When talking about eating disorders, many people often have a picture in their minds of two types, namely: anorexia and bulimia. Now I am not saying these eating disorders aren’t real ones, but these are certainly not the only two. There are a variety of eating disorders out there that have been recognized as an eating disorder and the ones that have not yet been acknowledged.
Huh? Unrecognized eating disorders? Yes, you are not reading that wrong. Although a couple of eating disorders are given much attention and research, if you think you are struggling with an eating disorder of any form, but can’t quite find out which one, there is a chance that your eating disorder is not yet recognized as an eating disorder or hasn’t been looked into enough. But this doesn’t mean it is not dangerous and it also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get help.
But now, let’s talk about one of those unacknowledged eating disorders.
Orthorexia Nervosa is a not yet recognized eating disorder that arises from the obsessive habit of eating healthy. The feeling of never eating healthy enough and the habit of forbidding oneself to never eat anything ‘unhealthy’, can cause serious damage to someone’s physical and mental health and social disconnection. This eating disorder is connected to anorexia (and sometimes emerges while recovering in anorexia) but the main difference is that people who struggle with anorexia focus on losing weight, while orthorexia is a mental illness where healthy eating is the main focus, so not necessarily losing weight (but this can be the consequence).
Now, healthy eating itself sounds quite peaceful and non-harmful, right? It indeed is. But this habit can be taken too far when the person, for example, feels the need to cut out various important nutrients, such as sugar and fat. Not eating enough sugar, fat, dairy, protein or any other important ingredient can lead to serious health issues such as hair loss, loss of a woman’s period, obsessive behavior or anxiety. Orthorexia can even be life-threatening.
People with orthorexia are constantly thinking about food. What they just ate, what they should eat next, etc. They form an obsession for eating. It is exhausting and it causes people to lose social connections such as friends or family. It can take up someone’s entire day, to the point where they can’t function properly anymore. Because they are focused on healthy food and living healthy, and we all try to do that as well, orthorexia is hard to recognize. That’s why orthorexia is either overlooked by society or taken as anorexia, especially if the person is (dangerously) losing weight. Healthy eating fits the trend, so how can it be a mental illness, right?
Wrong. People who constantly have food on their minds, find it extremely hard to eat anything that can be ‘unhealthy’ (such as a cookie or even meat) and are eating the wrong food (while thinking it is the right food), are in danger and need help.
While anyone can come to struggle with orthorexia, intelligence, hypersensitivity, and perfectionism are characteristics that are often connected to people with orthorexia. These characteristics are connected to several eating disorders and mental illnesses, but for example, a perfectionist is ‘quicker’ to take healthy eating too far.
In 1997, Steven Bratman discovered a pattern with people who were struggling with an apparent eating disorder and gave a name to this mental illness: orthorexia nervosa. He introduced this name in an essay he wrote for Yoga Journal, in the 1997 issue. He also made a test (that you can do on his site, linked below) where you can test if you have orthorexia nervosa.
“Many of the most unbalanced people I have ever met are those have devoted themselves to healthy eating. In fact, I believe many of them have contracted a novel eating disorder, for which I have coined the name “orthorexia nervosa.” The term uses “ortho,” in its meaning as straight, correct and true, to modify “anorexia nervosa.” Orthorexia nervosa refers to a fixation on eating proper food.”Steven Bratman, Yoga Journal, 1997
But even after this essay, doctors still haven’t acknowledged orthorexia as an official eating disorder. Why isn’t exactly clear, but perhaps this will be changed in the future. It is also not clear how many people suffer from orthorexia currently because many people do not recognize this as an eating disorder and don’t ask for help. Orthorexia is also not easy to recognize for the loved ones around the person suffering. Because of this, in comparison to other eating disorders, acknowledging the eating disorder is way harder with orthorexia.
While some of the symptoms for orthorexia are related to anorexia, because they can cause the same consequences, you can recognize orthorexia with other symptoms as well. The main symptoms are:
- Anxiety around certain food
- Cutting out food groups
- Leaving people who have different eating patterns
- Constant worry about sickness
- An increase in time per day thinking about food
- Extreme mood swings
These symptoms can lead to hair loss, the stop of a period, weight loss and more.
Does social media influence orthorexia?
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and eating vegetarian, vegan or simply healthier is trending right now. It is being promoted on every social media platform and you can find an infinite of articles based on these topics. But does social media actually influence and/or promote orthorexia?
While orthorexia nervosa has been around for longer than social media (or at least since social media has gotten this big) and it has been a serious eating disorder for more than 20 years, social media does influence our view on healthy eating and it can definitely promote orthorexia. It feels good to be doing something that’s trending sometimes and when people take this feeling too serious, it can lead to serious issues. We are constantly in contact with people/companies trying to convince us to eat this, not eat this or to do this, because ‘only this will make you healthy and happy’. It is not hard to understand these commercials we see, emails we get and articles we read can promote a ‘healthy lifestyle’, while it is actually forcing us to change our lifestyle to an unhealthy one.
Because orthorexia nervosa has not yet been officially acknowledged as an eating disorder and not enough has been done, treatment is not very specified. Once you acknowledge your behavior and think you can be diagnosed with orthorexia nervosa, it is possible to recover on your own. Try to read more into your feelings and talk about them. Besides this treatment, psychotherapy (talking with a therapist) is also a way of treatment. If you feel like you need help, don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist because that’s what they’re here for.
Hopefully this article gave you more insight on this mental illness that deserves more attention because too many people are suffering without knowing why.
If you are struggling with or think you have an eating disorder or any mental illness currently, please reach out and talk to someone because life gets better when you do.
What is another mental illness you’d like to read more about? Let me know and I’ll do it!