What is Orthorexia nervosa?

Orthorexia Nervosa is a disorder in which someone is obsessed with eating the “right” kinds of food. This food is pure, healthy and typically organic. Orthorexia nervosa starts innocently or accidentally; maybe to overcome a chronic illness or to improve health in general. It requires large amounts of willpower to adopt a diet which is so different from the normal food habits of your family or culture. The iron self-discipline supported by an inordinately massive sense of superiority over those who eat normal food.

The compulsive obsession those with orthorexia have takes control of their lives, causing them to view their own worth through the food they eat. This distorted perception in turn affects their view of others, causing them to look down on anyone who does not have the same self-discipline they do. Orthorexia eventually reaches a point where the sufferer spends most of their time planning, purchasing and eating meals. The orthorexic’s inner life becomes dominated by efforts to resist temptation, self-condemnation for lapses, self-praise for success at complying with the self-chosen regime, and feelings of superiority over others less pure in their dietary habits. Those with orthorexia nervosa obsess over what is eaten, how much of it is eaten and how it was prepared. They are not afraid of being fat, they may not want to be thin; they just want to eat healthy food. So the underlying motivation is quite different. The anorexic wants to lose weight, The orthorexic wants to feel pure, healthy and natural.

this food cannot be eaten by someone with Orthorexia nervosa
This would be banned by a
sufferer of Orthorexia
nervosa

Most doctors, psychologists and even some eating disorder specialists fail to understand this massive distinction. This can lead to an incorrect diagnosis and the wrong treatment prescribed. This is mainly because orthorexia nervosa has not yet been accepted as an official condition so remains unknown by many doctors and therapists. Some have classified it as a form of OCD. Sufferer satisfies their unreasonable obsessions (eating a completely pure diet) with ritualistic behaviours (meticulous calorie counting, nutrient tracking, refusal to eat certain foods, removing completed food groups from their diet, etc.). Most people with orthorexia nervosa can think of little else than what they eat and find it difficult to carry on a conversation without bringing up the subject of food. Relationships, school and work all suffer neglect as a result of this obsession. Holidays are seldom taken as they typically cause deviation from a strict diet. Many people with orthorexia nervosa ‘religiously’ follow certain food rules.

The act of eating pure food begins to carry pseudo-spiritual connotations, (the superior ‘holier than thou’ feelings towards normal eaters). These rules determine what they can and can not eat. Obsession over a perfect diet is sometimes so intense that when its rules are broken, certain punishments are imposed. While these punishments may not be as extreme as what someone with anorexia or bulimia might set, they are usually very limiting. Those with this disorder take weight loss and healthy eating to an extreme level, limiting relationships and overall happiness. Many orthorexics become vegetarian or vegan. Not usually on ethical or religious grounds but because meat, milk, cheese, eggs, etc. contain fats like cholesterol or could be carcinogenic if overcooked or cause colon cancer, etc. Thus, they often end up being malnourished and unhealthily thin and suffer from several health problems as seen in people with anorexia.

The health issues can even be fatal so treatment is crucial to help those with orthorexia nervosa to find a healthy balance in life. There is a fine line between what makes a person health-conscious and unhealthily health-obsessed. The distinguishing factor seems to be whether or not the behavior interferes with other obligations – family, work or social life. A health conscious person cares about their body; a health obsessed person can freak out over it. If they are not in complete control of their diet, an orthorexic person will have significant increased anxiety. People who have suffered with anorexia or bulimia in the past could often have a predisposition to orthorexia nervosa. Orthorexia nervosa eventually reaches a point where the sufferer spends most of their time planning, purchasing and eating meals. Their inner life becomes utterly dominated by: resisting temptation, self-condemnation for transgressions, self-praise for complying with the rigid self-imposed regime, as well as the feelings of superiority over other people’s dietary habits.

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Much of the pioneering work on orthorexia nervosa was undertaken by Dr. Steven Bratman. He actually created the term orthorexia. I gratefully thank him for his very kind permission to use his material on this page.

