Contributor: Valerie Luxon, PsyD, Director of Clinical Training and Program Development, Inner Door Center®
There’s a new eating disorder in town, and its name is orthorexia nervosa. Orthorexia is not a recognized eating disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition), however, it is quickly gaining recognition. Orthorexia nervosa refers to an unhealthy fixation on “pure or righteous eating”.
ON occurs when an individual turns healthy eating into obsessive dietary restrictions, obsessive food behaviors, distortion of priorities, and social isolation. Healthy eating becomes concerning when the food obsessions occur together with a loss of moderation, balance and withdrawal.
A decrease in quality of life and negative impact on relationships and emotional states may be signs that healthy eating has shifted toward orthorexia.
Seeking “Purity” Through Food
Orthorexia often starts out with an innocent emphasis on health and quickly gets attached to the theory of seeking “purity” through food. Individuals with orthorexia spend significant amounts of time focusing on the planning, preparation, purchasing and consumption of food deemed “healthy.” The search for “healthy” food becomes obsessive and all consuming.
This obsession can lead to malnutrition, due to lack of nutrients, along with a distortion of priorities in which food takes precedence over life values. Individuals with orthorexia suffer from perfectionism often leading them to take their own food wherever they go, while measuring, weighing and calculating all food ingested.
How Orthorexia Can Be Isolating
Orthorexia sufferers may avoid situations where food is present leading to increased social isolation. The all-consuming obsession over “purity” makes the ability to eat meals prepared by others or outside of the strict diet unimaginable.
Feelings of superiority over one’s ability to manage such a rigid diet begin to develop leading to scrutiny of other’s choices and lifestyles. Decisions are based on food availability and control over food options. The mind becomes consumed with worry over what foods will be eaten throughout the day, and deviation from the diet leads to guilt, shame and self-loathing.
Quality Over Quantity?
Orthorexia nervosa is different from other eating disorders in that its emphasis is on the quality of the food that is ingested instead of the quantity of food. Orthorexia does not have the defining characteristics of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa of an immense fear of weight gain, extreme weight-control behaviors or an over-evaluation of body shape and weight.
Individuals with orthorexia do, however, share a predisposition for perfectionism, anxiety, rigidity, obsessive compulsive tendencies, and a need for control manifested through food as present with other eating disorders.
Orthorexia Is Leaning Towards Men
While women have historically shown more emphasis on physical appearance and eating habits research is now showing that men may be more likely to suffer from orthorexia nervosa. Orthorexia is on the rise with research showing prevalence rates of 6.9%, more that anorexia and bulimia combined.
Orthorexia in men show a positive correlation with age and weight suggesting that as men age, so may emphasis on health and wellness. The world of health, wellness and aesthetic-filled expectations are newer to men and may led to feelings of anxiety and vulnerability towards social messages of food, exacerbating the obsession of orthorexia.
The Relationship Between Athletes and Anorexia
Athletes have shown increased rates of orthorexia, with a higher prevalence amongst males. Competitive athletes know the critical role nutrition plays in enhancing performance and recovery, reaching ideal body weight, shaping the body, and preventing physical injuries leading to greater control over their diets.
While body dissatisfaction is not a criteria for orthorexia, men may seek obsessive dieting habits in an effort to reach peak athletic performance.
Social Pressures on Men
With increasing rates of orthorexia in men is this the end of the meat and potato diet? Men are now being barraged with social pressures and messages that health perfection leads to a higher quality life, acceptance and superiority; messages once reserved for women.
All hope is not lost however: with effective psychotherapy and medication management orthorexia can be successfully treated in helping individuals develop more flexible eating habits, less rigid thinking patterns and decreased social isolation.
About Inner Door Center®:
Located in Royal Oak, Michigan, just outside of Detroit, Inner Door Center® is the home of Reconnect with Food®, the renowned Mindfulness-Based, Yoga Therapy program for eating disorder treatment, offering a free-standing, partial hospitalization program along with intensive outpatient, outpatient therapy and ongoing support for eating disorders and co-occurring disorders, including substance abuse.
Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!
What are your thoughts on health and wellness being taken to the extreme for men, is too much emphasis on exercise and the “right” foods detrimental?
- Bratman, S. About “orthorexia”. Available at http://www.orthorexia.com/aout/. Accessed April 12, 2015.
- Brytek-Matera, A. Orthorexia nervosa-an eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or disturbed eating habit? Archives of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy. 2012; 1: 55-60.
- Donini, L., Marsili D., Graziani, M., et al. Orthorexia nervosa: A preliminary study with a proposal for diagnosis and an attempt to measure the dimensions of the phenomenon. Eating Weight Disorders. 2004; 9(2), 151-157.
- Segura-Garcia, C., Papaianni, M., Caglioti, F., et al. Orthorexia nervosa: A frequent eating disordered behavior in athletes. Eating and Weight Disorders. 2012; 17(4), 226-233.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 28th, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com