August is a fifteen year old girl who has lived in Maryland most of her life. She loves writing and music, her favorite subject is Science, and she’s a vegetarian. She wants to become a journalist and is working as hard as she can towards this goal.
Vanessa: What is orthorexia?
Answer: Orthorexia, simply put, is the unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. The goal of orthorexia is not to lose weight or be thin, but to improve eating habits and have a healthier lifestyle. Though it may sound like a made up condition it is a real process affecting many different types of people. Orthorexia may begin as a desire to lose weight, go vegetarian or vegan, or simply to improve one’s health. It then evolves into orthorexia when individual begins cutting out other types of food in fear of ingesting artificial ingredients, such as colorings and flavorings, or because of uncertainty of food quality. Orthorexia may be so severe that the individual may eat only certain foods that they have prepared themselves.1
Vanessa: Why is this a concern?
Answer: Orthorexic’s lives revolve around the foods they eat. Orthorexics tend to plan their lives around food and may isolate themselves from any social setting. Orthorexics also lose the ability to eat naturally and are often unaware that they are hungry, but instead only know that they need to eat and when, this behavior will more often than not result in malnourishment.2 In some cases orthorexia may lead to a more severe eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.1
Vanessa: How is it affecting teenagers?
Answer: Teens and young women are the highest risk of developing any eating disorder as they tend to be the ones who are expected to live up to a physical ideal. In 2004 a survey was conducted with students in the University of Rome and 6.9% were found to have orthorexia.1
Vanessa: What are some signs of orthorexia?
Answer: Typical signs of orthorexia include3:
- Constant worry over the quality of the foods you eat
- Always looking for healthier foods
- Your diet is the center of your life
- Feeling of control when you eat the “right” foods
- May avoid eating out because of lack of control over food preparation
- May speak often of foods and their health benefits
- May isolate themselves socially
Orthorexia may also be paired depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, or other anxiety disorders.
Vanessa: What can friends and family do if they are worried about a teen?
Answer: Friends and family have to be able to help the orthorexic realize that there is a problem and what the teen is doing is not simply healthy eating, but much worse. This can be difficult as many forms of media and parts of our culture suggest healthy eating and the orthorexic is often highly convinced that they are following a healthy and “correct” diet. Friends and family can help by making the orthorexic realize that there are more important thing in life than eating healthy as orthorexia would cause them to put food before everything else.2 Therapy and eating disorder support groups may also be beneficial to the recovery of orthorexia.
Photo: A Voice in Recovery from Flickr