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Orthorexia, an Eating Disorder; ill by Eating Healthy

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are known eating disorders. These eating disorders are recognized in the medical world. A less known eating disorder is orthorexia nervosa. Orthorexia is not about weight loss and not binge eating, it is about healthy and pure food. It starts with a diet, from which certain unhealthy nutrients are deleted. However, more and more unhealthy nutrients are being scrapped, resulting in a very limited number of foods that ultimately meet the purity of food sought by orthorexia patients. Although it is proud to experience the strict healthy diet, the body is damaged by malnutrition. The 'healthy' diet can become life-threatening.

We receive unsolicited advice from celebrities, teachers, doctors and even the government via social media, at school and at work. Despite the sometimes dangerous bad eating habits, we all know the importance of healthy eating. But also in consuming healthy food there is danger, because even in the desire (or urge) to eat healthy, one can talk. An unhealthy relationship can arise with healthy food. Extremely healthy eating can become unhealthy and even lead to death. The name for this unhealthy extreme urge to eat healthy is orthorexia nervosa.

What is Healthy?

Healthy eating is recommended, but what is healthy? Opinions about this seem to change every year. Every health guru has a different opinion about it. Some people adhere more strictly to healthy eating rules than others. For a larger growing group, it becomes an obsession to eat as healthy and as pure as possible. Purely for them means that the food is completely unprocessed. Nothing can be added to it. The pursuit of healthy and pure food becomes an almost impossible goal. The obsession for pure eating develops into the eating disorder orthorexia nervosa.

What is orthorexia Nervosa

The predominant desire to eat extremely healthy and pure, develops in the eating disorder orthorexia. The name orthorexia was given by the doctor Steven Bratman to the eating disorder when he was confronted with it in his practice. The word orthorexia comes from the Greek 'orthos', which means correct and 'orexis', which means appetite. The addition of nervosa means that it is a disease of a psychological nature. Orthorexia is not yet recognized as a recognized eating disorder in the DSM-V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) in 2017, in which psychological disorders are categorized. It is a condition that is still being researched and for which research methods must be developed. According to the minimal studies that have been done, it appears to occur more often in women than in men.

The desire to eat healthy becomes extreme

Orthorexia usually occurs in two stages. In the beginning, more and more unhealthy food is being scrapped. For example, no sugars are eaten, no dairy products and after that, coffee and fruit are also removed. In the long run, there is hardly anything left over that has the desired purity, as orthorexia patients want to achieve. They are not about the quantity of food, but about quality.

Over time, the self-invented eating rules for eating pure become increasingly strict. If such a self-invented rule is exceeded, there is a consequence, such as extreme detox. The fixation on healthy and pure eating and planning and conceiving of it becomes such an obsession that it stands in the way of a normal social life. Because of the fixation on healthy eating there is no room for social interaction, the result is isolation.

Self-Esteem

The food is divided into good and bad nutrients for reasons of purity, by orthorexia patients. Eating pure and healthy food creates a sense of self-esteem in orthorexia patients. They are almost proud of themselves. People are being looked after in an acceptable way at unhealthy food. It is considered incorrect.

The difference between orthorexia and anorexia

With orthorexia, there is no desire to lose weight, as with anorexia. Orthorexia also has nothing to do with binge eating and losing weight, such as with bulimia. Due to the urge to eat extremely healthy, there is a noticeable weight loss, except for vitamin deficiency, without that being the intention. That is the difference with anorexia, where the focus is on weight loss. Although orthorexia and anorexia are different eating disorders, they can overlap or follow each other. The desire to consume only healthy food can be used as an excuse by anorexia patients to get as few calories as possible in a socially accepted manner and stay thin. People with anorexia and bulimia are usually ashamed of their unhealthy eating habits,

Consequences for Health

Even though orthorexia patients are not fixed on calories and become or remain thin, the minimum food intake and weight loss as a result do have consequences for physical health. Vitamin deficiency arises, causing health problems such as hair loss, osteoporosis, fatigue, low blood pressure, skin disorders, anemia and the absence of menstruation. Orthorexia can lead to death due to malnutrition as a result of unilateral eating.

Therapy

The first step in treatment is recognizing the problem. It must be recognized that no healthy diet is being followed, but that an eating disorder has occurred with all its consequences. The damage to health must first be treated before the change of lifestyle is started with the help of professional care providers, such as a dietitian and a psychologist. The change does not mean that the whole diet must be overturned, or that the principles no longer matter, but introduce a few adjustments, may already suffice. For example, vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins and minerals can be added to the diet. The next step towards healing is to see where the obsession with healthy food comes from. What psychological factors lie behind the strict self-invented rules for pure food? The next step is to let go of the obsession and perhaps develop a new interest, outside of food.