Below are two links to his work – I strongly suggest that you read the material they contain. He has much more information than I can use on this single page.

http://www.mirror-mirror.org/orthorexia-nervosa.

htm http://www.orthorexia.com/

Below is a link to a very good article on orthorexia nervosa

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1368783/Orthorexia-nervose-Obsessive-healthy-eaters-risking-lives-eating-disorders.html

Take the Orthorexia nervosa Quiz

The answers are simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

  1. Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about food? (For four hours give yourself two points.) This includes cooking, shopping, reading about your diet, discussing it with friends or Internet chat groups online. Three hours a day thinking about healthy food is psychologically unhealthy. Life is about; fun, love, joy, passion, and accomplishment.
  2. Do you plan tomorrow’s food today? Orthorexics tend to plan menus well in advance – often days into the future. Then sit and await it with gleeful anticipation knowing they are better than the masses as they are going to eat healthier than them. If you get a kick from contemplating a superior ‘healthy menu’ three days ahead, something is wrong with your life direction.
  3. Do you care more about the healthy virtues of what you eat more than the pleasure you get from eating it? It’s one thing to love to eat, yet if for you it isn’t the food itself; it’s the superior concepts attached to the food, you have a problem. Orthorexic nervosa sufferes are often so full with self-conceit that they hardly taste the food.
  4. Have you found that as the ‘healthiness’ of your ever restrictive diet has increased, the true quality of your life has fallen dramatically? The hard truth is that it does not matter how healthy you perceive your food it does not nourish your inner being. Quite soon the meaning drains out of the rest of your life – orthorexia nervosa rules everything.
  5. Do you keep getting stricter with your diet? Orthorexia nervosa will escalate like all eating disorders do. Sometimes the food you ate yesterday is not pure enough as you have just read something on line and so another food has to be eliminated. Over time the rules governing an orthorexic’s ‘healthy’ eating becomes more rigid. Many orthrexics get a strange pleasure from this.
  6. Do you sacrifice previously pleasurable experiences to ensure you eat the food you ‘know’ is right? Orthorexia nervosa often leads to a distorted sense of importance. Sufferers will turn down an invitation to dinner because the food to be served is not ‘healthy’. An orthorexic could be watching their child in a school play but be obsessing about food so much they have no real memory of the performance.
  1. When you are eating ‘healthy’ food do you feel an increased sense of self-esteem? Do you look down on others who eat normally? Most sufferers of orthorexia nervosa feel superior to other people. And why not, healthy eating is extolled everywhere, isn’t it? Therefore orthorexia is right up there with the best of habits and wholesome lifestyle. This belief is an aspect of orthorexia that makes it harder to eliminate than other eating disorders. Anorexics and bulimics usually feel ashamed of their habits and try to hide them. But orthorexics strut with pride and shout their virtues at anyone around. They become evangelical about getting the message across to the ‘junk food’ addicts.
  2. Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet, no matter how small the transgression? If you feel guilt and shame when you eat foods that are not on the allowed diet? Is your self-esteem so fixed to what you eat that tasting a nibble of a banned food seems like an unforgivable sin? Is the only way to get back your self-respect to commit to an even stricter diet? Do you despise yourself when you err from the path of food restriction you have imposed? Be ashamed and feel guilty of hitting a child, stealing form someone or insulting a good friend behind their back. If you feel these things at eating white bread you need help now.
  3. Does your diet socially isolate you? Orthorexia makes it very difficult for a sufferer to eat anywhere but home. Restaurants do not serve the ‘right’ foods or they have not been prepared correctly and could be contaminated. Friends, if you have any left, usually do not cater to exacting conditions. Do you take your own food in, (usually split into separate containers), then eat it slowly and look virtuous as everyone else feeds on rubbish and inferior food? Maybe you refuse the invitation and eat in the seclusion of your own home?
  4. When you eat your ’healthy’ diet do you have sense of total control and inner peace? It is not always possible to control your life as it is complicated and frequently unpredictable. But you can be in control of what you eat. This can create a comfortable illusion that you are controlling your life. However; there is always the danger of veering from the restrictive regimen and this causes great anxiety.

Scores

2 or 3 – you appear to have some orthorexia nervosa tendencies. Keep an eye on what you are doing. You may just be very, but not yet overly, health conscious.

4 or 5 – you are probably in trouble, get help now and stop it getting worse.

6 or more – you really need help as it is already affecting normal life (This test is NOT intended to be anything other than a guide. It is not a professional diagnostic tool and does not replace the opinion of a qualified medical or psychological practitioner).

Please go to richardwain.com for full details of treatement