Eating healthy is generally viewed as a positive practice. However, this habit can become problematic when healthy eating patterns become an obsession. Orthorexia is the term used to represent the presence of extreme practices surrounding healthy eating. While Orthorexia is not currently recognized as a distinct eating disorder, two criteria have been proposed to represent the thought and behavioral patterns surrounding these practices. Such criteria includes:
An obsessive-like focus on eating healthy, involving a specific set of beliefs or a nutritional philosophy, distress when confronted with food choices that are perceived as unhealthy, and weight loss (although weight loss does not need to be an incentive of the individual’s practices).
These behaviors are commonly evidenced by: 1) compulsive behaviors and preoccupations surrounding extreme eating practices, 2) emotional distress when dietary restrictions are violated, and 3) increased restriction severity overtime.
Compulsions and preoccupations that involve: 1) weight loss, malnutrition, or negative health consequences due to a limited diet, 2) interpersonal concerns or impairment in social, vocational, and/or academic functioning due to extreme eating practices, and 3) healthy eating practices are of influence on body image, self-worth, and/or identity.
While orthorexia is not recognized as an eating disorder, these patterns can cause increased levels of physical and psychological distress. Further, the criteria for orthorexia suggests that these symptoms are likely to escalate, which may lead to increased emotional and physical concerns overtime. As such, those suffering from orthorexia should seek professional help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and psychoeducation have been indicated as treatments for orthorexia. Medication has also been used to treat orthorexia.
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Koven, N. S., & Abry, A. W. (2015). The clinical basis of orthorexia nervosa: emerging perspectives. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 11, 385–394. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S61665
Scarff J. R. (2017). Orthorexia Nervosa: An Obsession With Healthy Eating. Federal practitioner: for the health care professionals of the VA, DoD, and PHS, 34(6), 36–39.