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Orthorexia Nervosa: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Overcoming this Eating Disorder

What is Orthorexia? Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an obsession with eating only foods that are perceived as healthy or pure. While this may seem like a positive behavior on the surface, orthorexia can become a dangerous obsession that can lead to malnutrition and severe health problems. In this article, we will explore what orthorexia nervosa is, how it differs from other eating disorders, the signs and symptoms too look out for, and how to overcome this disorder. I’ve personally suffered with orthorexia and anorexia at the same time, and recovery is possible with the right professional help!

What is Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves an unhealthy fixation on eating only foods that are perceived as healthy or pure. This obsession with “clean” eating can lead to severe food restrictions, anxiety around food, and an overall deterioration of mental and physical health. It is very different to other eating disorders like the Pica eating disorder

How Orthorexia Nervosa Differs from Other Eating Disorders

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While orthorexia nervosa shares some similarities with other eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, it differs in several ways. Unlike anorexia nervosa, which is characterized by a fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image, individuals with orthorexia nervosa are not necessarily focused on losing weight. Rather, their focus is on eating only “clean” or “pure” foods. Additionally, unlike bulimia nervosa, individuals with orthorexia nervosa do not engage in binge-eating episodes followed by purging

Orthorexia Nervosa Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of orthorexia nervosa can vary, but some common indicators include:

  • Obsessively checking ingredient labels and nutrition information on food packaging
  • Eliminating entire food groups or categories from one’s diet
  • Refusing to eat foods that are not perceived as “healthy” or “clean”
  • Experiencing anxiety around food choices and meal planning
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed when “unhealthy” foods are consumed
  • Spending an excessive amount of time researching and preparing food
  • Neglecting social or work obligations in order to maintain a strict eating regime
  • Excessively checking menus before eating out
  • Experiencing physical symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and malnutrition
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How to Overcome Orthorexia Nervosa

Overcoming orthorexia nervosa can be a challenging process, but it is possible with the right support and treatment

Here are some steps you can take:

1. Seek Professional Help
If you suspect that you or a loved one may be struggling with orthorexia nervosa, it is important to seek professional help. A licensed Psychotherapist can help you develop a treatment plan that addresses the underlying causes of the disorder and helps you develop a healthier relationship with food.

2. Work with a Registered Dietitian (alongside a Psychotherapist)
Working with a registered dietitian can help you develop a balanced and sustainable meal plan that meets your nutritional needs. A dietitian can also help you challenge negative thoughts and beliefs about food and eating.

3. Practice Mindfulness and Self-Compassion
Practicing mindfulness and self-compassion can help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions around food and eating. By cultivating a non-judgmental attitude towards yourself and your eating habits, you can develop a healthier relationship with food and reduce the anxiety and guilt that often accompanies orthorexia nervosa.

4. Challenge Perfectionism
Orthorexia nervosa is often fuelled by a desire for perfection and control. However, this desire can be detrimental to mental and physical health. By challenging perfectionism and accepting that imperfection is a natural part of life, you can begin to develop a more flexible and balanced approach to eating.

Conclusion

Orthorexia nervosa can have serious consequences for an individual’s mental and physical health if left untreated. However, with the right support and treatment, recovery is possible. Seeking professional help, working with a registered dietitian, practicing mindfulness and self-compassion, and challenging perfectionism are all important steps in overcoming this disorder.

It is important to remember that healthy eating should be a balanced and sustainable approach to nutrition that promotes overall well-being. By shifting the focus away from strict food rules and towards a more flexible and intuitive approach to eating, individuals can develop a healthier relationship with food and maintain optimal physical and mental health.

FAQs
Is orthorexia nervosa a recognized eating disorder?
Yes, orthorexia nervosa is recognized as a type of eating disorder by many mental health professionals.

Can orthorexia nervosa lead to malnutrition?
Yes, orthorexia nervosa can lead to malnutrition if an individual’s food restrictions are too severe and do not provide adequate nutrients.

Can orthorexia nervosa be treated without professional help?
While some individuals may be able to overcome orthorexia nervosa on their own, seeking professional help is often necessary for long-term recovery.

What is the difference between orthorexia nervosa and healthy eating?
While healthy eating is a balanced and sustainable approach to nutrition, orthorexia nervosa is characterized by an unhealthy fixation on eating only foods perceived as “clean” or “pure” that can lead to physical and mental health problems.

Can orthorexia nervosa co-occur with other eating disorders?
Yes, individuals with orthorexia nervosa may also struggle with other eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

What is orthorexia? (if you’d like to learn more about orthorexia, then check out our podcast!)

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