While anorexics and bulimics are obsessed with the amount they eat, orthorexics are more concerned with the quality of what they eat. That in itself may not be worrying, but the nutritional value of food can become an overriding preoccupation for some people.
People who suffer from the latest eating disorder spend hours each day thinking about what they will eat. Meals are planned well in advance, and a strict schedule is followed. They seek out products billed as healthy, without a trace of preservatives, fat, sugar, or salt. Some go so far as to invent their own dietary rules in order to determine what is healthy and what is not.
Orthorexics also find eating in restaurants difficult, or anywhere outside home, which can be socially isolating. They often travel with a “first-aid kit” of permissible foods. The disorder is also marked by contempt for others: sufferers feel morally superior to people who are less vigilant about what they eat. But it’s not just their interpersonal relationships and psychological health that can suffer: sometimes an orthorexic would rather go hungry than eat something not perfectly healthy.
The eating disorder of the future?
Orthorexia is relatively new and not very well-known (the word itself wasn’t coined until 1997); however, it is believed that the disorder will touch more and more people. The villains, according to researchers? The media, bombarding the public with reports touting the latest “super foods“, the newest diet fads, not to mention the fear-mongering caused by conflicting information. All this can lead to an obsession with the nutritious aspect of food.
So what’s the key to healthy eating?
Eating a healthy diet doesn’t mean scrutinizing every morsel for traces of fat or salt. On the contrary, nutritionists continue to advise us that the key to a healthy diet is moderation. In other words, eating a little bit of everything is best. We should also allow ourselves the occasional treat, like a gelato on a hot day, or a square of dark chocolate melting on our tongue. Food should be a gratifying experience, like popcorn at the movies or a hamburger at a family barbecue. Taken in moderation, these treats add contentment and variety to our diets-not to mention our lives.
The goal? For eating to become a true pleasure again, and not an opportunity to whip out our calculators and scales, adding up and subtracting fat and sugar grams.
Could you be suffering from orthorexia?
If you’re concerned that you may be suffering from this eating disorder, then take this test developed by Dr Steve Bratman, the first doctor to discuss the disorder in 1997.
- Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking about your diet?
- Do you plan your meals several days in advance?
- Does nutritional value outweigh pleasure for you, when it comes to eating?
- Has the quality of your life lately decreased, while the quality of your diet has increased in nutrition?
- Have your recently become more strict and demanding with yourself?
- Does your self-esteem depend on eating healthily?
- Have you given up foods you enjoy in favour of healthier ones?
- Has your diet affected your social life, isolating you from friends and family?
- Do you feel guilty when you don’t stick to your diet?
- Do you feel better about yourself, more at peace, when you stick to your diet?
If you answered “yes” to at least five of these questions, your relationship with food may be unhealthy. If you answered “yes” to all the questions, you may suffer from an obsession with only eating nutritious food. It might be a good idea to talk to your doctor about it.
Tatiana Polevoy for divine.ca