People are constantly bombarded with opinions and trends regarding diet, health and wellness through physical and electronic media. While this is helpful in sparking interest, it has contributed to a growing wellness culture that is unchecked by scientific evidence. The fixation with health foods and labels has developed into “a disease disguised as a virtue.” Orthorexia is a recently emerged type of eating disorder. However, because it is not yet formally labeled as a psychiatric disorder, it is not taken seriously. Therefore, it is generally viewed as more acceptable, less distressing and less likely to receive sympathy. There is a lack of awareness for orthorexia due to the attitudes and stigma that surround it and, if left unrecognized, it can lead to greater complications in the future.
Orthorexia is characterized by the fixation, obsession and preoccupation with the quality, source and preparation of food. The original intention is to achieve optimal health, but then it manifests into rigid, self-imposed food rules and quality standards that revolve around the food’s purity. These rules and rituals, unrelated to environmental welfare, culture or religion, are fueled by the belief that biologically pure food will give the person the best health. The consequences of falling prey to orthorexia include nutritional deficiencies and decreased quality of life. Deviation from such obsessive food rules can then lead to self-punishment and result in even stricter rules.
Orthorexia has a mixture of anorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder characteristics such as: guilt/punishment over food, unrealistic food beliefs, perfectionism, cognitive rigidity, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, food rituals, fear of contamination and hyper-fixation on food. Treatment of orthorexia involves a multidisciplinary team and a combination of medication, behavioral therapy and education. In order to stop these obsessive and intrusive beliefs before they begin, it is very important for consumers to verify that food and nutrition information is based upon scientific evidence so they can maintain a healthy relationship with their food.
Written by: Ashley Nguyen, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern. Learn more about Wellness Workdays and our wellness program offerings by downloading our brochure.
1. International Journal of Eating Disorders
3. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment