Orthorexia: When “Eating Healthy” Becomes an Obsession
From February 1st to 7th, it’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week in Canada. Despite the fact that eating disorders are often a taboo subject, they affect nearly 1 million Canadians. NEDIC, the National Eating Disorder Information Center, organizes this week each year in order to raise awareness to the issues people with an eating disorder face. This is done in the hopes that people who are affected can find the help they need.
Although each eating disorder deserve its own article, I’ve decided to talk to you about a lesser known eating disorder called orthorexia.
Orthorexia, a disease?
Although orthorexia is not yet recognized as a disorder in the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)), it remains an important mental health problem.
What is orthorexia?
Orthorexia is an obsession with eating healthy. In fact, according to a review of the literature on the subject, orthorexia is defined as an obsessional or pathological concern for healthy eating with emotional repercussions when the imposed food rules are broken. It can even go as far as to have repercussions on the social life of the person who is affected.
I pay attention to what I eat, should I be concerned?
As mentioned above, orthorexia goes beyond the desire to eat well. In fact, a person with orthorexia no longer has any pleasure in eating, cooking or planning meals. They will suffer from anxiety and stress when faced with a meal that is not considered ‘healthy’ according to their own guidelines and rules.
Also, self-imposed healthy eating rules by a person with orthorexia do not usually follow national recommendations, often leading to an extremely restrictive diet. The elimination of complete food groups is not uncommon, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition.
Is there hope?
A multidisciplinary team (dietitian, psychologist, doctor, etc.) is needed to consult and follow-up with a person with orthorexia, to help reinstate principles of healthy eating, while at the same time avoiding extreme restrictions.
For more information on NEDIC, other eating disorders, or to find help, I invite you to visit the following websites:
- Cena, H. et al. (9 novembre 2018). Definition and diagnostic criteria for orthorexia nervosa: a narrative review of the literature. Eat Weight Disord, pp1-38. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-018-0606-y
- NEDIC. (2019). http://nedic.ca