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Orthorexia – 5 signs your healthy eating isn’t so healthy after all

Posted on Wednesday, 06 July 2016, in Eating Disorders

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The concept of Healthy Eating has never been so popular, you only have to scan the top selling cookery books to see that we are a nation obsessed with finding the perfect, healthy diet. No longer is eating 5 pieces of fruit and veg enough; now we are bombarded with the benefits of raw, alkaline, paleo, vegan, organic or locally produced foods. 
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healthy or unhealthy eating

For some people, ‘healthy’ eating can turn into a dangerous eating disorder known as orthorexia.  Orthorexia is characterised by an obsessional preoccupation with a ‘healthy’ diet.  It is the relative new kid on the block in terms of eating disorders and we aren’t exactly sure how many people suffer with orthorexia as it has yet to be included in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – the American mental health diagnostic criteria the UK often follows).

People with orthorexia have a very restricted group of foods they will eat, often growing more extreme over time. Alarmingly, in today’s society which promotes healthy eating, orthorexia can be very well hidden and sufferers may go unnoticed.

So if you are finding healthy eating is becoming a big part of your life, here are 5 signs that it may be getting out of hand.

  1. Your list of ‘unclean/bad foods’ has steadily increased over time. What starts out with avoiding a food group, for instance sugar, can slowly escalate into excluding more and more from your diet. Some people with orthorexia will only consume 10 or so foods.
  2. You fear certain foods and panic if presented with them.  Many people with orthorexia find their fixation with what is ‘ok’ prevents them from living a normal life. They may suffer with panic attacks at the thought of having to consume something that is considered bad.  Socialising and attending family meals are often avoided as being out of control of what you eat can be unbearable.
  3. Your life is ruled by food. You wake up thinking about what you are going to eat, you plan meals fastidiously, know the nutritional content of everything, panic if your plans are disrupted and you go to sleep thinking of what you will eat the next day. It can be hard to concentrate on anything as intrusive thoughts about food creep in throughout the day.
  4. You feel guilt and anxiety more and more. Sadly, orthorexia is very similar to other eating disorders in that sufferers feel hugely distressing and debilitating bouts of anxiety and guilt about their food choices. Depression is common in those with eating disorders, so if you have noticed your mood lowering, feeling more isolated and reclusive it may be time to seek help. Sadly, rates of self harm are also high in people with eating disorders.
  5. You increasingly supplement your diet in a bid to become healthier. Probiotics, vitamins, superfoods and food supplements often make up a large part of an orthorexic’s diet, to the point where some people take over 15 supplements a day and may use them as meal replacements.

Whilst orthorexia shares some common symptoms with anorexia and bulimia such as food fixation, restriction and fastidious planning and preparation, it is less concerned with weight loss and more focused on a misguided aim to eat healthily’. Orthorexia can be just as overpowering and difficult to treat as other disorders, but we know less about it.

If you are concerned about your or someone else’s eating habits, seeking help early is vitally important to getting it successfully treated. Eating disorders are amongst the most difficult to treat, catching them early really makes a difference.

Clinical Partners have a nationwide team of private psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists who are able to help treat eating disorders. You can talk, in confidence, to someone today about how we can help by calling 0203 326 9160 or using the contact us form to request a call back.

Emilie Head

Emilie Head Business Development and Content Editor BA(Hons), ACMA, MBACP

Emilie has three main roles at Clinical Partners – managing our NHS Partnerships, developing the services our Clinicians offer and writing and editing web content.

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