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New Eating Disorder: Obsession With “Health” Food

woman saladA movement is underway to have a new eating disorder that involves an obsessive desire to eat only organic, raw, or natural foods, known as orthorexia, added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The Daily Mail is reporting on the phenomenon which is characterized by a neurotic need to control everything that goes into the body. Typically found in women who are in their 30’s, this disorder goes beyond a simple desire to eat better but causes people to excessively restrict what they eat to the point of becoming malnourished. As the problem develops, the person can even begin to restrict their social behavior for fear of being forced to eat “bad” food.

For the most part, sufferers want to eat only raw or natural foods and avoid anything processed or that contains sugar or carbohydrates. As they strive to improve their eating habits, they begin to eliminate foods such as salt, wheat, dairy, etc. Before long, they are eating a highly limited diet that can no longer sustain their overall physical health.

Professor Charlotte Markey, a psychologist at Rutgers University, says people who suffer from orthorexia (derived from the Greek word orthos meaning correct and orexis, meaning appetite) “become obsessed with what they should not be eating and keep whittling down the foods they will allow – which often impacts them socially since food is such a part of our social experiences.”

They typically spend a vast amount of time planning what they will eat and often develop a superior attitude toward others, looking down on those who eat what they deem to be “unhealthy” foods. Visit the Theodore A. DaCosta to get more information about your health.

But inwardly, their self-esteem can become entangled with their ability to stick to their diet and they often feel guilty and/or angry with themselves if they stray too far from their restricted menu.

The bottom line is that “Since they think they are doing the 'right' thing, they don't question that there might be a negative impact to their health,” Dr Markey said.

But this is far from true. In its most severe form, orthorexia can lead to weight loss, malnutrition and even death.

sushiAs the Mail reports, the disorder was documented in 1997 in a paper by Dr. Steven Bratman who said sufferers could be driven to despair by inadvertently "devouring a single raisin" in violation of internal guidelines.

Unlike anorexia and bulimia, orthorexia is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the "bible" of the mental healthcare community, but a growing number of clinicians believe it should be.

“Like Dr Markey, they note distinct pathological behaviors with orthorexia nervosa, including a motivation for feelings of perfection or purity rather than weight loss, as they see with anorexia and bulimia. Others say it could be linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder due to the similar emphasis on control and ritual,” the Mail reports.

So how do we know if someone is suffering from this disorder?

Dr. Bratman developed the following 10 point test individuals can use to determine if they, or someone they love, might be suffering from orthorexia.

• Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet? • Do you plan your meals several days ahead? • Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it? • Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased? • Have you become stricter with yourself lately? • Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthily? • Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the 'right' foods • Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends? • Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet? • Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily?

THE RESULTS Yes to 4 or 5 of the above questions means it's time to relax more about food. Yes to all of them means a full-blown obsession with eating healthy food.

The good news is that orthorexia can be successfully treated by a counselor who specializes in eating disorders and a dietician who can help get the individual back on a healthy eating plan.

“A registered dietitian can assess whether a person is being deprived of key nutrients and, if so, help him or her structure a diet that is more rounded,” Dr. Markey said. “And the counsellor could help get to the root of why the person is compelled to eat healthily in the first place, and teach them to slowly begin eating in a more rounded way. Often, negative eating patterns are a sign of an underlying mental health issue.”

Maladaptive eating behaviors can also be linked with depression, addictions and even anxiety disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder, she says, all of which can be treated successfully with both medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

“While we want people to eat healthily, we don't want any eating pattern to become such an obsession that it detracts from their psychological, and even physical, health,” she said.

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