People who obsessively modify and restrict their diet to conform to their ideal of what is healthy may be suffering from orthorexia nervosa, psychologist Charlotte Markey, from Rutgers University-Camden reported.  

Orthorexia is described as a form of maladaptive eating that can begin with good intentions. It may start with elimination of “impure” or “bad” foods such as sweets, sugar, and carbohydrates. However, further elimination of sugar, salt, wheat, dairy, and others can lead to a highly limited diet. Their obsession with what they should or should not eat also has a social impact. 

Orthorexics can experience low energy levels and are at risk for depression. Some severe cases may result in malnourishment as essential nutrients are eliminated from the diet. Orthorexia nervosa is not officially recognized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) but orthorexics would most likely be included in  the category called “Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified.” 

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Markey added, “What differentiates orthorexics from people who, say, avoid GMOs, are vegan or consume only organic foods, is that the quest for a healthy diet takes over their lives. They spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about food or they avoid social situations so as not to be tempted to eat the foods they are restricting.” 

A registered dietitian can assess whether someone is being deprived of key nutrients and can recommend a more well-balanced diet. Anyone suffering from orthorexia nervosa should also seek a counselor who specializes in eating disorders. These maladaptive eating behaviors can be associated with conditions such as depression, addiction, and anxiety disorders that can be treated with medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy, she concluded.  

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