Eating disorders are one of the most dangerous illnesses there is, sometimes we don’t even know we have one and other times we don’t want to admit that we have one. But there are many types of eating disorders, some that most of us don’t even know about. The most common ones being anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, but have you ever heard of orthorexia? It’s actually extremely harmful and is not as well known as the others.
Most of the time we hear about different diets to try and how they make you loose weight in a ridiculously short amount of time. ‘Clean eating’ is a common way of dieting when you start loosing weight, it is a diet concept where a person avoids refined and processed foods and those that have artificial ingredients, such as certain preservatives and additives. Instead the goal is to eat whole, natural foods. This is totally ok, if you do it right and you allow yourself sometimes to have the foods you wouldn’t normally have.
But what happens when this goes to far and you become obsessed with eating clean? Well thats when the dangers of orthorexia can take place!
What is Orthorexia?
Orthorexia refers to an unhealthy obsession with eating ‘pure’ food. Food considered ‘pure’ or ‘impure’ can vary from person to person. This doesn’t mean that anyone who gets a healthy eating plan or diet suffers from orthorexia. Most of the time it’s similar to most eating disorders, the eating behaviour involved being ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’ in this case, is used to cope with negative thoughts and feelings, or to feel in control. Someone using food in this way can make them feel extremely anxious or guilty if they eat food they feel is unhealthy.
Orthoerexia has some similarities with anorexia, and someone who has symptoms of orthorexia might be diagnosed with anorexia if they fit within those symptoms too. Eating disorders that can’t be diagnosed as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder might be diagnosed as ‘other specified feeding or eating disorder‘ (OSFED).
It can also have a serious physical affect on the person, because someone’s beliefs about what is healthy may lead them to cutting out essential nutrients or whole food groups. All eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, and should be treated as quickly as possible.
Signs of orthoerexia:
- Obsession with healthy or supposedly healthy diets.
- Increased focus on what they’re eating may interfere with other areas of the persons life, such as work or their social life.
- Feeling unable to put aside personal rules about what they can and can’t eat, even if they want to.
- Feelings of anxiety, guilt or uncleanliness over eating food they regard as unhealthy.
- Emotional well being is overly dependant on eating the ‘right’ food.
- Low mood or depression.
- Cutting out particular foods and food groups from a diet in an attempt to make their diet more healthy, more and more foods may be cut out over time.
- Taking an existing theory about healthy eating and adapting it with additional benefits of their own.
- Poor concentration.
- Judgement about eating habits of others.
- Weight loss
- Feeling weak
- Taking a long time to recover from illness.
- Feeling cold constantly.
- Low energy levels.
How it develops:
There are many things to look out for if you think you or someone else could be suffering from orthorexia, these occur when they compulsively check ingredient lists and nutritional labels. They have an increasing concern about the health of ingredients within the foods. They will cut out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat and animal products) They will have the inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods they are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’. They will spend hours per day thinking about what food might be served at an upcoming event, they will stress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods are not available. They will have an obsessive following of food and healthy lifestyle blogs on Twitter and Instagram and they will most likely suffer with body concerns which could lead to Body Dysmorphia. Read my latest blog post about BD here.
Like many eating disorders, they all have similarities when it comes to how it can affect your overall health and its safe to say that having these types of disorders can lead to devastating consequences on your health.
- Consuming fewer calories than you need means that the body breaks down its own tissue to use for fuel. Muscles are some of the first organs broken down, and the most important muscle in the body is the heart. Pulse and blood pressure begin to drop as the heart has less fuel to pump blood and fewer cells to pump with. The risk for heart failure rises as the heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.
- Stomach pain and bloating
- Blood sugar fluctuations
- Blocked intestines from solid masses of undigested food
- Bacterial infections
- Feeling full after eating only small amounts of food
- Low caloric and fat consumption can cause dry skin, and hair to become brittle and fall out.
- Severe, prolonged dehydration can lead to kidney failure.
- Inadequate nutrition can decrease the number of certain types of blood cells.
- Anaemia develops when there are too few red blood cells or too little iron in the diet. Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.
- Malnutrition can also decrease infection-fighting white blood cells.
There are currently no clinical treatments developed specifically for orthorexia, but many eating disorder experts treat orthorexia as a variety of anorexia and or obsessive compulsive disorder. This, treatment usually involves psychotherapy to increase variety of foods eaten and exposure to anxiety-provoking or feared foods, as well as weight restoration as needed.
Just remember that it will take time, but if you suffer with this illness or anything similar, reach out and get help, do not do it alone!
Check out this documentary based around how an Instagram obsession with ‘clean eating’ turned into an eating disorder.
Call Eating Recovery Centre on 877-711-1690
Call SEED on 01482 718130 or email