Orthorexia Nervosa – A healthy obsession?

Orthorexia Nervosa – have you heard of it? The Nervosa no doubt helps you recognise that this is an eating disorder of some sort – but you may be questioning what.

Orthorexia (“ortho” derived from the Greek meaning “correct”, or “straight”) is an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food. Sounds a little crazy when you think about that doesn’t it – how can eating healthy possibly be bad for you?

The disorder is characterised by anxiety, ritualistic thoughts and behaviours, and extreme pickiness with food. Though not officially recognised yet (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), Orthorexia Nervosa is a serious condition that can really upset your life and make if difficult for those around you. Knowing the amount of calories in every piece of fruit you eat, or the nutrient density of a piece of kale might be helpful, but if you have an obsessive nature, it can also be very harmful.

Lets firstly get one thing straight, an obsession or addiction to anything is unhealthy.

For many people, eating healthy and correctly is becoming a new obsession, myself included, so I was curious to find out more. I am obsessive and perfection driven by nature – and I certainly tick a number of the boxes that help identify the presence of this disorder, as I scarily discovered when I picked up a copy of “Health Food Junkies”, a recently released book about this illness.

So what are the ‘signs’?

  • Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat that the pleasure you receive from eating it?
  • Do you find yourself socially isolating yourself?
  • Do you keep getting stricter with your diet?
  • Do you feel an increased sense of self-esteem when you eat healthy food and superior to those who don’t?
  • Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?

Are there a few signs here that you or someone you love may identify with?

The difference between someone who is conscious about what they eat and someone with Orthorexia is that the food begins to control their life rather than them controlling the food. What they actually see as good health becomes a blurred line and the obsession kicks in.

When food get’s in the way of your life, then it’s time to take a look at big picture.

It can become all to easy to get hung up on every meal, pre plan your eating to perfection or organise your day around food, but it can lead you down an unhealthy road. Yes this sounds crazy as eating well is good for you but like everything, it is about moderation. If you are cancelling dinner with your friends, or avoiding social outings because you are trying to be ‘good’, you might find yourself falling further and further into an eating disorder.

I love the way that eating healthy makes me feel – I can admit that, but I am also the first to put my hand up when some mentions chocolate (that makes me feel even better!). It’s important not to feel guilty and enjoy life’s pleasures; food after all brings people together and should be an experience.

I can say openly and honestly that what has helped me relax a little and enjoy the great foodie pleasures in life has been talking about this with my friends and family. Getting into the kitchen and creating food for the ones I love, that they enjoy too and sharing it all with you.

Society these days pushes perfection to the limit but self-esteem should not be based on food or diet. Move, nourish, think and relax. You will soon find that while food is important, it is only a very small part of your life, and there are a number of other things out there that are much more important in the long run.

Written by: Arna Craig