“Orthorexia” is a term that describes an obsession with eating healthy food. The person is fixated with the quality rather than quantity of their food to an excessive degree. It can start with “healthy” or “clean” eating, then progress to the elimination of entire food groups such as dairy or grains, and then to the avoidance of foods such as those with artificial additives, foods treated with pesticides, or particular ingredients (e.g. fat, sugar or salt).
Although orthorexia is not officially recognised as a clinical eating disorder however it is a serious mental health condition that can cause irreversible health complications.
The symptoms of orthorexia go beyond a simple preference and interest in healthy eating. A person with orthorexia experiences strong anxiety about their food choices and may worry about their diet not meeting their personal high standards of “purity”. They may become socially isolated as they withdraw from activities and people who do not align with their strict dietary regime. They feel guilt following ‘slip-ups’, heightened self-esteem when they eat foods that are “healthy”, mood swings, anxiety and depression. These are all warning signs that the disorder is progressing into a serious eating disorder.
If you are concerned about someone you know who you think may have Orthorexia it is vital to seek help and support as soon as possible. Early treatment can reduce the risk of developing a clinical Eating Disorder. Accessing treatment with health professionals who specialise in health and nutrition such as an Accredited Practising Dietitian can help you restore trust in your body and its ability to guide you to better eating habits. Restoring your emotional, mental and physical health are all important factors that require a multidisciplinary treatment team to provide the best evidenced based treatment. Your GP is a good ‘first base’ point of contact. They can refer you onto a health professional who is specialised in this field. Your GP will be able to help monitor your medical stability to ensure you are medically safe or if you require more intensive hospitalised treatment.
It is important to seek help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek help the closer you are to recovery. For more information about eating disorders please visit the National Eating Disorders Collaboration website at http://www.nedc.com.au/