Orthorexia: When Eating Healthy Becomes an Unhealthy Obsession

Orthorexia, also known as the “clean eating” disorder, is essentially an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy1. The term is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as an official eating disorder (yet), but it is a mental health concern that is on the rise. Orthorexia occurs when eating healthily becomes excessive to the point where it takes up a significant amount of time and energy, which may ultimately hinder your health in the process1. The problem lies with the excessive restrictions that individuals put upon themselves, which may lead to potential consequences such as malnutrition, social isolation, or extreme stress1. Due to the lack of a formal diagnostic criteria at current, it is uncertain if Orthorexia is either a standalone eating disorder, a form of a pre-existing eating disorder such as Anorexia Nervosa, or a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder1.

The largest predictor for an eating disorder is dieting1. Research has found that those who practice excessive food restriction have a much higher chance to develop an eating disorder1. Although Orthorexia is not categorized as an official eating disorder,  it may lead to developing an eating disorder which is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Below are the common signs and symptoms of Orthorexia, developed by the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC)1.

Signs and Symptoms of Orthorexia1:

  • Obsessive habit of looking at the nutrition labels and ingredient lists of foods
  • High concern regarding the nutritional value of ingredients
  • Eliminating a large amount of food groups. For example, this may include all carb, meat, or dairy
  • Strong desire to eat only foods considered “pure” or “healthy”
  • Abnormal interest in the foods that others may be eating, as well as health
  • For upcoming events, spending multiple hours in a day imagining what foods may be served
  • Significant stress when foods with high nutritional value are not available
  • Obsessive interest in posts on Instagram or Twitter regarding “healthy lifestyle”
  • Possible concerns over body image

Not only is Orthorexia common among health science students, it is specifically common among dietetic students2. Research shows that additional awareness of Orthorexia Nervosa is required, especially among the student population3. One study by Grammatikopoulou et al. found that orthorexic tendencies decreased in upper year dietetic students, most likely due to an increased exposure to the term3. This suggests that education and advocacy is key to reducing the incidence of orthorexia going forward.


References

  1. Orthorexia (2018). Retrieved from: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/other/orthorexia
  2. Korinth A, Schiess S, Westenhoefer J (2010). Eating behaviour and eating disorders in students of nutrition sciences. Public Health Nutr. 13(1):32-7. doi: 10.1017/S1368980009005709.
  3. Grammatikopoulou M, Gkiouras K, Markaki A, Theodoridis X, Tsakiri V, Mavridis P, & Dardavessis T. (2018). Food addiction, orthorexia, and food-related stress among dietetics students. Eat Weight Disord. doi: 10.1007/s40519-018-0514-1

Leave a Reply