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What is orthorexia?

Unlike more well known disorders such as anorexia and bulimia that are typically concerned with the quantity of food consumed, orthorexia sufferers compulsively worry about the quality of their food. Like all eating disorders, the negative consequences of orthorexia can be both mental and physical.

Rise related to changing social habits

Just as anorexia and bulimia can be triggered by trends and fashions in the media that place pressure on individuals (especially young girls in their teens and early twenties), the sudden explosion in orthorexia cases could also be linked to changes in the way eating is perceived, advertised and educated in society. Every day in the newspapers, there seems to be a report where research has found certain food types to cause the onset of illness such as cancer, heart disease, dementia or liver disease. Technology is enhanced and we can ensure foods that we are eating are hygienic, and educate people as to the most appropriate way to eat raw food. Additives can make our foods look enticing and add taste and flavour, but as a society, we are now very much aware of how this can have effects on health and behaviour. This has led to us, as a society, being very aware of the types of food that are safe to eat. It is where this awareness becomes a compulsion and interferes with daily functioning that there is a problem.

Symptoms of orthorexia

It's important to remember that individuals suffering from orthorexia go beyond just keeping away from foods that are deemed unhealthy. People with orthorexia commonly have rigid rules around eating. Refusing to touch sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol, wheat, gluten, yeast, soya, corn and dairy foods is just the start of their diet restrictions. Any foods that have come into contact with pesticides, herbicides or contain artificial additives might also be completely avoided. Symptoms of this illness include:

  • Spending more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food
  • Feeling guilty or experiencing self-loathing if they ever deviate from their diet
  • Have a feeling of total control when they keep to their diet
  • Continually limiting the number of foods they eat and experiencing a reduced quality of life or isolation because of it

Typical long-term effects of this condition is the individual becoming so stressed with keeping to their rigid diets that personal relationships come under pressure and they become socially isolated. However, the ultimate problem with all compulsive eating disorders is they cause people become malnourished and put their lives in danger.

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