Do you know about Orthorexia Nervosa? Eating well can make a big difference in your health and happiness. But for some people, an obsession with healthy eating can turn into orthorexia, also called orthorexia Nervosa, which is an eating disorder. The effects of orthorexia can be just as bad as those of other eating disorders. People with Orthorexia Nervosa are so focused on eating healthy that it hurts their health.

Orthorexia Nervosa is hard to understand because it is complicated. Some people with Orthorexia Nervosa also have other problems, like OCD or other eating disorders. But some people say that orthorexia should have its own ways of being diagnosed and treated.

This article tells you everything you need to know about Orthorexia Nervosa, including its signs and symptoms, the bad things it can do to your health, and the treatments that are available right now.

What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Orthorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person is obsessed with healthy food in a dangerous way. A person’s fixation on healthy eating and eating only “pure foods” or “clean foods” becomes so ingrained in their way of thinking that it gets in the way of their daily life.

Even though Orthorexia Nervosa isn’t in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), it is still known by many mental health professionals and eating disorder experts and can be harmful to the body, mind, and spirit.

Signs and Symptoms of Orthorexia Nervosa

Even though there are no official diagnostic criteria for Orthorexia Nervosa, there are common signs and symptoms, such as

  • having a strong fear of “unhealthy” foods and staying away from them
  • having an unhealthy fixation on healthy food, nutrition, and eating
  • being unable to change the way you eat or your diet without feeling a lot of stress
  • checking ingredient lists and nutrition labels over and over again and cutting out large groups of food even though there is no medical, religious, cultural, or ethical reason to do so (e.g., gluten, sugar, all carbs, all fats, animal products)
  • spending a lot of time planning, buying, and cooking meals they think are healthy, to the point where it gets in the way of other things.
  • having an unusual interest in other people’s eating habits or being too critical of how they do it
  • spending a lot of time looking at menus or thinking about the food at events
  • avoiding social events and food that other people have made
    bringing their own food to events because they think that other people’s food won’t be “healthy” enough for them.
    being malnourished or losing weight by accident because of severe food restrictions
  • fixating on food or “clean eating” as a way to prevent or treat disease.
    People with Orthorexia Nervosa feel very bad about themselves and are in a lot of emotional pain when they break the “rules” they have set for themselves about healthy eating or “give in” to cravings for foods they think are unhealthy.
  • People with Orthorexia Nervosa often feel that their sense of self-worth depends on how well they can stick to a healthy way of living.
  • So, the most common sign of Orthorexia Nervosa is a fixation on healthy eating that makes your life worse.

Self-Test for Orthorexia Nervosa

If you think you might have Orthorexia Nervosa, think about the following questions:

Do you ever wish you could stop thinking about food so much and think more about your family and friends?

Do you always wonder about food and think about how unhealthy it is for you?

When you go off your perfect diet, do you feel guilty or ashamed?
Do you think it’s physically impossible to eat a meal that someone else made?

When you stick to your planned, healthy, pure diet, do you feel “in control”?

Do you look down on people who don’t eat as well as you do?

If you said “yes” to any or all of these questions, you should talk to a doctor about your worries. You can start with your primary care doctor or mental health care provider if you have one. They can then refer you to a specialist if needed.

Orthorexia Nervosa Diagnosis

Your doctor or a nutritionist may be able to help you with orthorexia, just like they can with bulimia and anorexia. They may ask you to see a mental health professional because of the emotional parts of your condition.

Right now, there is no official way to diagnose orthorexia Nervosa because it isn’t in the DSM-5, which is a set of rules that doctors use to diagnose mental health problems.

In 2016, Bratman and a professor at the University of Northern Colorado, Thomas M. Dunn, Ph.D., came up with a two-part way to diagnose the condition:

Criterion A says that the person will be obsessed with eating healthy and get upset when they eat foods they think are unhealthy. They will lose weight because of what they eat, not because they want to. Besides that:

  • They will obsessively follow rules about food that they think will help them stay healthy.
  • If they break the rules, they will worry about getting sick and feel bad about what they eat.

Over time, the rules will get stricter. Cleanses can be done by the person. Criterion B says that the person may notice physical and mental health problems:

  • A limited diet can cause people to become malnourished, lose a lot of weight, or have other health problems.
  • Their strict rules and beliefs can make it hard for them to make friends or do well at work or school.
  • How they feel about their bodies and themselves could be affected by how well they follow their healthy eating rules.

Orthorexia Nervosa Treatment

The important thing is to realize that eating healthy food is good for you, but the way you’re doing it is hurting you. You’ll have to train yourself to think about it in a different way.

If you feel like you have a bad relationship with food, your doctor may suggest ways to eat more mindfully. Some common treatments are:

Exposure and response prevention: The more you deal with something that makes you nervous, the less it will bother you.

Behavior modification: If you know how your actions hurt others, you can change what you’re doing.

Cognitive restructuring or cognitive reframing, helps you figure out your stressful habits and beliefs and replace them with less rigid thoughts and actions

There are many ways to learn to relax, such as breathing exercises, guided imagery, mindfulness meditation, yoga, and tai chi.

The Bottom Line

Most people agree that being aware of the foods you eat and how they affect your health is a good thing.

But there is a thin line between healthy eating and an eating disorder for some people.

If you feel like your healthy diet is hurting your health, mental health, or social life, you might have Orthorexia Nervosa.

This disorder, like all other eating disorders, can lead to serious health problems that could kill you.

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