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Orthorexia Nervosa: Obsession With Healthy Foods As Mental Disorder

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How ironic is it that striving to be healthy by sticking to a diet is actually bad for you? It's not yet included in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but many are already struggling with symptoms associated with orthorexia nervosa.

Dubbed an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, orthorexia nervosa literally translates as "fixation on righteous eating." It generally starts out as a simple effort to eat more healthily.

Soon an individual may develop a fixation on the quality of food and become consumed with how much and what they are eating as well as what must be done when they slip. What started out as an innocent creed to eat right and rise above dietary temptations becomes a mental disorder that pushes an individual to engage in extremely restrictive food choices.

Whether calories or variety is limited, one's health inevitably suffers, a great irony given eating right is often done in the name of improving health. Eventually, this obsession with eating healthily bumps out other interests and activities, impairing relationships.

Steven Bratman, M.D., is listed as having coined the term "orthorexia." He used the term to describe his personal experience with food and eating. While not officially recognized as an eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa is highly similar to others listed in the DSM-V. In the same way that those with bulimia or anorexia nervosa obsess about their weight and calories, those with orthorexia nervosa are obsessed with healthy eating.

How does one develop orthorexia?

Having an intense focus on eating healthily does not necessarily mean that a person has orthorexia nervosa. To be considered as having an eating disorder, a person's eating-related actions must be so extreme that it interferes with life and relationships. Those who do become orthorexics are overcome by motivations outside of simply eating healthily, such as food safety, compulsion to control, turning to food for spirituality and using food as a means of creating an identity.

To help gauge if you or a loved one has orthorexia nervosa, consider the following:

  • Do you wish on occasion to just eat and not worry about the quality of food?
  • Do you wish to spend more time living and less on food?
  • Does it not seem possible to eat a meal prepared by others and not control what is being served?
  • Do you constantly look for ways food may be unhealthy?
  • Does everything else take a back seat to eating the perfect meal?
  • Do you feel guilty about failing to stick to your diet?
  • Do you feel like you're in control if you stick to your diet?
  • Do you put yourself above others who don't follow the same diet as you do?

The more yeses you got, the higher the likelihood that orthorexia nervosa is in the picture.

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