We all want to be healthy.

Some people want to be healthy so badly that they simply cannot stand the idea of eating anything but the cleanest, most whole, most organic foods.

And when you can’t have the healthiest foods? They don’t eat at all. A practice that is decidedly unhealthy.

First identified in 1997 by Dr. Steven Bratman, the American Psychiatric Association has not yet named orthorexia an official disorder. Still, physicians and therapists are noting with increasing frequency the negative health effects of the eating disorder in the age of fitness and clean living.

Orthorexia is now seen more and more alongside anorexia, bulimia, and excessive exercise. Though not as well-known as the oft-discussed former two disorders, orthorexia is just as dangerous.

Orthorexia also has the added danger of being more deceptive. Why? Because people may pat you on the back for pursuing healthy eating, unwittingly affirming your disordered eating. In extreme situations, orthorexia can result in severe malnutrition or even death.

How can you tell if your healthy diet has turned into self-defeating orthorexia?

  • Sufferers of orthorexia believe foods deemed correct or safe are the only foods to eat. Strict avoidance of sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol, wheat, gluten, yeast, soy, corn and dairy, as well as pesticides, herbicides or preservatives, are not uncommon.
  • The vast majority of foods are considered calorie heavy or toxin-laden. Eating foods not on the approved list creates feelings of extreme anxiety and disgust.
  • The link between food choices and disease (allergies, asthma, digestive issues, low mood, etc.) is another point of obsession.
  • Heavy use of supplements or nutrient-rich powders replaces “unhealthy” food.
  • Orthorexia sufferers tend to use cleanses, detoxes, and enemas heavily.
  • Orthorexia is often connected to anorexia or bulimia. Fear of gaining weight is overwhelming as the common denominator.
  • Orthorexic people often become belligerent and angry with loved ones when they suggest there may be a problem.
  • Rigid food rules drive your behavior externally. Internally, harsh self-talk and criticism demand perfection and strict adherence to your self-imposed dietary restrictions.
  • Withdrawal from normal life and antisocial behavior accompany orthorexia. Concerns about food get in the way of school, work, interests, and relationships.
  • Orthorexia feeds further mental health decline. Depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, and body image dissatisfaction are commonplace.

What are the most prevalent physical consequences of orthorexia?

Eating in such an unbalanced, restricted way has a lasting impact on the body as a whole.

Ailments like these are created by the deficiencies created by orthorexia:

  • Poor immunity
  • Brittle bones
  • Insufficient thyroid function
  • Constant cravings
  • Low energy

How do you cope with Orthorexia?

In essence, orthorexia sufferers start out in a healthy place, only to find that obsession robs them of the pure, clean bodies they long for, possibly even starving themselves to avoid unhealthy foods.

If you are a sufferer, in order to cope and recover, you need to proceed in a better way. Here are a few strategies:

Listen to your body

Body awareness must be prioritized above the fixation on your food list.

  • What are your body’s cues? Pay attention to what your body wants.
  • Talk to trusted loved ones who can help you process and identify what your body wants.
  • Journal what you notice about your body’s needs to create a record and reference.

Commit to facing internal issues

Is orthorexia an avoidance technique for dealing with other problems?

Putting all of your focus on pure eating likely signals more is going on inside you.

  • Take an honest internal look at your emotions. Try to identify how you feel when you eat and avoid eating.
  • Investigate any other ways you might be dealing with your problems unproductively. Talk to people who know you well and you trust for additional insight.

Get help!

Expertise is invaluable for your complete recovery.

  • Meet with your doctor. You may lack key nutrients. A physical and blood test can help you assess and fill any deficiencies.
  • Talk to a therapist who can help you work through your emotions, past issues and goals. He or she will help you create a more mentally supportive relationship with food.
  • Work with a dietitian to help you balance your relationship with food. He or she can assess your diet and help you adjust it for optimal health.

Do you suspect that you, or someone you know, suffer from orthorexia or any eating disorder? If so, please seek help right away.

Take the first step…

If you are ready to address your food issues and how they may be affecting your life, I would like to help. Please contact me via phone or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Linda K. Laffey, MFT



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