Since we were kids our parents, teachers and doctors have lectured us about healthy nutrition, a well-balanced diet and how important it is to feed the body the “good stuff”. In school we have learned about different types of vegetables and their nutrient values. A balanced diet helps the body to stay healthy, provides energy, gives you a healthy complexion and stimulates a strong growth of hair and nails.
So of course we have to pay attention to what we eat. But what if this “paying attention” becomes an obsession and leads to an addiction? Then we speak about orthorexia nervosa, a very harmful and barely researched eating disorder that is on the rise in our modern day society.
So what exactly is orthorexia?
People who suffer from orthorexia exclusively eat the healthiest of the healthy. This includes organic fruits and vegetables and meals with low fat and carbohydrate content. Plus animal products may be cut out completely. The main aim is to stay away from products containing harmful or unhealthy substances. Often weight loss is not a first priority, but a significant fellow-runner.
However, a lot of people who used to suffer from anorexia nervosa and consider themselves healed are drawn to this lifestyle as it allows them to exert a similar control over their food choices, but in a socially accepted way.
What tips the balance from being a healthy eater and suffering from orthorexia is the extreme limitation and obsession in food selection.
What are the consequences of suffering from orthorexia?
When being excessively selective with food and only eating the same types of nutrients, even super healthy produces can make someone sick. Malnourishment is a common consequence since certain nutritional values are just being cut out. Being undernourished has an enormous influence on vital bodily functions, such as immune system, growth of tissue, healing, and so forth.
Further, the social life of an orthorexic person tends to suffer. This is mainly due to the fact that they isolate themselves, constantly think about food and cannot understand that other people may live a different life. They tend to be intolerant of other people’s views and want to spread the word constantly.
What if friends are inviting over for a late-night dinner and want to enjoy the taste of a good old shepherds pie? What if a mom wants to take her daughter out to the movies and buys popcorn and coke? What if the sister puts all her effort into baking a cake for her brother’s birthday? Disappointing all these people on a constant basis may result in being eliminated from friends and family events.
Even worse, most orthorexic people do not just tell their sister that they won’t eat that birthday cake, but they lecture their friends and family, trying to convince them of their “healthy” lifestyle. They are unaware of the fact that by doing so they push their social environment away. In return, orthorexic people are not willing to understand the concerns of their peers and shove off any doubts concerning their lifestyle.
Orthorexia not only has damaging physical consequences but also leads to social isolation and loneliness. It is difficult to clearly identify orthorexic people since it is a slow process and a step-by-step way into the addiction that might even take years.
Nevertheless it is important to keep an eye on friends or relatives who might have a potential for being orthorexic. Plus, we should remind ourselves that of course it is important to eat healthy, but in a well-balanced kind of way. A piece of chocolate once in a while is well deserved and your entire being will love you for it.