If you’re a health-conscious individual who enjoys sticking to a “clean” diet that includes chickpea salads and protein shakes, then you’ve likely heard the term “orthorexia” being thrown around before. Officially known as orthorexia nervosa, this condition is one of the lesser understood eating disorders around, where sufferers become obsessed with eating foods that they deem to be healthy, and rail against of what they perceive to be unhealthy foods. However, an increasing number of people are starting to blur the lines between orthorexia and other eating disorders.
Here are 5 brief explanations on what orthorexia is NOT:
1. Orthorexia is not “healthy eating”
Many have confused orthorexia with the concept of “healthy eating”. The truth is, being passionate about eating healthily does not automatically constitute an orthorexic condition, unless this enthusiasm metamorphoses into a constant obsession, where the sufferer becomes overly fixated on and even consumed by thoughts of food. The range of the types of foods he/she deems acceptable and consumable will also start to constrict and narrow.
2. Orthorexia is not moderated preparations for a healthy diet
Planning and preparing healthy meals daily is not the same as suffering from orthorexia. According to Dr. Steven Bratman, the physician responsible for coining the term “orthorexia”, a person who suffers from this eating disorder is likely one who spends more than 3 hours a day thinking about food. Dr. Bratman elaborates on this, stating that “three hours a day is too much time to think about healthy food. Life is meant for love, joy, passion, and accomplishment. Absorption with ‘righteous’ food seldom produces any of these things.”
3. Orthorexia is not a diet that allows you to continue leading your typical social lifestyle
Food plays a big part in our lives, especially when it comes to socialising with friends and family. Most healthy eaters would still be able to let loose during social events, where they indulge reasonably in food that would otherwise be consdiered less healthy for the sake of pleasure and companionship. However, orthorexics will often turn down invitations to go out with friends because of their obsessive concern that the food they would consume fails to meet their health standards. Orthorexics rarely think twice about sacrificing social experiences and risking isolation solely because they feel compelled to stick to rigid diet regimens.
4. Orthorexia is not feeling ashamed of adopting specific eating habits
Sufferers of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia typically feel ashamed of their diets. In contrast, orthorexics feel a heightened sense of self-esteem, and even superiority over people who do not adopt similar eating habits. There is an illusion of confidence and control for orthorexics, which makes their “clean” eating habits all the more alluring, which ends up egging them on to continue with such obsessive behaviour.
5. Orthorexia is not the occasional guilt that we feel after straying from a diet
Orthorexics feel an unorthodox and augmented degree of shame and self-loathing if or when they “cheat”. This type of guilt is vastly different from the occasional shame that healthy eaters normally feel when they slip up. The only way they feel they can redeem themselves is by imposing even stricter diets that again, further compressing and narrowing their choices when it comes to food.
Before you start worrying or even wrongly accusing someone of being orthorexic, do ensure that you fully understand the nuances of this eating disorder. If you’ve discovered that you or someone close to you fits the description of an orthorexic, then you should consider approaching a medical professional for advice and help.
To get a better and more comprehensive grasp of orthorexia, consider reading Dr. Bratman’s book Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating. Eating should be both fun and healthful; there’s no point in making life harder than it already is!