Orthorexia is an eating disorder that is becoming more prevalent in modern society. It can affect all age groups and may be the result of new trends that emphasize healthy, clean eating. Those with orthorexia exhibit obsessive behavior when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. Unlike other eating disorders, a person with orthorexia is obsessed with the perfect diet rather than weight loss. The person will fixate on eating only foods that she or he considers healthy and pure. The following are some symptoms and warning signs of orthorexia.
First and foremost, the most common warning sign that a person has orthorexia is a new obsessive focus on food. Much like other eating disorders, food will take over an unhealthy amount of attention in the life of someone with orthorexia. They will spend a significant amount of time analyzing food choices and researching diet options. They may also become extremely concerned about the side effects of many different foods and discuss them in length.
When a person who used to eat a healthy balanced diet starts to become excessively particular about what they will eat and avoids food groups they would have enjoyed before, this can be a sign of orthorexia. A person with orthorexia will become obsessed with "pure" foods and will often cut out a large group of previously consumed foods that contain things such as artificial colors, arterial preservatives, animal or dairy products, pesticides, genetic modification, sugar, salt, fat, and any other ingredients they believe are unhealthy.
A person with orthorexia may believe they are allergic to certain types of foods without any medical basis. They will begin to avoid foods because of these supposed allergies, but in fact, have no medical confirmation of their sensitivity. This list may grow, and the person with orthorexia may soon have a long list of foods they claim they need to cut out of their diet to feel better.
As they escalate, a person with orthorexia will be concerned not only about the types of foods he or she consumed, but also how the foods they consume are prepared. They may become paranoid to the point where they only consume foods they are able to prepare on their own. Common concerns include whether or not food has been washed properly and if utensils were properly sterilized.
Over time, people with orthorexia will continue to drop food options from their diets. They will have various explanations for doing so, such as sudden allergies to an entire food group, a refusal to consume pesticides, recent conversion to vegetarianism, or supposed negative relationships between certain foods and their mood. The number of acceptable foods will decrease drastically; some people with orthorexia consume fewer than ten foods because they don’t believe anything else is healthy enough.
While they may reduce the number of foods they will eat, many people with orthorexia also seek to complement their lifestyle with supplements, probiotics, or herbal remedies. A person who is receiving more of their nutrition through non-food sources is at risk for many health disorders and diseases.
As the eating disorder becomes worse, many people with orthorexia become obsessive about the link between health concerns and food choices. They may insist that eating certain foods leads to low moods, digestive problems, asthma, allergies, or anxiety. This will lead them to abandon more and more food groups without solid proof. The food in question might affect the individual personally, while other exclusions might be based on scientific research.
Like most people with eating disorders, eventually, the severe obsession with diet begins to interfere with daily activities and social life and leads to isolation. The strict rules about eating can cause people with orthorexia to become socially isolated as they refuse to partake in social activities revolving around food. Constant conversation about the dangers of food can also lead to avoidance by friends and acquaintances. Additionally, some people may choose to stay home instead of socially interact with others for fear of being attacked for their dietary choices.
The combination of social isolation and inadequate diet can eventually lead to depression and mood swings. If you notice a loved one is experiencing depression or becoming highly erratic after exhibiting some of the above symptoms, this is an indication that help is needed. Most of the time, the depression will only get worse if left untreated, as the person becomes more and more obsessed with food choices and more isolated from family and friends.
Since orthorexia is a fixation on diet rather than weight, people with the disorder may not exhibit weight changes early on. However, as the person becomes more and more obsessed with food and continues to cut out food groups, weight loss may become evident. Weight loss that is not intentional and due to a restricted diet can be a sign the condition has progressed to the point of requiring medical attention.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.