With over one in four people in the UK classed as obese it is little wonder that the messages we take from nutritionists and fitness experts is to eat healthily and exercise. But for some, these messages are taken to the extreme resulting in an obsession with healthy eating and exercise. The disorder is called Orthorexia Nervosa, and while not yet formally recognized eating disorder, UK eating disorder charities reporting of increasing numbers of sufferers, suggesting that the condition be treated as a disorder in its own right.
Most of us consider eating disorders to be about extreme thinness and obsession with calorie counting. Few perhaps, would consider themselves to suffer from an eating disorder if the main objective is not thinness, but a desire to be healthy. However, there is a thin line, between people who believe they are taking care of themselves by manipulating their diet, and those who suffer from Orthorexia. Where the Anorexic is concerned with the quantity of food consumed, the Orthorexic fixates on the type and quality of it.
What characterizes Orthorexia?
Many Orthorexic sufferers, perhaps influenced by celebrity fad diets, may start off by choosing to eat only organic produce. Very careful about what they eat and intent on being healthy, the person will soon cut out sugar, salt, corn, and dairy foods, - anything believed to detrimental to healthy eating. While not driven by a desire to lose weight, the sufferer will often experience weight loss due to the nature of their diet and the fact that many also over-exercise. Cutting out entire food groups can result in serious nutritional deficiencies and the condition, like all eating disorders, can impact on all areas of a person’s life. Eating socially is virtually impossible, and spending hours working out and trawling through health shops, preparing the next meal, can be difficult to marry with a social life.
How common is Orthorexia?
Orthorexia affects men and women alike, and psychologist and founder of the National Centre for Eating Disorders (NCFED), Deanne Jade, believes that 1 in 10 women and around 1 in 20 men in the UK have Orthorexia. While sufferers tend to be over 30 and well-educated, Eating disorder charities nationwide report of an increasing number of impressionable young people presenting with Orthorexia symptoms and warn that the disorder can develop into other eating disorders, such as Bulimia and Anorexia.
Despite the noble intention of the Orhtorexic person to be healthy, any behaviour that becomes obsessive is unhealthy and therefore deserving of treatment. The objective of Orthorexia treatment is not to make the sufferer unhealthy or fat. Eating disorder treatment is about discovering what drives the obsessive behaviours and exploring ways in which to strike a healthy balance.