The Healthy Eating Disorder
Just when you think you’ve heard it all about diet and nutrition, something new always pops up.
Apparently there is such a thing as an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy. It’s real, and it even has a kind of familiar eating disorder name -- orthorexia, also known as orthorexia nervosa.
Where most food obsessions are centered on how much or how little a person eats, this one is focused solely on the quality of what goes into a person’s body.
Orthorexia is just beginning to be recognized by the medical community, although it has not been officially defined as an eating disorder by the American Psychiatric Association or the DSM-5.
Of course, the irony here is that this sort of obsession starts out with the very best of intentions. Trying to eat healthier is a goal that most Americans would do well to adopt. Why a particular person would develop orthorexia is very much in question, but obsessive-compulsive tendencies and former or current eating disorders are known risk factors -- others include perfectionism, high anxiety or a need for control.
It’s difficult to determine how common orthorexia is. The rates in different studies are all over the board, ranging from 6% to 90%. As yet, the diagnostic criteria are not universally agreed upon.
But one sensible criterion is that well-intentioned enthusiasm for healthy eating only becomes orthorexia when it turns into an obsession that negatively affects everyday life -- such as extreme weight loss or a refusal to eat out with friends.
When taking these negative effects into account, orthorexia rates drop to less than 1%, which is much more in line with the rates of other eating disorders.