Healthy Eating Obsession Could Be Orthorexia Nervosa
the MPR take:
The condition orthorexia nervosa is not officially recognized in the DSM-V, yet doctors and registered dieticians are seeing an increase in patients with symptoms of the disorder along with a preoccupation with healthy eating. An article published in the journal Psychosomatics recently outlined a proposed set of criteria that could assist clinicians in diagnosis; individuals will often exhibit symptoms similar to those of obsessive-compulsive disorder or anorexia. What differentiates orthorexia is that patients may become malnourished due to restrictive eating patterns, such as a desire to eat only “clean” foods (ie, no processed foods, dairy, gluten, sugar, etc.). For these patients, what starts as a desire to live a healthy lifestyle becomes anxiety and obsessive behavior over eliminating foods and meal planning and extreme guilt over consuming foods that are not considered to be “clean.” Although some patients with orthorexia may also suffer from anorexia, many do not and are at a normal weight. This can make patients with orthorexia difficult to identify, but experts point to warning signs such as avoiding social engagements due to anxiety and uncertainty over food. Allergies can also be a contributing factor to orthorexia, with as many as 10–15% of patients with food allergies and related problems developing an unhealthy fear of a particular food.
The growing interest in eating healthy can at times have unhealthy consequences. Some doctors and registered dietitians say they are increasingly seeing people whose desire to eat pure or “clean” food—from raw vegans to those who cut out multiple major food sources such as gluten, dairy and sugar—becomes an all-consuming obsession and leads to ill health. In extreme cases, people will end up becoming malnourished.