What Is Orthorexia?

There seems to be a trend with eating "clean" nowadays. From instagram models to celebrities, the idea of eating what is only considered natural and clean is constantly being promoted. Juice cleanses, vegan diets, and the ever so popular paleo diet have all made their way into mainstream culture and are flooding the newsfeed of trends. Log on to instagram and you're bound to see a plethera of healthy food related posts ranging from beautifully adorned acai bowls to the not so sightly green juice. Bloggers and social media gurus have risen to fame by sharing their healthy diets and veganism has grown significantly in popularity. Food photo aesthetic has become more focused on healthy and natural meals. And while the recent prominence of healthy eating is undoubtedly a good thing, there can also be a dark side to the obsession.

When does "clean eating" become a bad thing? And how exactly does it? 

First let's talk about what orthorexia is. Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is characterized by an obsession with only eating foods that one considers healthy. You may be wondering, how can this possibly be a bad thing? For starters, any obsession with food that becomes too heavy is problematic. Food shouldn't be something you stress over, but something you enjoy. Food shouldn't take over your life and cause anxiety, and it definitely shouldn't prevent you from enjoying yourself. Eating delicious foods that aren't considered clean shouldn't result in feelings of a guilt.  Eating healthy is important, but so is balance and even more important is your mental health. 

While orthorexia has yet to be accepted into the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), doctors and therapists don't deny its existence. Some have even died from the disorder. What may seem like just a phase or an increased health consciousness can actually be life-threatening. A 2012 episode of Mtv's True Life sought to share the stories of three people living and strugging with the disorder and served as one of the first public depictions of what it is.

Due to the lack of publicity surrounding the disorder, many who have it may deem their struggle as not valid or significant enough to be in need of support and therapy. But orthorexia is a real issue that many people deal with. While it's a slight contrast from anorexia and other well known eating disorders, orthorexia is still dangerous nonethless and can tremendously impact the life of someone struggling with it.

A reason that orthorexia has become more and more relevant may be due to our society's obsession with food and how we often consider it to be the answer to our problems. We associate eating healthy with being physically healthy which we assume will determine our happiness. But that's not exactly the truth. Eating a donut once in a while surely wont ruin your life just like how it doesn't hurt to eat some veggies everyday. There is no right or wrong when it comes to actually eating, only when it comes to the mindset involved in it. Many argue that there's nothing wrong with eating too healthy and that orthorexia can't possibly be a real disorder- but the disorder is not the act of consuming healthy food, it's the crippling obsession with it and its ability to negatively affect your well-being. 

There's nothing wrong with wanting to maintain a healthy diet but when it starts to interfere with your daily life, it may be a bigger issue. If you find yourself restricting food to the point where it becomes an addiction, it may be a good idea to think about how your diet is affecting you as a whole. If you pass up the weekly chinese takeout with your roommates or avoid eating at that amazing Italian restaurant with your significant other, it may be a sign that you need to reevaluate your habits. Question whether your healthy eating impedes on your happiness and if you think it does, don't be afraid to ask for help.

 

*If you think that you or someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the Nation Eating Disorder Awareness hotline for anonymous help

1-800-931-2237