starts out with dieting but quickly becomes more out of control for the person. They might seek relief from anxious feelings by restricting food intake, have a sense of finally being in control when restricting food items to those that are only “healthy”, or find validation in being “the most healthy” around them, and feel an over identification of pride with being able to follow their healthy eating lifestyle. It might also induce depressed or anxious feelings and a sense of loneliness because interpersonal relationships may begin to suffer.
If you find yourself restricting more and more types of food in the name of “healthy eating”, refusing to eat with family and friends, panicking at the thought of attending parties or restaurants in which you don’t know what will be served, seek help. So it is important if you, or someone you know, might be struggling get help and have a physical check up with blood work, as well a visit to a mental health provider.