Orthorexia nervosa literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” This is seen in people who lead a healthy lifestyle but have taken it to the extreme, thereby creating an unhealthy relationship with food and healthy living. A person with orthorexia will be obsessed with defining and maintaining the perfect diet, rather than an ideal weight. They are obsessed and consumed by the quality of the food, how much to eat and will freak out if they eat off plan. They will inflict self-punishment (fasting, binging, eating “cleaner or doing more exercise) if they are not able to maintain this rigid style. Ironically the more they try to eat healthier, the more they narrow their options to the point of eating fewer than 10 foods, thereby impacting their emotional, mental and physical health.
This is not to be confused with following a short time dietary plan that puts some restriction on your choices. Any meal plan should be teaching you the basics of nutrition and helping you learn how to manage eating healthy. The diet might not be a proper fit for you if any small deviation is met with guilt and self-loathing; and/or causes you to avoid life issues and leaves you isolated and lonely.
Here are a few signs that you may have or are starting to develop Orthorexia
1) Social Anxiety and Avoidance
- Do you purposefully show up to events or family gatherings after the meal has been served?
- When asked if you want to eat do you respond with “I’ve already eaten.” due to the fear of not knowing what % of leanness the ground beef they used for the burgers was?
- Does the thought of traveling stress you out because your not sure how you will hit your macros 100%?
- Have you started to avoid family and friends who are supportive,simply because they do not eat the same way you do?
2) Belittle others’ unhealthy lifestyle choices
- Do you feel the need to inform every person you see not eating “clean” about how the food is unhealthy and what it is doing to their bodies?
- Have you sat down to eat and looked at others in disgust at their food or extolled the merits of your choices?
- Do you send emails about all the new research into foods and their health benefits?
3) Obsessively study every detail on a label
- Do you check every ingredient on the label? I don’t mean just check the wiki, you scour every link on the first 3 pages of Google’s search results.
- Have you had a craving for Natural PB only to put it item back on the shelf since it contained Palm Oil?
- Have food labels become your choice of reading for your book club?
4) Cut out “non clean” foods to achieve “clean” perfection
You find yourself obliterating whole categories since they do not fit your version of “clean”:
- Chicken is not touching your lips with all those antibiotics they inject them with
- Milk is out since you read that humans are not meant to digest it.
- Wheat on the chopping block. That s*** has gluten in it.
- Fruits have sugar
- Fish has too much mercury
- There is not much left at this point. On the plus side there is always dirt. Don’t pretend that you never ate it as a child.
5) The fun foods are out to get you
- Have you decided that you will not make any exceptions for foods that are not 100% organic and cleared by the Smithsonian as authentic Paleolithic food?
- Do you come armed in full fatigues, a backpack of fresh homemade beef jerky and filtered well water to birthday parties?
- The voices you hear in your head as you walk past the Oreos are merely the other customers in the grocery store. I promise there is not a conspiracy concerning Oreos and your waist circumference.
- Do you swap out cows milk for goats milk in your kids milk carton?
6) You find that you avoid eating food bought or prepared by others
- You get stressed due to not knowing about the food preparation techniques, especially washing of food or sterilization of utensils.
- You prepare to bring your own items since you only use organic cleaning products
- You ask to know what they use to rinse off the fruits and vegetables
While I may joke about some of the categorizes, the disorder can become life threatening. In more severe cases of Orthorexia the obsession with “clean” food and healthy lifestyle can cause a person to reduce their kcal based on the fact that the food available isn’t on their list. This can cause the person to lose enough weight that they start to have a similar body composition and BMI of someone with anorexia (i.e., less than 18.5). If this continues it will possibly lead to malnutrition due to the severity in macro and micro nutrients.