You cannot eat a bite of your birthday cake? Obsessed with eating gluten-free or low-carbohydrate foods? Do your all-consuming (pardon the pun…) efforts to eat chemical-free meats, fats and artificial additives adversely affect your social life and hinder your ability to think beyond your next meal preparation?
If not, then don’t worry. However, if nutritional issues unnaturally intrude on your daily activities and social life, then you could be orthorexic.
It has been called a “fixation on righteous eating “or an unnatural obsession with maintaining a healthy diet. Orthorexia, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is not recognized yet as a formal clinical diagnosis however it is seen in clinical practice. Orthorexia is when a person’s self-esteem depends on adherence to a restrictive healthy diet. As opposed to anorexia nervosa, orthorexics obsess with healthy eating and not with losing weight, being thin, or body image. According to NEDA, an orthorexic’s healthy food obsessions can impair ability to engage in usual activities and relationships.
Being too strict in dietary selections may be harmful. Orthorexics may have nutritionally defective diets that lack specific vitamins and minerals. Nutritional support by a professional dietitian generally is recommended. Are you at risk for orthorexia? NEDA would have you consider eight questions to help answer that question. The more “yes” answers, the more likely you could be an orthorexic:
- 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 living and loving?
- Does it seem beyond your ability to eat a meal prepared with love by someone else and not try to control what is served?
- Are you constantly looking for ways foods are unhealthy for you?
- Do love, joy, play and creativity take a back seat to following the perfect diet?
- Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
- Do you feel in control when you stick to the “correct” diet?
- Have you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the foods they eat?
Professional medical attention generally is recommended and many skilled counselors and nutritionists can help deal with orthorexia and its undesirable physical and psychosocial consequences. Admitting there is a problem, learning to accept dietary flexibility and dealing with any food-related emotional issues will help in recovery.
Self-esteem does not come by imposing highly selective healthy eating into one’s lifestyle. Instead it comes from being a happy, self-confident person who seeks to incorporate more healthy lifestyles. After all, what is a birthday without a high-carbohydrate, gluten-full birthday cake and ice cream?