As specialists in eating disorders, our team here at Flourish Psychology often work with individuals that do not necessarily fit the mold of what an eating disorder looks like. Most of us are at least moderately familiar with conditions like anorexia and bulimia, which tend to be not only more widely reported, but also more likely to have symptoms that are associated with disordered eating, such as starvation, binging, and purging.
But not all forms of disordered eating fit into these labels. Some people – even more so now with the rise in social media influencers – have eating disorders that manifest in different ways, and one of those ways, which is frequently hard to spot, is in those that would otherwise be considered healthy eaters.
Healthy Eating that Goes Too Far
Not enough of us eat as healthy as we should. Most of us do not eat enough greens. Most of us have too much fat or processed foods. Many of us do not get enough protein, or have enough vitamins and minerals in our diet. It would absolutely be better for most of us if we were more conscientious eaters and aware of what we put into our bodies.
But, like most things, healthy eating can go too far. We should eat healthier. But healthy eating shouldn’t be an all consuming trait – or one where we feel intense distress when the foods that we deem healthy (that may or may not be healthy) are not available. We also benefit as human beings from a slightly more varied diet, from carbohydrates, and from types of food that aren’t always available in a “clean” way.
This type of healthy eating disorder has even been given a term, called “Orthorexia.” People with orthorexia often display patterns with food that mirror those with anorexia, but instead of caloric restriction, the focus is on healthy eating. Examples include:
- An unhealthy obsession with food and what you eat.
- Intense distress when you are expected to (or forced to) eat food that you do not feel is healthy.
- Compulsive checking of the nutritional labels of different foods.
- Strong interest in social media and blogs as it relates to healthy eating.
Some people with this type of condition do eat what most doctors would agree is a healthy diet. But the level of intense distress they experience as a result of their connection to food dramatically impacts their quality of life for the worse. In addition, while some people with “orthorexia” are still generally healthy, others may not be. That is because this same obsession with healthy eating can lead to:
- Cutting out otherwise important food groups, like carbohydrates, because you deem them to be unhealthy, in ways that may hurt your body in the long term.
- Accidental caloric restriction – for example, eating salads without enough fats or proteins and not receiving enough calories from other food groups.
- Openness to propaganda and misinformation as it relates to food and health. For example, seeing an influencer claim that something is unhealthy because it is unnatural, even against the findings of science.
Somep people with this type of eating disorder do eat healthy enough, but not everyone will and even those that do eat healthy are often suffering from psychological and social consequences as a result of this healthy food obsession.
How is “Orthorexia” Treated?
Even something as generally good as healthy eating can go too far, and unfortunately many of those that struggle with this condition do not seek help, because it is very difficult to identify it as a problem. In addition, these behaviors appear to be more common now than they were in the past, and so there have not been many studies that address this as a specific condition.
Still, this type of disordered eating does respond very well to existing treatments, and therapy that provides support for conditions like anorexia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and more do seem effective at helping people with this type of challenge.
If you or someone you love may have “Orthorexia,” or have an unhealthy relationship with food in any capacity even if it does not fit what we traditionally consider an eating disorder, we encourage you to contact Flourish Psychology in NYC, today.