Ever know someone who seems to have lots of rules about what they will and will not eat? And maybe they follow these rules to a tee. Because of my profession, some people think I am like that, and they’re are surprised when they see me eat a slice of birthday cake or catch me with a dish of ice cream.
The term “orthorexia” was coined by Dr. Steven Bratman, who was interested in describing his own eating behaviors. It’s the obsession with eating healthy. But unlike say, anorexia, it’s not a diagnosis recognized by the medical community. Orthorexia doesn’t include the obsession with weight or calories.
Instead, it is more associated with self esteem and the ability to adhere to a strict eating regimen. It involves the desire to control food quality and purity, and is often accompanied by the feeling that one’s diet is superior to the “rest of the world.” It might start out with innocent healthy eating, but this condition can spin out of control when a person starts to take on rigid routines and strict diet “rules.”
So what’s the difference between eating healthy as a lifestyle and being orthorexic? Eating healthy involves healthier patterns, like eating small meals often, allowing balance and a varied diet to prevail. Orthorexia involves an obsession with always eating extremely healthfully and causes people to feel extremely guilty when they go astray.
Ask yourself the following questions to determine if you may be headed in the direction of orthorexia. These are from the National Eating Disorders Association.
- Do you wish that occasionally you could just eat and not worry about food quality?
- Do you ever wish you could spend less time on food and more time on living and loving?
- Does it sound beyond your ability to eat a meal prepared with love by someone else – one single meal – and not try to control what is served?
- Are you constantly looking for the ways foods are unhealthy for you?
- Do love, joy, play and creativity take a backseat to having the perfect diet?
- Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
- Do you feel in control when you eat the correct diet?
- Have you positioned yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the food they eat?
If you think you might have a disordered eating pattern or orthorexia, seek help from a mental health professional or registered dietitian specializing in eating disorders.