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Orthorexia: the obsession with healthy foods

Orthorexia: the obsession with healthy foods

June 19, 2024

"Does your eating isolate you from others?",

"Do you feel guilty when you eat something not allowed by your dietary convictions?"

"Do you care more about the quality of the food than for the pleasure of eating it?"

If you have answered affirmatively to at least one of the questions above, you can consider candidate for addiction to healthy food ; a new eating disorder born of contemporary ecological culture. This concept is known as'Orthorexia ’.

Orthorexia: analyzing the disorder

This disorder, increasingly evident in Western societies (recently concerned about the consumption of poorly processed food, an example of this is the so-called Paleodieta ), was appointed by the American physician Steven Bratman.

Bratman, who suffered from this disorder, describes a type of obsession to consume the foods that the affected considers healthy (organic, vegetable, without preservatives, without fats, without meats, or only fruits), or by consuming only foods with a form of preparation concrete (only raw foods, only steamed or grilled, etc ...) rejecting all those that can not be included in these categories. In this disorder, precipitating factors are the obsession with diets, the cult of the body and the fear of food treated with artificial products .

More and more people are concerned about eating healthy food free of chemicals, and at first, it may seem an appropriate behavior that will be beneficial for the practitioner. However, it can become a serious problem and have serious repercussions on the quality of life and health. When that normal behavior happens to become an obsession, that's when we can talk about orthorexia.

The desire of orthorexic people to achieve physical beauty through diet inevitably recalls other disorders of eating behavior such as anorexia and bulimia. The difference between anorexia and orthorexia is that the former is related to the amount of food eaten and the latter refers to the quality of the foods that are taken.

Who does orthorexia affect?

Anyone can develop this pathological inclination, these are the groups of people most prone to orthorexia:

  • Very demanding people with themselves (perfectionists) and with others, with a straight and strict character, who like to plan and take a comprehensive control over their life and their daily activities (as in the cases of anorexia and bulimia).
  • Athletes are another risk group because they take special care of their diet , so that they end up consuming only those foods that they consider most adequate to improve their performance / physical condition.
  • People who have suffered anorexia nervosa , that when recovering, they choose to introduce in their diet only foods of natural origin, probiotic, cultivated ecologically, without fat or without artificial substances that can cause them some damage. Paradoxically, this behavior, instead of avoiding the disorder, provokes a new one. This shows that although the purging behaviors have been suppressed and they return to eat, at the psychological level they have not been well rehabilitated.

As well women and young people are more prone and, in general, all those excessively concerned about their physique, since the decision to eat "only healthy foods" is usually associated with getting and maintaining a good body image, factors that could lead to orthorexia.

Effects of orthorexia

According to Bratman, the orthorexics they think that they will obtain great physical and psychological benefits thanks to their eating behavior , and this can lead to a dependence on healthy food similar to what other addicts have with drugs. In addition to the benefits they expect to obtain from healthy foods, orthorexics also seek to get rid of hidden threats in rejected foods, such as anisakis , the salmonellosis , or the mad cow disease, and in this sense its attitude is similar to that of a schizophrenic, who fears to be poisoned, or a hypochondriac, who thinks that he can contract a disease if he does not take the necessary precautions.

An obsession with health ... that can be counterproductive

Reject fats, additives, artificial substances, or vegetables and fruits grown with pesticides or transgenic origin and chemical fertilizers is not bad (because the more natural, the better), the ortoréxicos come to exclude from their diet nutrients necessary for the proper functioning of the body because they are found in foods that are considered inadequate.This can cause: anemia, deficit of vitamins and minerals, malnutrition, osteoporosis, increased incidence of infections due to a decrease in the function of the immune system, lack of energy, and so on.

Social isolation

But orthorexia can not only have negative consequences on health, in most cases it also affects their daily and social life . By limiting allowed foods, the daily menu becomes a real problem because it must be planned and prepared with time. In addition, as the affected people also need to be sure that the products used in the kitchen are adequate (even the utensils and food containers must be of a specific material), they can not eat out at home, nor in restaurants nor in the house of relatives or friends, unless they follow the same rules when preparing the menu.

If we consider that eating is a very social act that accompanies many celebrations (birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Christmas parties, business meetings ...) and everyday moments (eating with friends and family), the most harmful foods are considered to be that people with orthorexia enjoy any of these occasions, which leads to social isolation.

In addition, although punctually they can allow themselves to skip their own norms and manias, it accustoms to embargo to them feeling of culpability that produces a great malaise to them. We see here how orthorexia is a serious problem of anguish that accompanies in the day to day, and although grosso modo It may seem like a minor eating disorder, it can be as dangerous to health as anorexia.

Characteristics of orthorexia

  • Disordered obsession with eating healthy foods.
  • They focus on the quality of the food they eat.
  • Eliminate "unsafe" food groups from the diet (this may include the complete avoidance of fats, grains, preservatives or artificial chemical additives, products of animal origin).
  • They spend more than 3 hours a day researching or thinking about food (it includes the planning of the purchase).
  • They become obsessed with the care of the body and health.
  • They get anxious or afraid to think about food.
  • They never skip their diet, even on special occasions.
  • They refuse to eat food in restaurants or social gatherings.
  • They isolate themselves socially because they are not going to eat anywhere.

How to know if you have orthorexia?

Bratman established a series of criteria to determine what behaviors or behaviors towards food could indicate the presence of this type of obsession and thus detect if someone may be suffering from orthorexia. Some indicators are:

  • Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking about your diet?
  • Do you plan your meals several days in advance?
  • Do you consider that the nutritional value of a meal is more important than the pleasure it brings?
  • Has your quality of life decreased as the quality of your diet increased?
  • Have you become stricter with yourself at this time?
  • Has your self-esteem improved by eating healthily?
  • Have you given up eating foods that you liked to eat "good" foods?
  • Is your diet a problem when eating out, and this distances you from your family and friends?
  • Do you feel guilty when you skip your regimen?
  • Do you feel at peace with yourself and believe that everything is under control when you eat healthily?

If you answer affirmatively to four or five of these questions, it means that you are becoming more obsessed with your diet. , and that you should pay less attention to what you eat. If you answer yes to all the questions, your desire to eat healthy has become a real obsession.

Treatment of orthorexia

For the treatment of this eating disorder Collaboration and good predisposition of the patient towards treatment is fundamental, although in these cases it is easier than when dealing with other more serious eating disorders such as anorexia, since the patient's attitude towards food is not due to the desire to lose weight, but to be healthier. Since the main concern of the person suffering from orthorexia is a healthy diet, first of all a balanced menu . For this, it is best to go to a professional, such as a dietitian or an endocrinologist.

After this step, the ideal is psychological therapy, since psychological recovery is more difficult than physics , because it needs a great work on the part of the patient and the behaviors that the person has been adopting during the time of the disorder must be modified, as well as the obsessive thoughts, the social isolation and the changes in the mood.

The cognitive-behavioral therapy can help ortoréxicas people to modify their behavior and improve or strengthen their self-esteem, since it is essential to correct the distorted vision about the damages of certain foods.

As in the case of any disorder of eating behavior, also in the case of orthorexia, the ideal to avoid falling into them is prevention, instilling healthy habits in children and familiarize them from small with the foods that should be part of a balanced diet. You can also explain to the children the nutrients they provide, what they are used for and why it is good to take them. On the other hand, it is important to minimize the negative effects that fashion or advertising exerts on their worldview, and that the "manias" of adults about food are not transmitted to minors.




Teens' obsession with healthy eating may turn into disease (WOIO) (June 2024).

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