Is thinking too much about the consumption of healthy foods an eating disorder?

Apparently, it is.

Experts believe that excessive concern with strictly eating healthy foods can lead to orthorexia. This is an eating disorder characterized by an extreme obsession over avoidance of specific kinds of food which are perceived by the person to be unhealthy.

Dr. Steven Bratman, a psychologist who first coined the term in an essay published some 18 years ago, explained that as a person's diet becomes more restrictive and extreme, the person could also increase the chances of developing orthorexia. The term literally means "correct appetite disorder".

Bratman was the first to define the disorder in the scientific community, but he said that they are still correct appetite disorder working on making it an official clinical diagnosis.

An online blogger's experience

Meticulously crafted Instagram shots that convey healthy eating are the fad nowadays, and healthy eating movements are becoming increasingly popular on YouTube and the blogging platform.

One blogger named Jordan Younger, who used to be known as The Blonde Vegan on her blog, was a devout vegan, but an experience shifted her perspective.

Younger had huge followers on her blog where she used to write about veganism and her diet. When the benefits of having a strict vegan diet had kicked in, she no longer experienced feeling bloated, or suffered from chronic indigestion. Companies that produced cleansing juices sought her out to try their products. However, when she had finished cleansing and then reintroduced solid foods into her system, her stomach problems reappeared. Soon, Younger experienced a cycle in which she became anxious about the food she ate. Her cycle consisted of cleansing, becoming too hungry, eating more solid foods, feeling guilty, and repeating the act of cleansing.

Younger realized that her fixation on the virtue of food had become extreme.

"Once I started talking about experience with orthorexia on my blog and national news picked up on it, a flood of people came forward saying they identified with me," said Younger.

She recalled that the thousands of messages she received from people made her think that living a balanced life was not enough.

Complex diagnosis

Doctors find it very difficult to treat and diagnose people with orthorexia, especially because the disorder involves a psychological need to control the kind of food that patients consume. Experts say that people with orthorexia often appear to have perfectly-adequate health, but they do believe that people should look for red flags that indicate the disorder. These symptoms are extreme diets, isolation of self from other people and signs of depression.

"There is nothing wrong with eating local or being a vegetarian or vegan. I think a lot of those diets are inherently valuable. The problem is that we have moralized eating, weight, food, and exercise," said Dr. Karin Kratina from the National Eating Disorders Association. She added that what starts as an innocent attempt at eating healthy can become a fixation because of this.

Meanwhile, experts hope that further research could be done so that orthorexia becomes officially classified as an eating disorder and treatment can be improved.

Photo: Honolulu Media | Flickr

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