Healthy Body

The dangers of orthorexia

2014 has been the year of health and fitness in a lot of aspects in Western societies. Some worry about what they put into their precious bodies more than ever by buying organic food, banning gluten from their diets and talking about the importance of knowing where what you put into your mouth comes from.

With the help of social media it has been made easier to take your obsessions one step further. The ever so popular hashtags “Fitspo,” “EatClean,” or even “GlutenFree,” are taking over our newsfeeds and minds. In the midst of this fitness hype, is it fair to ask yourself, can healthy living go too far?

Is there such a thing as being too healthy, too obsessed with what you eat and how often you work out?

Most of us have heard about anorexia nervosa and know a bit about what it entails. It’s an unhealthy eating disorder that leaves you obsessed with calorie intake, food and body image. But some may not know about the ‘healthy’ eating disorder that is on a rise.

Orthorexia nervosa is an obsession with pure foods, which means something different to each individual. Certain items of your diet are excluded that you feel are not healthy enough. It can start with excluding different parts of your diet, not in a search for a weight loss, but to be healthy.

Be it excluding meat, then all animalistic products, gluten, dairy, the list tends to go on until only a few items are left. The unhealthy aspect of this eating disorder is that it will affect your body in the long run. You may start to suffer from a poor immune system, brittle bones or poor thyroid function.

The term orthorexia was coined in 1997 by Dr Steven Bratman MD who himself was an orthorexia sufferer. Despite the term being around for so long, it is rarely spoken of. This might be due to the lack of knowledge from medical professionals on how to treat it, along with public resistance.

We know that being too thin to a point where it is obsessive and close to no calorie consumption is bad; but when someone is acting healthy according to the books, when does it go too far?

Trish Shields, the clinic manager at Eating Disorder Centre Cork (EDCC) defines orthorexia in a way that helps understand the complex disorder. She explains that the difference between being healthy to when it becomes a danger to the individual, takes place when the fitness obsession creates high levels of anxiety in the individual. She adds that orthorexia sufferers seeking treatment at a clinic often suffer anorexia as well other eating disorders.

“Compassionate awareness” has to be the mantra when speaking of eating disorders Trish Shields says. “We need to stop shaming people with eating disorders. It is something that is beyond them.” When speaking of orthorexia patients in the past she mentions high levels of anxiety and depression among them.

When is it time to seek help? lists different warning signs that are worth being cautious of and for seeking help. Mainly they stress the anxiety of not sticking to your diet, the clean food that you have decided to eat and avoiding living life to its fullest due to diet restrictions.

There is such a thing as living a healthy lifestyle, but when a lifestyle becomes an obsession and not a choice, it may be time to seek help to get healthy again.